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My figurative sculptures depict both the joy and struggle of relationships, and the intense search for balance and purpose despite our human failings and fragility. Using clay as a sculptural material, I create detailed layers of meaning as my fingerprints literally become part of the surface texture. Playful and energetic figures emerge, their features blending animal and human characteristics to create a collective identity as they interact in complex narratives.
As a child, my Cherokee Grandpa would use animal characters in legends to explain nuances of human relationships, mysterious spiritual concepts, natural phenomena, and our essential connection to nature. As an art student, I discovered that numerous ancient civilizations shared similar mythologies, many recorded on ceramic artifacts. Our earliest civilizations appear to have turned to the female figure to visualize the mysterious and sacred complexities of humanity. These powerful forms and narratives inspire me, and resonant themes of fertility, sexuality, gender, connection to nature, and nurturing relationships are certainly relevant and even urgent in contemporary context.
I use clay as both a material and metaphor. Clay, when manipulated and fired to a high temperature, becomes an extremely permanent material with unparalleled resistance to heat and moisture. Ironically, it is equally fragile - clay is easily broken into shards if mishandled. But even broken, ceramic shards resist breakdown and can remain stable underground for thousands of years until emerging once again to reveal the identity of early civilizations. From the fingerprints of the maker to the provenance of the materials, the shards hold immense meaning and power and connect us to our ongoing human experience.
Water is an essential ingredient in clay; when added to clay, it gives the material plasticity - the ability to be manipulated and easily formed and textured. In the absence of water, clay becomes rigid, unmanipulable, and vulnerable to breakage. I use water imagery in my work as a visual metaphor to show the ebb and flow of nurturing relationships. I’ve moved through phases of pregnancy, birthing, nursing, constant caregiving, and domestic overload at impossibly slow speeds, only to be surprised by fast currents around the bend. Like navigators on a churning river, children grow and gain independence at rapid speed, and soon float off to pursue their own course, and the nurturer is left alone in the boat to contemplate the journey ahead. Ironically, with this loss comes a welcoming sense of freedom and potential for a redefined identity and new adventures ahead.
I am particularly drawn to nurturing narratives with complex intersections of gender, culture, social constructs, biases, and power, and how these themes reoccur in ancient and contemporary contexts. I am compelled to honor the ongoing struggle of our experience, but I want to balance the pain with the revelation of human resilience. I want to show the strength of women overcoming obstacles of dominance and marginalization to rise victoriously over oppression, and to show the most vulnerable and undervalued among us floating triumphantly towards freedom and justice and prosperity.
I appreciate the metaphoric nature of clay and the ironic tension that exists between fragility and permanence. My experiences as a daughter, mother, friend, partner, and teacher continue to inspire personal narratives about intimate relationships and our collective search for meaning as we navigate our current human experience.
Janis Mars Wunderlich was born in Akron, Ohio and began making art at an early age. She completed a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at Brigham Young University (with dual emphases in ceramics & printmaking). Her Master of Fine Art degree was completed at The Ohio State University. Her ceramic sculptures have been in numerous national and international exhibitions. She has held workshops and lectures at many museums and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Janis has been the recipient of several awards and grants, including multiple fellowships from The Ohio Arts Council and The Greater Columbus Arts Council. Janis is a 2020 Fellowship Award Recipient from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Janis is an assistant professor of art history, ceramics, and art foundations at Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois. She is represented by Sherrie Gallery in Columbus, Ohio.
I would like to thank all my Monmouth College colleagues for their friendship, collaboration, and support. I am grateful to my students who make teaching a daily adventure. I want to acknowledge the creative support of the Monmouth, Galesburg, and Illinois arts community, including a fellowship from the Illinois Art Council. I appreciate the love and support of my large wonderful family, including my children, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews.
I'm deeply grateful to my husband and partner, Scott Page, for being my biggest support. His assistance with photography and website design is immensely appreciated, and his belief in me as an artist keeps me buoyant.
Still I Rise
Len G. Everett Gallery, Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois
October 19 through November 19, 2020
Exhibition Artist Statement
I am a story-teller, creating visual narratives inspired by daily interactions with the people, creatures and complexities in my world. I combine animal and human forms to suggest universal or archetypal connections. Life is full of duality – joy and conflict – and I am in awe of our inherent tendency towards resilience. Despite failure, we rise and overcome difficult or oppressive circumstances.
Still I’ll rise.
There are many among us who have been historically undervalued or marginalized by socially-constructed biases related to gender, race, body image, and economic status. This year a global pandemic, extreme political division, racial tension, and environmental disasters have set up a precarious and oppressive landscape.
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
My art tells stories which acknowledge the struggles and burdens of human vulnerability as well as the strength and resiliency born from human kindness and connection. Nurturing bonds and intimate relationships create buoyancy, allowing us to rise above the ashes, overcoming obstacles as we float boldly towards a better future.
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Above poem excerpts from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.