One thing I really missed during the pandemic lockdowns was experiencing art in person. Now I’m ready to dive back in.
Last week, I went to check out the WVU faculty exhibit, “Post Pan,” at the Creative Arts Center and talk to participating ceramicist Shalya Marsh. I met Shalya when I visited her studio during the Mo’Town Studio Tour last month, and I wanted to see more of her work.
At the faculty show, Shalya is exhibiting sculptural pieces made of white ceramic tangles casting grayscale clay shadows.
She said these pieces are a side project of a previous body of work, “Vestigal Remnants,” which used a similar concept, but for which she used vinyl to illustrate the shadows.
In addition to being faculty and having a few other roles at the university, Shalya also runs the ceramics digital lab. When the pandemic began she was able to take the 3D clay printer home and continue working with it.
“It changed the way I was engaging with my studio practice,” Shalya told me, explaining that learning new things and creating new works helped her through the anxiety of the pandemic.
Experimenting with the printer and using a lot of math to calculate the clay shrinkage rate, she was able to create layered works and dimensional depictions of cast shadows.
Her process starts with making tangles out of strands of clay. Once they are dried or even fired, she places them on top of paper on a table lighted from above. She traces the shadows the tangles cast, then repeats on additional paper until she has traced the number of layers she wants.
After scanning in her tracings, she merges the shadows in Photoshop so she can visualize the finished piece before using the 3D printer.
“I’ve always been very interested in cast shadows,” Shalya said. “They are not a physical thing that exists.” She said they are fun because they are real, but yet not real.
In her work the knots and tangles represent tension and anxiety, while the shadows represent deeper, unseen emotions — things hard to make tangible. The gray scale represents how everything in life falls on a spectrum — nothing is black and white.
The new element of 3D printing parts of these pieces gave Shalya a new way to continue on with her “Vestigal Remnants” series, which she started in 2018. She was coming to a close on that project when she started the new technique of printing. (I didn’t even know 3D clay printers are a thing.)
Shalya said her project was a challenge because most people use the printers to make vessels, so available resources exist for vases and such, not sculptural works like hers.
Her professional qualifications include learning new things and creating art; WVU requires art and design faculty to be working artists. However, faculty don’t usually have opportunity to show their work locally, particularly at the university itself.
“We try to feature visiting artists, and bring people in,” Shalya said (another of her hats at the university is managing the Laura and Paul Mesaros Galleries).
In presenting this show, faculty not only had the opportunity to show their students their work, they also were able to view in person the works of colleagues — something she said they usually only see online.
The organizers of the show decided to do a faculty works exhibit every three years.
The current exhibit is up for a few just more days in the galleries in the lobby of the Creative Arts Center.