Visiting Artist Arlene Shechet -Romney Smith

Visiting Artist Paper: Arlene Shechet

Romney Smith

Arlene Shechet is an artist that works with ceramics, plaster, and various other materials to create interesting pieces that range from obvious to quite unordinary. I found her lecture to be very personal, it is easy to grasp a sense of her personality and mind just by listening to her talk. Most of her works express the thoughts and feelings in her life. As she flowed through sharing one project to another I found myself continuously astounded by her creativity and out of the box ideas.


The first project she showed us she began spontaneously in 1992 when she created a plaster figure that resembled the Buddha. She began creating multiple Buddha shapes by painting on paint skins and embedding them into plaster. The Buddha’s reflected addressing life and death, as she mentioned she had just lost some lives of friends during that time. From this project she moved on to creating blueprint painted plans of stupas, which are Buddhist shrines one walks around to gain enlightenment. She visited stupas herself to find more inspiration for her blue paintings created on handmade paper. I loved these works because she took inspiration from a religious practice, and turned the icons within that religion (the Buddha and stupa) and made new personalized versions of them. Each Buddha has its own individual look to it, and I enjoy that although they all have a similar basic shape, each is a different size and is decorated with different colors and patterns, similar to how her mind works with the various ideas she is always coming up with. She mentioned also that she wanted to convey “a Buddhist framework” within her studio. This exemplifies her general mindset and outlook on life, as things come and go just like her ideas.

Shechet’s works may reference actual events that occurred in the world and her personal take on them. One project she did at the Henry Art Gallery, located at the University of Washington, featured cast porcelain to make vessels, which she cut apart, painted the insides and then pasted back together. She casted them over and over until they turned white like “ghosts.” She says this particular piece reminded her of the 9/11 terrorist attacks because she lives in Manhattan and was there on the day it occurred. The gray and white color in her pieces reflects the ash that filled the sky when the towers burned to the ground. The way she presented these vessels in her installation gave them a dramatic presence; they were all aligned on a shelf with the darkest vessels on either side leading to the lightest, whitest ones in the center. It adds to the 9/11 experience, like the towers ascended down, so do the colors of the vessels.

The most important aspect of Shechet’s work was the spiritual connection she seemed to have with each piece. Each piece held a memory or reflected a different time in her life, and that personalized factor is what really makes her works special. Many of her works seem to convey a sense of unpredictability, which is reflected in her personality. One idea she had was to cast the surface of water using wax, and then cutting them up and repositioning them to make molds that she re-casted into rubber. She also cut the pieces up and attached them to make a long piece which resembled rivers and cast these into aluminum, perhaps to give a shiny, reflecting, fluid effect just like actual water. She called this project, “Casting Water.” This project really reflects her message that as people we should pay more attention to minor occurrences in life, such as watching the surface of water flow. She says that piece has a sense of fluid, unpredictability, and I thought the whole concept was a beautiful idea.

A majority of her pieces consist of glazed ceramic abstract forms that are elevated on stool or pedestals. These sculptures often integrate concrete, wood, steel, and plaster or glass and are all formed by her hands. Once again her work is very personal because here she is touching and forming the clay. She did a concentration called “Blow by Blow” that resulted in many more abstract pieces in which she attempted to capture breath. She stated she created these works because she wanted “to experience her body more.” They have lumpy forms with rods and holes resembling sea coral, because she never wants her sculptures to be one thing she wants “a hybrid of ideas and feelings.”

Each project Arlene Shechet creates uses an array of materials, and the materials she chooses for each project fit the needs of the piece. Her technique varies but it is always personal, she works with her hands and by herself without the aid of others. Her inspiration draws from the outside world as well as from her own imagination and thoughts. Each piece is carefully crafted and each was created with different intentions, most of them spontaneous and inspired but meant to capture elements of the world such as water, breath, religion, and even the simple craft of vessels with her own twist on them. She was wonderful at conveying the passion within her work as well as giving a sense of her true self and her creative mind. Her work is highly effective because it is personal to her, but is also personable to anyone who views it because they can find a reason to relate to it.

It captures moments or emotions that as human beings we may be too busy to realize or take the time to feel, and that is what makes her work so beautiful and special.

One Response

  1. I like the idea that the “Buddhist” element not only inspires Arlene Shechet’s work, but also drives her practice and the work around it. Her “ghosts” piece, dedicated to 9/11, sounds like a powerful and unique way to commemorate a first hand experience of that tragic day. It sounds like she is very personal and emotional in her craft, and I think that particular quality allows for a greater connection to be made between artist, artwork, and audience. I like the amount of dedication that you mentioned she puts into her pieces. I will need to keep my eye out for her art in the future. I would like to experience it first-hand!

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