Thursday, February 26, 2015

Artist's Touch: Breathing Life into Feats of Clay


Meghan Sullivan at Floriopolis
PANAMA CITY — Meghan Sullivan says she has to stay in motion. A sculptor and potter, she works in terra cotta, making tiles, plates and figures. She also teaches drawing at Gulf Coast State College and the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida.

“I really like the tactility of making things,” she said during a conversation at the Floriopolis gallery in St. Andrews. “I don’t think I could sit in an office all day long and be happy.”

This year’s artist-in-residence at GCSC, Meghan grew up in Boston, the youngest of six children.

“My parents always had art around us,” she said, adding that her father worked for the city Arts Council. “We had these handmade plates, and we would fight over who got which one, because siblings fight about everything.”

Girl and Frog tile by Sullivan
Her older sister attended a free after-school arts program while in high school, and when Meghan was old enough, she joined the program because “I wanted to be like her.” She spent the four years of high school receiving six hours of art classes each week.

Meghan attended the Massachusetts College of Art, which was across an alley from her high school. It was affordable, and she could live at home. In her freshman year, she took a pottery class that changed her life.

“It was the most challenging class I had taken up to then, and I was compelled by it,” she said, and by graduation, she was creating ceramic figures.
She took a job working 40 hours a week throwing plates, bowls and cups, then got a residency just outside the city, teaching and doing figurative sculptures. She applied to the University of Florida and was accepted as a post-baccalaureate student.

“It was my first time away from Boston,” she said. “It was very hot, and the first time a lizard came into my house I freaked out. But I really liked living in Florida.”

Meghan eventually got into grad school in Nebraska, earned her master’s degree, and joined the AmeriCorps to pay off some of her massive student debt. In that capacity, she worked with elementary schools in blighted neighborhoods, building community gardens with children and organizing big awareness campaigns and events.

She also did creative projects and volunteered as a bike mechanic at a co-op. Finally, she was offered a job with the city. “But I knew if I stayed there another year, I would end up living in Lincoln, Neb., for my entire life,” she said. “I really missed ceramics, and I was teaching but I wasn’t teaching art.”

Conversation by Sullivan
That’s when she learned about GCSC’s Artist in Residence program. She arrived in Panama City in time for the 2014 spring semester, and was invited to remain through the 2015 school year. She was already familiar with Tammy Marinuzzi and Pavel G. Amromin, assistant professors in the college’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, who were also in Gainesville when Meghan was a student there.

“We shared a car ride once,” she said. “I knew how they drove, but I didn’t know them that well. But I’m a figurative artist, they’re figurative artists, so we kind of feed off of each other.”
A solo show of her work will open at GCSC Feb. 27 and be on display through March. Meghan’s artwork is shaped by her personal experiences, according to a statement on her website (MeghanSullivanCeramics.com) — specifically, being part of a large family and growing up in an urban environment. She calls herself “a storyteller,” for whom the journey is as important as the destination.

“While my background has influenced the tone and content, it is not straightforward autobiography,” she said. “One specific instance in a larger experience is used and extrapolated from in order to create the final composition. ... While the conclusion may not be clear, the meaning of my work is found in the pondering of it.”
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