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The artist captures water in clay
If there’s one place that needs calming art, says Sarah Heitmeyer, it’s hospitals, airports and other institutional spaces where we bide our time.
“What we seek in sanctuaries is a quiet space to process and consolidate thoughts, to break out of our usual norm to reflect and find hope,” writes the ceramic artist, whose work will be half of an exhibition for two with Scott Lerman, natural order, which opens Saturday (September 10) at the Garage Gallery in Beacon. Hospitals and airports, which “welcome a large number of people going through immense changes”, can “put their captive audiences at ease with the support of beauty, so that they can look forward to the changes of life” , she said.
Heitmeyer focused on drawing and painting in high school but switched to ceramics at Alfred University. “I immediately felt the energy of all the other people working in the clay,” she recalls. “I dove into it, wanting to pursue that energy.”
During her first course on the wheel, Heitmeyer found herself “appreciating how much control clay has, with so many material properties and so many processes that interested me. I also worked in a darkroom, finding that I liked this process. At the same time, in my painting class, I noticed the lack of materiality. A year later, when I took a tiling course, it merged my interests in working in two dimensions.
She knew she wanted to pursue the residencies and internships needed to build a portfolio for graduate school — she eventually attended SUNY New Paltz — and aspired to work in a design and production studio, “putting my work in the world”.
Heitmeyer ended up doing just that, working for ceramic studios such as KleinReid, Kala Stein Design, and ModCraft Tile, as well as at the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center, a digital design and fabrication lab.
Most of her manufacturing is done in her Fishkill studio, where she creates commercial prototypes and gallery pieces. Much of his work consists of decorative wall tiles, imitating tides and other properties of water. The modular works range in size, she says, “from intimate to monumental, and bring the restorative power of nature into the built environment.”
She prefers to create pieces to hang on the wall, “something parallel to your body, at eye level. I prefer to make modular pieces, rather than ephemeral and temporary art installations; I love working with multiples and dividing up spaces.
His technique evolved during his graduate studies. “I was always trying to create that sense of calm, with movement,” she says. “I struggled because I wanted to be specific about the sentiment. I was taking a photography class and realized how many pictures I had taken of ripples in the water, with their color gradient and their scale – it became clear how drawn I was to these images.
“At the same time, I was developing computer-aided design skills while working in a digital fabrication lab. I learned how to translate a photograph of water into a 3D shape, and once I had this tool, I was able to play around with how I rendered this image, changing the shape to n’ any tile pattern I wanted.
Heitmeyer says she begins a piece with a vague landscape in mind that connects to an emotion or feeling of being in a certain place. She uses CAD to process photos of water in order to sculpt them and integrate them into a pattern; she brings these forms into her home studio using processes such as 3D printing.
From there, she presses the clay directly onto the form or uses it to make a plaster mold for slip casting, by pouring liquid clay into the mould. She says the job is done choosing a glaze to convey the emotion she hopes to capture.
Heitmeyer created her home studio during the pandemic when she was stretched between part-time jobs and a new baby. “Being home more often helped me realize that I could shift my focus and develop more strategies to get myself out and working,” she says. For inspiration, she frequently finds herself at the edge of the Hudson River, seeking a “large expanse that feels immersive. The river and the lakes have this glassy quality where you can study movement – much more so than the ocean.
The Garage Gallery is located at 11 N. Elm St. in Beacon, half a block from Main Street. Natural Order, which also includes Lerman’s Photographic Prints, will open Saturday with a reception from 4-7 p.m. and continue from 1-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through September 25. See garagegallery.com.