Bill Abright is an instructor of ceramics at the College of Marin.
The twist of an individual’s imagination is one trait that accounts for our different perceptions of reality. As a child, I would fall asleep seeing faces in the woodgain wallpaper of my bedroom. Throughout my education artists who were unique in their approach to creating unusual and somewhat dark work inspired me. From the writings of Edger Allen Poe to early monster movies, I have always been interested in the things of Art and life that are mysterious and unusual. Heironymous Bosch’s and Giuseppi Archemboldo’s bizarre paintings, Leonardo Da Vinci’s grotesque faces and the bold expressions of Francisco Goya make it clear to me that “Art” does not have to be tame stuff. Later, I was attracted to the surrealists for their pulsing atmospheric landscapes and to Francis Bacon, for his gutsy emotionally twisted portraits. I became interested in psychology, the Rorschach inkblot test, caves, and Mauritz Escher’s reversals of space and form. For the last 35 years, I have been teaching Art and producing ceramic sculpture in an abstracted figurative style. I work with graphite on paper for the directness of process while I love working with clay for its skinlike plasticity and pyromanic produced permanence.
I’ve always been attracted to masks. I concentrate on the face because it is the most memorable and expressive part of a person’s identity. The human condition is at the heart of my imagery, and these characters develop personalities through my dialog with the clay. The larger than lifescale of my work is intended to confront the viewer as well as challenge my ability to create forms. I have an interest in tool making and engineering so figuring out how to make something bi is part of the challenge. I also enjoy the physical challenge of large work. The weight of a big slab of clay, the Earth made into a sheet, like a layer of flat skin that I will transform into a face by stretching it’s thickness to the limit. Testing how far I can expand the skin is pat of the pleasure. Breaking through that skin and adapting by patching or adding on as needed keeps it interesting. After they have been bisque fired I use acrylic paint and graphite pencils to develop the color and expand the content of the mask.