I will always be a big fan of drawing, as it is so often the foundation of so many artists’ practices. Even if it is just through sketches, it is usually involved either as a preliminary stage or as a means to an end, if it is an artist’s main medium. I also have a soft spot for drawing because it was my own first mode of making as a child—as it is for so many of us, even the non-artists! Artist Genevieve Dionne has taken this beloved process and infused it into her own vision, steering it away from pencil and paper and right onto textile and earthy slabs of clay.
Through Dionne’s unique process, the artist creates glimpses of the feminine body, women in the midst of their everyday rituals—sometimes sleeping or on their phone, and other times lounging in bed. Oftentimes, there is a mythical twist, as one woman examines her Medusa-like hair of snakes. Whether referencing Greek mythology or more commonplace acts, Dionne’s clay drawings embody contemporary women, at times strong like Medusa and other times contemplative—as complex as each of us truly are. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Dionne spends her time either creating her ceramic drawings in her studio, or designing and building window displays, using her creative mind and talents in the commercial realm. Join me in conversation with the artist as she discusses her time-sensitive process as well as the influence she finds in Renaissance-era portraits of women.
How long have you been working in ceramics? What initially drew you to this medium?
I’ve been working with ceramics in a serious way for approximately 10 years. I was initially drawn in by the tactility of the medium, I love working with my hands and clay is really satisfying to work with in that sense.
What inspired you to use ceramics as a medium to draw on? Do you create paper and pencil sketches of your drawings before you create them with ceramics? What is your process like?
I’ve always considered drawing to be the basis of my art practice...when I first started exploring ceramic I made attempts to put my drawings on the surface of functional pots, but never felt satisfied with the results. Six or seven years ago I started making abstract tiles with surface marbling and stenciled patterns and that work evolved into drawing directly on the surface of flat slabs of clay.
My process starts with an idea for the drawing, which I then spend time sketching (both on paper and digitally) until I’m happy with the composition. I transfer the drawing to a slab of clay and carve the lines of the drawing into the surface. Timing is everything with clay so these steps happen over a period of days. After the first firing I add color to the linework and sometimes a clear glaze over the entire piece.
Much of your work is focused on the female form and body, such as your series’ Contemporary Women and Beauty Myths. Have you always been interested in the human figure? Would you say that there is a feminist approach to your work?
Yes, my work is informed by my own experiences navigating the world. I’ve always loved drawing the human figure, especially from life.
I love your series Renaissance Hands and the intricate details found in the elements of clothing included in each piece. Can you tell me a bit about the works in this series and your interest in the Renaissance?
The series is inspired by Renaissance portraits of women. The Renaissance was a time when women were especially disempowered...the objects, garments, and even hand positions of women depicted in these portraits were often symbolic of loyalty, chastity, dowry or a husband’s wealth. In my drawings, these items have been replaced with objects of self-expression, strength, and knowledge.
Where do you create your incredible work—do you have a ceramics studio at your home? What is a typical day like in the studio for you?
I work out of a studio in Strathcona, a co-op in Vancouver with shared kilns. I have my own space with a wheel and slab roller where I make my work; I love having my own little space where I can close the door, put on music or a podcast and be in my own world. On a typical day I walk to my studio, make a cup of tea and start wedging and rolling out clay. The slabs need to set up before I can start working with them, so I’ll usually spend the rest of the day prepping and wedging more clay or working on ceramic drawings that are in other stages.
I understand you work as a display artist developing window displays. Can you tell me a bit about what this job entails? Does the job influence the creation of your personal artwork?
I develop concepts and prototypes for window displays, which involves designing and pitching ideas for the seasonal displays. Often, the concepts are inspired by nature and an interest in material exploration. Occasionally I make physical objects, which can involve drawing, sculpting, sewing, paper craft, and a myriad of other creative approaches. My work and studio practice rarely overlap in terms of subject matter or material, but I do find that working with my hands in any medium can spark ideas for both applications.