filed under: art, clay, let's chat!, metal, mixed media
when my cool friend burt came back from the acc show in baltimore, he told me that he really enjoyed the ceramic sculpture collection of new york artist (and recent donor to locks of love) reina mia brill. of course when i looked at it i went a little nuts. i love the clever combination of color and form, all the intricate detailing and facial expressions and most importantly the freedom these pieces give to my imagination when i look at all of them. let’s have a chat with reina mia and find out a little more!
q: where do you live, and where do you create your art?
a: i live and work in a remote section of the bronx in new york city called city island. i like to call it the mythical island in the bronx because in all the 10 years i lived in manhattan i never heard of this place. my boyfriend dan grew up here and we are living in the actual house where he grew up. city island is a very unique place… it is an old fishing village trapped in time. my studio is in the basement with two windows at ground level where i say hello to all stray cats, birds and even snails that come and visit me.
q: what is your background, and did you study art formally?
a: i have an mfa from san diego state university in jewelry and metalsmithing which was where i got started knitting wire. i made hand-knitted wire jewelry for five years out of graduate school. i never was really happy making jewelry, it just seemed practical at the time. so in 2001 when i received a $7,000 fellowship from the new york foundation for the arts i decided to finally ditch making jewelry and do what i always wanted to — make sculpture. i also hold an undergraduate degree from fit (fashion institute of technology) in accessory design which is why my creatures are always very well accessorized.
q: so, why wire and clay? and how did you get to that place of combining the two (along with several other materials)? have you always worked in multiple mediums?
a: up until last year i only worked in knitted wire over a stuffed fabric covered armature. all the hand sewing was killing me. i wanted to be able to make work quickly. working in clay is not quick but it is quicker than sewing by hand. now i am able to build the figures faster and more sculpturally. after the pieces have been glazed i will embellish all the clothing and sometimes the bodies as well in knitted wire.
q: these pieces are exquisitely detailed and must be very labor intensive. (without giving away any secrets of course!) can you tell us a little about the techniques you use?
a: i first start with a drawing usually found in one of my sketchbooks. the figure is then hand-built in a low fire clay and glazed with underglazes. i use two very old-fashioned knitting machines to knit the wire. one is a sock-knitting machine from 1923, the other is a big double bed passap machine from 1960. i can create beautiful dimensional patterns off of the passap machine which i usually use for the clothing. the sock-knitting machine creates a sinuous knitted tube that i like to use as skin covering. i knit with very thin gauge coated copper wire that has been coated with a polynylon coating for color. once the figure has been fired i determine which areas are to be covered in wire. sometimes it is just the clothing and eyes and other times it is the entire creature. the knitted wire is stitched to the clay body by hand and then tacked with an epoxy resin.
q: i see a common thread of expressive human emotions as well as physical animal traits in these characters. did it come naturally to blend the two?
a: i have been drawing since i was a kid. my dad and i used to play these creature drawing games together. we would start with a blank piece of paper and then one of us would draw the first creature. the next person had to draw a creature interacting with the one on the page. we would keep drawing until the page was filled up trying to make the most outlandish creatures.
q: what is the price range of your collection?
a: i offer a wide range of prices. on the low end i do creature illustrations framed in knitted wire as well as wearable creature brooches. these works sell for $95 to $250. my standing and wall sculptures start at $275 and increase in price depending on the size and the labor involved. two figures i made for an exhibition in poland last year stood just under 5 feet. they each sold for $10,000 but i spent 6 months creating them.
q: what is your inspiration for these works? do you have a message you want to send through these pieces?
a: i do lots of sketches. i will study people, usually children on the street for a variety of poses. children’s faces are the most fun to watch for their devious little expressions. the animal/human imagery has just come naturally. when i study human faces, so many are very similar to animal faces. animals, however, offer a wider array of eyes, ears, feet and mouths to come up with my own species of creature. my work does not have a message. i love that it makes many people laugh and smile and remember their childhood. other people are scared by my work and that’s interesting too. the work is open to individual interpretation.
q: where can we go to see your collection in person? are you exhibiting in any current or upcoming shows?
a: i am currently in three exhibitions around the country. the first is called contemporary repetition at the long beach island arts foundation in new jersey. it’s on view now through june 16th. the second is called contemporary crafts at the jrb gallery in oklahoma city. the show just closed but the work might still be there for a little while. the third is a traveling exhibition called fiberart international 2007. this show opened last year in pittsburgh and will be traveling through 2009. currently the show is in charleston, west virginia through june 22nd at the clay center. this show is accompanied by a beautiful catalog as well. i also show work regularly in new york at the eclectic collector in katonah and mano a mano in bronxville. i will be selling my work myself at the following craft shows: the niada conference in las vegas at the show and sale on july 27th; the doll and teddy bear expo in washington, dc august 9th and 10th; and back again in dc in november for the washington craft show. in 2009 i will be at acc baltimore in february and most likely craft boston at the end of march.
thank you reina mia (and thanks to burt for the great tip)!