Studio Visit: Tammie Rubin

Studio Visit: Tammie Rubin

Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with ceramic artist Tammie Rubin.   In the July 1 newspaper, we'll have a visit with musician Pamela Machala. 

Q: What kind of work will you be showing at the Parkland College Art Gallery?

A: Well, it will be a continuum of these sculptural contraptions I've been making, all based on conical forms.

I have this kind of fascination with how objects have practical, symbolic and functional aspects. The cone can be a funnel or a caution cone or a means of communication, like a voice pipe.

The conical form also can be a dunce cap. When I was researching the cone, I came across the followers of the philosopher John Duns Scotus. They called themselves the Dunsmen and they believed that the conical dunce cap would funnel learning down to the wearer. We now think of the dunce cap as a sign of idiocy.

All of this is fascinating to me, so I take these familiar objects and make them into these mythic ornate sculptures. It's all about transforming the familiar and the trivial.

Q: When did you start using color in your work?

A: I really started pursuing color after graduate school (at the University of Washington). I would say my palette had been pretty muted up until then. I had been influenced by painting as much as by sculpture, so after my thesis show, I really felt I needed to challenge myself and change direction.

The way we respond to color, psychologically, and the way we interpret color are really interesting to me. I had an experience when I saw Yves Klein's monochromatic blue painting at the Tate Modern. I had seen that particular painting reproduced many times in art books. It wasn't until I was standing in front of it that I realized what this painting was trying to do. You're pulled into this plane of blue. It was so affecting.

Just an experience like that challenged me as an artist. When people view my sculptures, one of the first things they talk about is color.

Q: I noticed you double-majored in art history and ceramics when you were an undergraduate here.

A: Yes, I did. It was really interesting. I always knew I wanted to be a maker, but I found the art history classes really influenced me in the studio.

Q: How long have you been teaching at the University of Illinois?

A: I've just completed my fourth year. Before I became faculty here, I was an academic adviser at a college in Seattle, and I was teaching at various art centers and was a resident artist at Pottery Northwest.

Q: Did you have a mentor when you were an undergraduate here?

A: I did. Ron Kovatch. He actually retired this year. He had a profound effect on me as a student. If he saw that you as a student were interested, he would show you what he was doing in his studio. You would see how excited as well as frustrated he was about what he was doing. I saw that and decided, "I want to do that."

Q: I saw Ron the other day, and he told me he thinks you're going to be the next big thing in ceramics. When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

A: I don't know if I made a particular decision. As a kid growing up in Chicago, I loved going to the Art Institute. The first work of art that I remember, that I knew the name of the artist, was (Marc) Chagall's "America Windows," which commemorated America's bicentennial. I also recognized other artists' work. But I always loved the armor and the miniature, religious carvings done from ivory.

I took one art class during my senior year in high school, and knew when I went to college, I wanted to take art classes. I started taking ceramics classes, and I kept taking them without any clear decision I was going to become an artist. After a while, I had someone (Kovatch) tell me, "This is what you should be doing." He gave me permission to do the obvious.

Editor's note: "Tammie Rubin: I Dwell in Possibility" will be on display through Aug. 2 at the Parkland Art Gallery.