Photos by Josiah Kopp and provided by Annette Marchand
The tactile nature of ceramics allows the artist to explore the relationship between the sculptural and functional. Ceramic artist Annette Marchand thrives in the expressive yet controlled nature of ceramic art. Marchand is motivated to continually push the clay further, innovating with form and instilling new ideas and emotions into her work.
Discovery and Practice
Marchand’s passion for art has been with her since she was a child. She didn’t come from a family of artists and didn’t have access to museums, but she would see art on magazine covers.
“I would look at a Picasso on a Time magazine cover and hear people say, ‘That is art? I could do that.’ And I’d think, ‘Why would they put it on the cover of a magazine if it wasn’t art?’” Marchand said. “I needed to know what makes that art. I wanted to learn about that.”
From a young age, Marchand was determined to become an artist. After throwing a perfect form during her first ceramics class in high school, she was hooked and took more pottery classes when she entered college. One of the most formative moments in Marchand’s development as an artist was a trip she took to Europe in college, visiting England, France, Italy and Germany. While in Venice, she ventured off on her own and stumbled into a little art gallery showing one of Picasso’s beach scenes. “It made me feel good because I found something that was really unique,” she said. “I’m always totally into learning, learning more and doing more.”
Marchand was trained as a painter but had a natural skill for clay. “Part of what really attracted me to it was the whole community and social aspect of being a part of that environment, versus being a painter where you’re really isolated,” Marchand said.
As a painter, Marchand spent a lot of time alone with her canvas, which was a great experience for her, but ran out of inspiration. At the same time, she was spending more and more time learning and working with clay.
“I feel limited by the two-dimensional surface,” Marchand said. As an abstract painter, Marchand poured energy into her work, getting aggressive and wild with her brush. She transferred that same energy into her clay. “I felt like I had a little bit of an edge on a lot of ceramic artists that didn’t have that ability to cut loose and be comfortable messing things up and going a little wild with the surfaces of their clay.”
Marchand is especially drawn to abstract expressionism. The wilder, the better. She incorporates that looseness and expression of painting into her ceramic work, which in comparison is a much more controlled medium. In this regard, art is as much of a therapeutic process for Marchand as it is an expressive outlet.
“I just kept going deeper and deeper and it became a really meditative process for me. I always say clay is a healer. You can put your sad energy into it and you can put your happy energy into it. It kind of takes it in and gives you something in return.”Annette Marchand, ceramic artist
Inspiration and Innovation
“My ultimate goal is to innovate and to think outside of the box, and to move in a direction that other potters might not have explored,” Marchand said.
A series of pieces gathering buzz is Marchand’s bee bowls. Inspired by the organic shapes of a beehive and by the pollinators themselves, these vibrant and warm yellow bowls feature Marchand’s hand drawings on the clay. The work is elegant yet whimsical as it combines Marchand’s expertise in both the two- and three- dimensional art forms.
Some of Marchand’s other work includes her artful yet functional butter dishes and wood fire jugs.
“I’m always trying to push my own personal limits. I’ve done pretty tight and controlled work, but I’ve also done work where I altered the form and pushed it toward sculpture. I also love that. I’m on the verge of being ready to move back to doing that because I like a little funk in my form.”
When sitting down behind the wheel, Marchand’s goal is to create precious individual pieces, putting meaning and thought into the shape of the clay. Each piece has its own story. She enjoys experimenting with different forms and textures through her work. These variations that Marchand incorporates into the clay make the pieces appear to be from different artists on the surface, but her thoughtful eye and intuitive touch are evident through each piece.
“I get on a whim and I do this and then I get on a different whim and I do that. Whatever catches my eye or whatever mood I’m in pulls me in different directions.”
One of Marchand’s biggest inspirations are organic shapes found in nature. A leisurely walk can turn into a font of ideas for her future work.
“I’m obsessed with textures and patterns. I go for walks and I look around at nature. I find patterns in the snow or on the sidewalk that come from the changes in the weather and I’ll sit and obsess on them and draw them in detail.” Marchand even drew the beehive pattern on the bee bowls by referencing a real beehive.
Marchand has studied and worked with many mediums in addition to clay and painting, including drawing, printmaking and glassblowing.
“I’d actually really like to get back into painting and drawing some more too because I feel like it’s the heart of everything I do. I think for any fine artist, the better you can draw, the better you can sculpt, the better you can do almost anything. There’s something that happens in that drawing phase where you’re really focused and connected. I analyze all that stuff.”
All of Marchand’s past studies and experience in different mediums inform the piece’s resulting form. In some ways, this process creates a tangible documentation of Marchand’s current state of mind and interests.
When working on a piece, Marchand is very deliberate about its form, carefully considering every component from the shape of the lip to the belly and feet.
“I want to push the clay around. I want to see new forms. I want to think about functionality and also about simple sculptural essence.”
The physicality, movement and energy of working with clay are all part of Marchand’s love for the art form. Looking to the future, Marchand wants to continue to push her forms further and communicate new ideas and feelings through the clay’s form.
“You have to build a whole relationship with clay. I think about that a lot, you have to learn how to touch the clay. It takes a long time sometimes to get it. It’s fun and challenging.”
Marchand is sharing her insight and also showing others the beauty of art through her work as a visual art teacher at the North Dakota Center for Distance Education and as an instructor at the Plains Art Museum.
“Everything is important. Then I also say, ‘Don’t get too precious on everything.’ With my students, I don’t want them to get discouraged. It might look lumpy right now but it’s important. It’s a record of what you’ve created. It shows your progress. At the end of the day, it’s nice to say you accomplished something.”
Marchand’s work is on display and available for purchase at the Dakota Fine Art Gallery.