Interview with the sculptor Christina Bothwell

Christina Bothwell
October 2, 2017 | Author: webSman

Q: How long have you been an artist?

A: I have been making art as long as I can remember. My mother was a professional artist and she encouraged me to be creative. There were always art supplies lying around when I was small, and my mother taught me how to draw faces, and perspective.
My mother held nude figure drawing classes in our living room for her friends, and I was allowed to participate. I was drawing from the figure when I was still in grade school. We did not have television when I was growing up, so there was nothing to do but draw and make stuff.

Presently I work with cast glass, and ceramic. I like working with glass because of its translucency. The color causes a glow that seems to come from within, unlike the color glazes for clay which are applied to the surface.

Glass can appear weightless and timeless, both qualities I am attracted to. Clay also can appear aged, ancient. I use ceramics for the parts of my figures that require close scrutiny. I find that using the two mediums in conjunction causes a kind of syncopation in the work.

Q: Have you been trained, and if so from what institutions?

A: I am basically self taught when it comes to sculpture. I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for painting, but at the time sculpture didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t pursue the study of it. I did take a classical figure class at the Frudakis Sculpture Academy when I was a teenager for a summer, during high school.

Q: What inspires your creations?

A: I get most of my inspiration from dreams, as corny as that sounds. My out of body pieces were inspired by actual events… when I was pregnant with my daughter Sophie, (and then a couple of years later with my twins), I found myself repeatedly falling asleep at night without losing consciousness. I had the awareness that I was rising out of my body and flying, sometimes around the fields near my house, sometimes into other realms where I saw people I loved who had died in my past. I also get many of my ideas from nature. I spend a lot of time walking in the woods, and the wild animals and birds I see inspire a lot of my ideas.

Q: Was your family supportive of your artistic endeavors?

A: When I was a small child, my mother encouraged me to draw all the time. She often took me to art supply stores and allowed me to pick out any materials I wanted. She even tried to get some of my stories published when I was in grade school. As long as I was drawing, I was quiet, and not a bother. I went to art camp during the summers as a teenager (where I met my husband, even though we didn’t meet up again until we were in our late twenties). When it came time for me to choose a college however, my parents were wary. My father in particular was convinced I did not have what it took to be a professional artist, and he was discouraging. I think he felt it was arrogant for me to assume I could actually become a real artist.

Q: Is there someone special who has encouraged your work and your path as an artist?

A: I have been very fortunate with mentors along the way. The painter Will Barnet, was one of my teachers in art school, and he always felt I had something worth pursuing. We became friends when I first met him as a teenager, and our friendship continued for over thirty years until his death a couple of years ago, at the age of 101. He repeatedly told me that I had a special quality most of his students didn’t have, which turned out (he finally explained) to be persistence. I wasn’t terribly happy to hear that this was the quality he was talking about (I would have preferred he said talent, or color sense, or drawing skills), but in hindsight I now recognize persistence as being a good quality to possess.

Q: What are your hopes or dreams, or future goals?

A: I had the awareness this past winter that I put a lot of energy into anxiety over making money. I support my family solely from the sales of my sculptures, and it is often feast or famine. Sometimes six months will go by without a sale, and just as I start to panic that I am going to have to apply for a job cutting meat at Giant, a sale will come through in the nick of time. It is often a nervewracking way to live (never knowing when money will come next) and I think my greatest dream is to have freedom from worry over money.

Q: If you could do any project with full funding what would it be?

A: I have sketchbooks filled with ideas for pieces that I haven’t been able to do, mainly because of time constraints, practicality, and being too busy making commissions or small pieces for deadlines. I have wanted for some time to make a body of work of full scale (life sized) figures relating intimately with nature, particularly animals. (Groupings of figures).

I have always been attracted to this subject matter, but I haven’t been able to produce many pieces of figures and animals (relating to each other) on a large scale. I would also love to delve more into making pieces that deal with our unconscious, our inner selves. Somehow showing the outer physicality as a shell, with the inner self having more emphasis. Again, this has always been an interest of mine, but something I have shelved in recent years due to the pressure of making pieces that are more commercially appealing.

Q: If you could meet any artist who is no longer living, who would it be, and why?

A: I think it would be fascinating to meet the artists who made the ancient Cycladic sculptures, fertility figures and deities. I would love to know what their intentions were, what their inner lives were, what they thought about as they worked.

I was obsessed with the quirky and intricate paintings of Gregory Gillespie when I was a teenager. I always fantasized about meeting him someday. He must have suffered from clinical depression, because he took his life. It felt like such a crushing blow to learn of his death, because I knew I had lost my chance to find out what he was like. I would have also loved to have known the author Nabokov. Each book is a jewel. What a mind! He was a mathematical genius as a child, he could instantly answer complex mathematical problems in his head, a skill he lost after suffering a high fever when he was about ten years old. His books have fueled my creativity throughout my life.

Q: Tell us about the ghostly elements in your art?

A: I have always been fascinated by what lies beneath the surface, the essence of things, as opposed to the appearance. As a child, I could sense when people were going to die, and I often felt that I could often sense what other people were feeling. This led me to the idea that we are all connected, a connection that existed beyond our bodies. I was also afraid of almost everything, and especially terrified of death – my parents were atheists and adamant about life being extinquished after death. I had my first spiritual experience when I was nine, and this and other spiritual awarenesses and experiences led me into a life long pursuit of searching for the truth, for answers to the questions my parents didn’t seem willing or able to provide. It seemed obvious to me that we all lead two lives… there is the one life that takes place when we interact with each other, and that has to do with the way we look, our appearance, our weight, our ethnicity, our social and economic background. Then there is the other life that we each have, that we mostly don’t talk about… and that is our relationship with ourselves, our inner world, our souls, or God, however we choose to define that, and the part of our beingness, the ‘ourselves’ that are not confined to our physical existence.

Q: Have these sort of haunting themes always been of interest to you?

A: Oh, absolutely.

Q: Have you ever seen a ghost?

A: When I was a child, I was often sick with pneumonias and other related ailments, illnesses that confined me to my bed for weeks, sometimes months at a time. I occasionally saw an old woman sitting in a chair by the foot of my bed in the dark and it scared me, but when I focused directly on her (or turned on the light) there was never anybody there. I don’t know if that was a ghost, or fever dreams. As I got older, I often had the awareness that people I loved who had died were around me. Not constantly, but sometimes. It was not something I saw with my eyes, more a feeling of being encompassed by their personality and energy. I have intermittently throughout my life had lucid dreams of being with those who are no longer living, those are my favorite dreams! In one of those lucid dreams (when I had just learned I was pregnant), my twins came to me… My son was an elderly man, and my daughter was in her twenties… I didn’t even know I was pregnant with twins, but they introduced themselves, and presented me with advice for the pregnancy, which turned out to be very helpful.

Q: Do you have a favorite ghost story?

A: My favorite ghost story was one told to me by a woman who commissioned me to make a piece about her sister (“Tethered to my Heart”). This woman was an identical twin, and very close to her sister. They often spoke and texted each other twenty times a day. Her husband was an identical twin as well, and his identical twin married her identical twin.

When she approached me, her twin sister had just died, six months before. She told me that when her sister died, she too wanted to die. Life seemed to lose all meaning and substance. Often it seemed there was no point in continuing on. She and her husband decided to purchase a vacation home in New Hampshire. After they unpacked the moving vans, her husband drove back to the city for work, leaving her behind in the new house. The electricity had not yet been turned on, and as the evening progressed, the house became dark. She lay on the bed upstairs in the dark room. She was wondering how long it would take, if she just stopped eating all together. As she lay there, she became aware that she heard footsteps downstairs in the house. At first she was scared – she reasoned that people had seen the moving vans and the dark house, and had decided to rob the place.

“Good,” she thought to herself, “I hope they kill me while they are at it.” She listened as the footsteps crossed the floor beneath her room, and then as the footsteps climbed the stairs. Then the doorknob to her room twisted and the door opened. She lay curled on the bed in a fetal position, and listened as the footsteps approached the bed. Then, she smelled her sister’s perfume. Her sister climbed into the bed behind her, and curled herself around her, spooning her the way she often had when comforting her as a child. Her sister’s presence was utterly tangible and solid. She opened her eyes, and the room was filled with a blinding white light, like klieg lights were on. Gradually the presence of her sister faded, until there was only the slight pressure of her hand on her shoulder. After that, her depression eased, and she was able to go on.