Nancy Kubale’s ceramic figures don’t look happy and have a foreboding, dark quality, but Kubale disagrees; she explains that the aim in her sculptures is contemplative. “I've said ‘they're not just another pretty face.’ I want people to take a second look and try to figure out what's going on and they wouldn't if I didn't challenge then visually.
Arriving to that point of challenging her audience took close to thirty years. During the early 1980s, Kubale was working with mixed media making what she calls her “stick dolls” that were made from fiber, wood and odds and ends of other materials. About that same time, she took her first ceramics class and loved it, but knew immediately that making bowls and cups for the rest of her life would not keep her interested. Taking what she learned from her class, she started to make clay heads for the stick dolls, and then at some point it hit her to make the whole body from clay. Since that revelation eleven years ago, she has been creating a world of ceramic beings that address the pursuit of Truth and the nature of our humanness.
For Kubale the ceramic processes and techniques are vast and seemingly unlimited. “I think that's why I started out in mixed media. I like exploring and learning. In ceramics you can change clay, learn a building process, experiment with glazes or firing temperatures or methods. It just goes on and on so you can continually grow within the medium.” Another aspect of the medium that Kubale likes is what she describes as its “everyman” material, its history and its heritage (she lives in the foothills North Carolina where there’s been a pottery tradition for generations).
Kubale attended art school during the 1970s where everything was conceptual or minimal. In order to earn a living, she took a clothing construction course during her senior which eventually led to costume design for the theater. The theater, though, wasn’t her first love, but the work paid the bills. After a period of time, she decided to forego her income to wait tables and make her own art. Clothing construction, however, still paid off when it came to creating her art since most of her first attempts at making her clay figures was based from that knowledge and experience.
Observing and questioning are key to Kubale’s art. “I’m intrigued by who we are and how we live…is there a right way to live? What gives us meaning? What gives happiness?” In her body of work there is a common thread of expression and exploration that binds it together. “Within the structure of the human form lies the possibility to recognize ourselves and the opportunity to contemplate the complexities and contradictions of the world we live in.” She uses text for the way language frames experiences and perceptions of those experience. Kubale also uses visual metaphors such as ladders, tags, nails, and windows that she says “express aspiration, experience and epiphany – things that assemble and define a life. I am intrigued by what we think, do, and say, by who we are and how we live - primarily at the soul level.”
Journals and sketches are the launch pads to her sculptures. “I always have these little notes and ideas on pieces of paper that eventually make it into my sketchbook. So when it's time to start working in wet clay, I go through my sketches and find the piece that I really want to make. Sometimes it's a year or two before I have the “thing” I need to make the piece.” Kubale’s ceramic and mixed media figures begin with hand building techniques in stoneware clay. Kubale layers the surface with terra sigillata, slips, underglaze, stains, oxides, glazes, and underglaze pencils, and fires each piece three to five times. She often uses text or makes decals indicating the concept that initiated the work. After the final firing, the parts are then assembled with wood, metal, fiber and found objects.
Her first big piece, “Blind Guide/Blind Ambition” (prior to the financial downturn) was about going after the next big and best thing (house, car, stuff) without taking into consideration of why they are desired or coveted. “There was a point in my life that my children's friends all lived in these huge, new, beautiful Better Home and Garden houses and I thought wow, I want that! Eventually I realized what I really wanted was a cottage in the mountains that's filled with art, and love and good smells, a garden, dog, etc. The hound leash was filled with tags with writing ‘newer car’, ‘bigger house’ etc....the desires that we blindly let lead us.”
Kubale has achieved her dream of making the art she loves and it keeps her busy. Currently she is preparing for four craft fairs that are coming up in the next six months, and she’ll be speaking at the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show in early March. She cheerfully says, “I work a lot, but feel very blessed that I get to earn a meager living doing what I mostly love to do.”
To learn more about Nancy Kubale, please visit www.nancykubale.com.