Conversations in Clay with Michelle Erickson

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Jul 13, 2015 6:00PM

Internationally acclaimed and Virginia-based ceramic artist, Michelle Erickson creates thought-provoking sculptural works that tell stories of life in the twenty-first century. Ceramics and pottery have a cultural legacy in issues such as war, slavery, power, and class. Societal ills such as these have not faded and, in fact, are particularly relevant today. Erickson explores a variety of social, political and environmental themes in her current solo exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Her powerful commentary might not be apparent at first glance. These sculptures invite longer looking and encourage dialogue    

Michelle Erickson. Globular Chintz Teapot, 2006. Wheel-thrown creamware, sprig molded and hand built. Courtesy of the Artist. Photograph by Gavin Ashworth, NY. 

Over twenty-five years of research into lost ceramic arts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries define and inform her narrative sculptural works. Erickson’s dedication to deeply understand the history of ceramics fuels her creative process. She considers ceramic’s technical innovations, everyday uses, and public perceptions. From English slipware techniques, to Bonnin & Morris pickle stands and Moravian figural bottles, her investigations inspire sculptures that merge past and present. The results are both conceptually and technically insightful in unexpected ways.  Erickson’s research of historical ceramics has led to the discovery of their methods of production. This significantly adds to the scholarship of these artifacts, their makers, and the time in which they were created. Erickson explains:


My approach has always challenged traditional explanations and conceptions about preindustrial ceramics and the methods used to create them. I have sought to find the original language of the artifact itself to make a tangible connection to the present. Physically recreating these lost processes reinforces the irreplaceable significance of the hand, even in the technological landscape of the twenty-first century.” -

In 2012 Michelle Erickson was invited to be an Artist-in-Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. The V&A collection represents over 5000 years of ceramic history providing ample resources and inspiration for Erickson to discover. Several works, including three videos in this exhibition were made during her residency. Additional inspirations in Erickson’s work are diverse and wide-ranging, including paintings by British artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), Nike sneakers from the 2012 Olympic Games, life-castings of fossils, shells and specimens and political cartoons.

Erickson’s artworks have won critical acclaim internationally and been featured in many national and international publications. Collected in major museums both in the U.S. and abroad, including the Chipstone Foundation, WI, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Museum of Art & Design, NY, Seattle Art Museum, WA and the Carnegie Museum of Art, PA. Erickson has regularly lectured and demonstrated at historical sites, museums, and to scholarly groups for more than twenty years. She has consulted on and designed ceramics for several major motion pictures such as The Patriot, The Time MachineThe New World and the recent HBO series John Adams. In 2007 she was asked to design and create the official gift for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Virginia.

Michelle Erickson: Conversations in Clay. Installation View at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art 

Michelle Erickson: Conversations in Clay in on view at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art until August 16, 2015.

By Alison Byrne, Director of Exhibitions and Education at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). 

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art