Dynamic Ceramics: Red Brick artist debuts new collections at Saturday Market
Special to The Aspen Times
Walking through the Aspen Saturday Market, you’ll find a few local makers nestled between farmstand booths. One such local artist, Liz Heller, is located approximately across from the kettle corn; there, she serves up ceramic works, which might be the perfect vessels for presenting that sweet treat (and then some).
Heller arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley for the first time in the fall of 2014, as an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s sculpture studio. She moved here permanently in 2015 to pursue a full-time career as a working artist. In 2016, she settled into a more permanent residency at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
“Everything that I’ve been doing since I got here I’m still doing,” she said with a chuckle, but that’s only partially true if the new, more experimental pieces coming out of her studio are any indication.
Heller works in her Red Brick studio creating cups, plates, bowls, planters and vases using a hybrid technique of traditional ceramic practices alongside three-dimensional printing.
“I call myself a mold-maker and slip caster,” she said, explaining that casting involves pouring a liquid into a mold and letting it set up in that shape, in contrast to slip casting, which “is when you use a plaster mold and the plaster sucks the moisture out of the slip, which is liquid clay, and it solidifies into clay from the outside inward. The longer the slip sits in the mold, the thicker the walls become. The excess slip is poured out of the mold to create a hollow piece.”
This is how she creates her hollowed-out vessels, just before adding a number of different glazes to the pieces. She then fires them, which results in the browns, greens, purples, blues and pinks you might see displayed on her market shelves and in her lively studio space.
“They are similar forms, but the glazes make these pieces look completely different,” she said.
The complicated processes inherent to ceramic work mean that no two results are predictable, nor exactly alike.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you open the kiln,” she said. “There’s so much that can go wrong in ceramics; you spend so much time before firing, but if you make a bad decision with your glazing, you can ruin the whole piece. It’s a risk. I got really comfortable in my work, but now I have been experimenting, and that feels exciting.”
And while her process — and the variables within it — have influenced her work, she also draws inspiration from the place we call home.
“My new molds are softer, more organic, and simpler. That is a direct reflection of where we are: a small, rural town surrounded by nature,” she said. “I couldn’t do this in any other mountain town. The arts community in the Roaring Fork Valley is huge. The fact that we have Anderson Ranch, a world-renowned arts center, in our valley is amazing. We have The Art Base in Basalt; we have an arts center and the Clay Center in Carbondale. There’s no way I could survive in Steamboat doing what I’m doing. It’s such a special confluence of circumstances here.”
Heller also fuels her creative energy by collaborating with other local artists, such as Carbondale-based woodworker Dave Kodama, with whom she works on commission projects, as well as a partnership with Spiro Lyon Glass, also in Carbondale.
Upvalley, Heller is collaboratively teaching a metalsmithing class with Natasha Seedorf, a Carbondale metalsmith, in the fall at the CMC Aspen campus (registration is currently open). She also has an upcoming free exhibition at Anderson Ranch, opening Aug. 18, in conjunction with her cohorts in the Ranch’s The Center program, which is a long-form mentorship for advanced artists over a three-year period.
In addition to her classes, art opening and market booth, which shoppers can find (nearly) every Saturday through Aug. 30, you can find Heller’s work at Anderson Ranch. You can also stop by her studio, where she’s usually working in the afternoons. Heller is always up for meeting community members, who have helped her build a life here.
“Aspen is really supportive of people who are here to realize their dreams,” she said.
For more, visit http://www.modcrmx.com.