BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
We first had the pleasure of meeting Amy Deystone at a local Firefly Handmade market. Her clay pieces were unlike any we’d seen. After getting to know her, it became apparent that she puts every ounce of herself into her creations, drawing deeply from the medium and connecting stories with her art.
How did you first discover your love of creating with clay?
In my senior year of high school, I opted to take classes in the afternoons at my local community college. I started with more academic classes and ended with ceramics. I was completely hooked! I went on to study ceramic art in college and my second year into the program, I helped to build a wood kiln on the land of a fellow maker. It was a formative experience, building that kiln. I look back on some of the things we did, or didn’t do in our first few firings and cringe a little, however, those times changed me. Firing that kiln that I helped build taught me about reverence and respect for the fire and it ushered in a love for the whole ceramic process.
Clay is elemental. It is earth. The energy that is within this medium I believe carries some of this ancient history of the rock and minerals that support us. When I put my hands in the clay, I feel something beyond myself, something alive. I believe the work I do is in collaboration with the clay itself. I ask for permission to mould it and then I listen. I try to let the clay speak to me as I shape. I try to be in tune into the earth’s energy it is imbued with. Even after 25 years, I am still in awe of being able to participate in the magic that is created with clay. I think about the first person to turn clay on a wheel, to shape it or even the people that found the plastic silt in a riverbed. The people who figured out that clay can be shaped into vessels that fulfill functions of daily life, both physical and spiritual in nature. This history connects me to a long line of makers from all over the world and I try to feel that whenever I’m working with clay.
Though one might not see it at first glance when looking at your pieces, but you say you pull from imagery in our past to address gender equality and the emptiness in modern society in your art. Can you expand on this a bit more?
I am a lover of ancient art. The simplicity and complexity of the drawings and forms from thousands of years ago. I would say it’s more of an inspiration: the goddess figurines are totems of empowerment and the honoring of all creatures and life was never sidelined. I try to honor life as well as reference the complexity of where we’re at culturally, by treating all humans equally or acknowledging our surroundings. While it may not be obvious, all of the imagery in my work has meaning, for example when I put grasses on my work or cattails, I’m thinking about the spread of ideas and sometimes my mark-making may reference darker topics like shame, abuse or brutality. My hope is that the viewer attaches their own meaning to these lines, shapes and symbols.
Your vases are beautiful and raw. Tell us what these mean to you?
My current series of vases, I call my forest vases. They came about as I was working in an intuitive process. I was surrounded by scraps of clay from making a series of my Quiet Mind plates. I decided to see what would manifest if I used these scraps to create something new rather than recycling them. I decided to start connecting the pieces by overlapping them and rolling them down into a slab again. Through this process, I realized I was making a vase. The way the small pieces of clay moved when I rolled them together resulted in some of the organic shapes at the top of the vases. These shapes made the vases feel alive. I began making another and another and another. During this time, I had also begun working with ancestral healing and trying to reconcile some family history. With each vase I made, I felt like it was a tribute to one of my ancestors. It felt like a part of the healing process to call on their gifts as I created. Once the first round of vases were out of the kiln and all grouped together on my work table, they so clearly resembled a forest. Hence the name.
It is clear from your designs that you are inspired by your natural surroundings. Where else do you find inspiration and what motivates the evolution of your pieces?
Definitely, my designs are inspired by my natural surroundings.
I’m inspired by my community, family and friends. I’m not one for small talk and like to surround myself with people that like to dive right into connection. My favorite new question to ask people that I don’t know well is, “What is something you’re good at?”
I love music and seeing live music. This is a huge inspiration in my work, from the poetry in song lyrics to the ideas about replicating soundwaves in an expanded visual format.
I love traveling, so seeing and experiencing new people and places always finds its way into my work.
I love food and this inspires me to create vessels that I want to eat and drink from.
I love having rituals in my life, from my morning coffee to burning candles to just sitting in stillness and listening.
I love water. Toes in the creek, hopping waves in the ocean, swimming in a lake.
Showing up is really the key for evolving my work. I have a regular studio practice where I make things even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes those pieces may end up being smooshed up and made again into something else. I might make 50 of the same things before it begins to see an evolution and then sometimes the evolutions happen so fast that I can’t always remember where the idea started. The more I create, the more the work seems to progress and evolve.
I have lived in Boulder for 12 years. I am originally from the mountains of North Carolina. My family later moved to the eastern part of North Carolina and moved up and down the east coast before landing in Colorado. I still have family that lives in Western North Carolina and it is a land that deeply resonates with my being.
Colorado is brimming with artists and creative thinkers. Who are some of your favorite local artists?
There are so many creatives here in Colorado and I love the strong sense of community. There are so many collectives and organizations like Streetwise and Madelife that are bringing in and promoting more art and artists of many disciplines. I love how Adams County is trying to make space for artists in their city planning to help keep them visible in affordable spaces.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently super excited about my hanging sculptures and am soon planning to begin doing them as custom pieces that include a brief intuitive reading.
I’ve also been envisioning some larger exhibits with my more conceptual work with exploration around the following themes: sound waves, gestures explored through just hands, exploration of the shadow self. I am also hoping to evolve my journal paintings into something that could be shown.
I’m in the midst of transitioning between studio spaces and my new studio will include a dedicated teaching space. Space can really dictate what is being made, so I am just as excited to see what happens as you are!
Thank you for sharing your art with us, Amy. We love your work and continue to be inspired by your process. To see more of Amy’s collection visit www.dsclay.com.