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Mid-Career and Beyond Winner: Tammie Rubin

Artist Statement

 I investigate the tensions between the readymade and the handcrafted object, the innate power of objects as signifiers, wishful contraptions, mythic relics, and allegorical maps. My sculptural practice strives to open-up dream-like spaces of unexpected associations and dislocations. Artworks are process based, intensely colored, technically complex, and while primarily composed of pigmented porcelain other media include vinyl, plasti-dip, twine, wire, rope, cotton, resin, steel wool, wood, construction foam and metal. Using intricate motifs, I often return to themes relating to ritual, domestic and liturgical objects, mapping, migration, historical and fictional narratives, identity, magical thinking, transformation, and sensory desire. As a part of my practice, I collect mass-produced consumer objects and natural vegetation that strike me as iconic of the everyday. Objects range from household tools and fixtures, plastic products, consumer packaging, toys, ceramic figurines, food molds, and the native Texas ball moss. In these mundane objects, which are viewed as cheap, trivial, and disposable, I find unexpected beauties and meanings.

Beginning with my series sculptures Always & Forever (forever ever ever) in which I examine my own parent’s journey of moving to Chicago from their small southern town as part of the Great Migration, I am continuing to explore the spaces between familiarity, uncertainty, and foreboding by referencing maps, routes, and statistical data points and through abstraction using this information as symbols and signifiers that encompass the of race, gender, identity and migration. Migration, transformation, and identity are rooted in current works. My interest in my family’s personal narrative in the historical context of the Great Migration has led me to create artworks that act as metaphorical passageways. The installation I, Too, Am cites Langston Hughes’s 1926 poem “I, Too”, a work that itself references an earlier Walt Whitman poem. I juxtapose the majestic grandeur of the varied American landscape with how those same inspired ideas of vastness and expansion often fall short for its citizens. Rock formations, mesas, mountains, and hills are craved from construction foam and enveloped in resin. These formations separated from their surrounding environments become alien and isolated. Contemplating how migrants both willing and forced have found and continue to find this landscape called America daunting, yet also call it home.

 I use the familiar wispy tendrils of the native Texas ball moss to serve as a signifier of gathering chaos, connections, growth, change, concentrated confusion, the labyrinth of values, and the growing will and unease of populations. Constructed of ball moss, knots and tangles of twine, armatures of wire imbedded with steel wool and cotton the forms are covered with colored porcelain slip; drowned, distorted and obscuring the original materials. Weighed down by porcelain the work is kiln-fired, all the organic material burns away leaving a transformed shell, a remnant and something new forged out of fire. This examination of the familiar is again visited in the installation Alice, Harriet, Cassy & Emmeline in which tales of escape are not straightforward and not commonly told. Each name in the title is a heroine (real and fictitious) who through their own personal autonomy, bravery and cunning took their freedom. Each of the black women who escaped their enslavement has a tale so epic that it is hard to discern which one is fiction. The work provides a sensory prescription for resisting absolute definitions of culture and identity. I layered authentic routes of the underground railroad onto the wall surface. As the authentic routes are overlapped the variations began to distort the trails, the map becomes topographic allegorical abstraction, where the way forward is seen but not clear. Clusters and markers dot the way indicate groupings of figures, hints, warnings, memorials, a continual pushing forward into an epic chaotic abstraction to an uncertain future. I’m interested in constructing objects and spaces that encompass the past, present, and future, my practice is a visualization of my current material wonderings. 



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