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Conversations with the Inspiring Emily Sudd

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Sudd.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Emily. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up all over the Los Angeles area with creative parents who scraped by resourcefully as musicians, actors, and party entertainers. My youth was a very “LA” experience—eclectic unstable, and weird. I spent many of my childhood afternoons watching music videos and playing Pac-Man in a professional recording studio and being taken along to auditions and New Age “metaphysical church” services. My mother started a makeshift business as the “Lizard Lady”, bringing a menagerie of reptiles to entertain and educate at children’s birthday parties and schools. A mini-zoo of animals lived with us –snakes, lizards, tortoises, etc.; feed animals that sometimes became pets–chickens, rats, and mice; as well as our many cats and dogs.

My parents divorced and remarried other people several times. They now have had a combined total of six marriages between them, and I have three half-siblings that are not at all related to each other and all live in different states. My sense of identity around family and the home is complicated, and I believe that this has been a foundational contributor to my artistic practice. The most recent transformative experience in my life has been that of becoming a mother and the resulting struggle to structure my own professional and family life.

Scouring thrift shops for discarded treasures to recycle as creative wardrobe and décor was a regular activity for my family as well as a means towards self-expression as a teenager. In my artwork, I engage this same vernacular landscape by searching thrift shops, estate sales, and dollar stores for material—pre-existing objects that I transform through my unique processes.

I discovered clay in high school and found a connection to creative energy through working with my hands. The process of conjuring something out of dirt felt alchemical, and I vowed to keep clay a part of my life, always. But, for a very long time, I had no idea it would be something I would pursue full time. After finishing my BA, I went to work in the art industry and quickly found myself at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), in the role of the chief curator’s executive assistant. It was on my 10-year-anniversary at the museum that I left MOCA entirely to pursue my MFA at UCLA, focusing on ceramics. Although I had continued to make work on the side, my time at MOCA was so all-consuming that it took me a long while to regain my focus on making art. The experience provided me a unique perspective, though, and has contributed to the presence of a certain amount of institutional critique in my work. After graduate school, I started teaching, which has also influenced my thinking. I am now a part-time instructor at Pasadena City College.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There is some truth to the myth of the starving artist. I don’t think it’s ever an easy road. Another artist once told me that in order to succeed as an artist, you need to treat it as a full-time job, but then, in order to support being an artist, you might also need to have a full-time job. Consider that challenge, and then, add parenthood to the equation. My biggest challenge right now is balancing motherhood with professional life. I have to pick my battles very carefully and strategically. It’s hard to find the time to work, but motherhood has affected my experience of life positively, as well. It is deeper. It has more gravity. I look back on my life before my daughter with nostalgia, but the memory also somehow feels flat. Becoming a parent has been the single most transformative experience of my life. My recent series of work, “Motherhood Secrets”, reflects upon that state of mind.

To any young woman just starting on her journey, I would say, “Stay focused, but also open-minded, and you will find your place. Look at every experience as a source of inspiration. Know that the art world is the Wild West, and there are no rules. Make the best of your time, and choose your friends wisely.”

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am a multimedia artist working primarily in ceramic sculpture. My work engages in conversation with still life, narrative, and abstract painting; postminimalist sculpture; hierarchies of materials and taste; and the role of the kitsch object. By traversing the boundaries between “art” objects and materials and “non-art” objects and materials, I look to analyze the spaces occupied by art and decoration and the visual cues associated with these categories.

In my ceramic work, I have developed a unique process through which I transform collectible kitsch ceramic objects and functional ware into fine art sculptures. After collecting and arranging various items, I subject them all to the same firing conditions. The process produces the literal and metaphorical melting down of the materiality of domestic and artistic space. In the firing, some objects retain their form, while others melt down into fluid clay and glaze. Materials mix together creating swirls of color and pattern and globs of texture and form. Lowbrow kitsch objects merge into painting and sculpture in compositions that seem to suggest both the opposition and equalization of decoration, materials, and form.

My recent series, “Motherhood Secrets”, incorporates a metaphorical relationship with personal narrative, connecting with my recent experience as a new mother. In this series, halved wheel-thrown vessels are filled with ceramic material, fired, and ground and polished; producing a finished surface that resembles a ceramic geode in objects that function as metaphors for my own maternal experience—a metamorphic soup of isolation, insulation, and potentiality.

In my current work using jewelry chain, I am revisiting collected thrift shop paintings with which I have previously worked in the context of ceramic compositions. Appearing as intimate line drawings on the wall, the compositions made with jewelry chain reference both still life, landscape, and portrait paintings through friction between the visual line of the chain and the draping created by its weight. The figure/ground opposition is borrowed directly from the conventions of painting and drawing, but the material ties it to the dimensionality of sculpture. As with the ceramic pieces I produce, I aim to make the read of the objects slippery, aesthetically and conceptually.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs or other resources that help you do your best in life (at work or otherwise)?
While I’m working, I do like to listen to podcasts. “Reply All” and “Every Little Thing” are my favorites right now because I enjoy learning about odd things that are going on in our culture. I’m also listening to Janet Landsbury’s “Unruffled”, and a new podcast called “Motherhood Sessions.” They’re both excellent podcasts about parenting. But, most importantly, I think I feed my spirit by taking advantage of cultural institutions like museums, galleries, and gardens, many of which I visit with my daughter. It’s a privilege to be able to participate in her discovery of the world.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Photography by Andrew Nimrod, Lisa Talbot, and Emily Sudd

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