nomos (curve) (detail), 2016. Porcelain, wood, paper, polyethylene foam, rubber scrim, and paper, 58 x 11 x 16 ft. Photo: Jeff Wells

Generative Proliferation: A Conversation with Martha Russo

Boulder, Colorado-based Martha Russo pushes the boundaries of ceramics, using abstract forms freighted with references to biology, anatomy, and the purely fantastical. Three years ago, her retrospective “Coalescere,” at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, summed up 25 years of art-making. I described the experience of seeing that show as something like visiting the creepy-crawlies collected in a 10-year-old boy’s bedroom. A giant, slithery sculpture on the floor looked a bit like a double-headed spermatozoon. There were pieces made of pigs’ intestines. Inside the drawers of a cabinet called hold, you could find objects resembling severed ears, eyeballs, and strange snails. But my favorite work was nomos, a huge installation affixed to a curving wall. Made up of 20,000 individual ceramic “tendrils” in subtle shades of green, blue, brown, and yellow, it resembled a distant view of the fluid, wavy plant life at the bottom of a murky lake or pond.

Ann Landi: How did you get started in ceramics?
Martha Russo:
When I was an undergraduate at Princeton, I was on the college field hockey team and the U.S. Olympic team, which meant I trained with the U.S. team during the school term and had to go to international matches on short notice. I was taking a ceramics class as a sophomore and got kicked out because I missed two weeks in a row to play in California and the Netherlands. My professor, Toshiko Takaezu, told me that I wasn’t a serious art student and should just focus on playing sports . . .

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