Interview with Samantha Dickie

Words by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck, Samantha Dickie,
Cathie Ferguson, and Alexandria Nelson.

Your studio is in Victoria, but your ceramic work has taken you to many corners of the earth. What has been the most interesting part of the journey so far? I absolutely love getting into a creative zone in my own studio, but making time for intensive work and exploration in artist residencies has allowed me to expand my practice like nothing else. I am most inspired when I get to work alongside other artists, curators, and educators in completely different contexts and locations. I’ve been fortunate to work in the Yukon and Alberta, and most recently at the Sculpture Factory in Jingdezhen China, a city where ceramics is a primary industry. Working with other artists from diverse cultural contexts is fascinating as we each approach the medium in different ways, from intention and process to the finished piece. Once my kids have grown and launched themselves into the world, I will return to my bucket list of international artist residencies.

Your sculptures can vary significantly between collections. What informs each body of work? Time, place, and different periods of life. My work has been informed by moving between three provinces, traveling the world, paddling through the north, having two children, and exploring neuroscience and philosophy. With installation projects, the biggest influence on the direction of the next project is from the feedback I get from my previous project. I tend to respond to what people see or feel in the work, what gaps I can address, and what little sparks of interest I want to develop further. The most consistent aspect of my work over the past 15 years is working in multiples, working with scale, and preserving the raw tactile qualities of clay into the finished piece.

Have you had any big aha moments in your career that have pushed you to evolve as a ceramic artist? My first significant aha moment occurred during a three-month residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2003 where I had the luxury of time to explore new directions in my work and use the creative process as an act of catharsis around grieving. I was making little carved sculptures, a totally new form and process for me, when my studio neighbour, inspiring artist Catherine Paleczny said, “If only one sculpture is compelling, imagine what 50 would look like together.”

It resonated so deeply, I knew immediately how my work would change direction. It shifted from individual decorative objects on a plinth to multiples glued to a floor, hung from a ceiling and spanning a wall. The work evolved into more of a narrative, where not just my story but multiple stories could emerge from the audience. Everything from that moment on became more authentic and expansive for me in my practice.

You have received grants and funding to produce large-scale works for public exhibitions across Canada. Can you tell us about your installation, ‘All We Can Do is Keep Breathing’ at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo Ontario? I had been creating multiples up to 350 components before the invitation to exhibit at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. When the curator and I decided that my work would fit best in a specific circular space in the gallery, the piece evolved into an eight-foot sphere of 1,350 white porcelain components, hung from the filament that slightly swayed as people moved past. The piece had a buoyancy and spaciousness held in its own contained cylindrical room. The scale of the piece was an enormous feat to install, but the response was so inspiring. Intended for people to lie underneath, the piece felt like a sky of falling stars where a feeling of expansiveness meets our own smallness.

Tell us about your most recent commercial commission for Louis Vuitton. It was a huge surprise to be contacted by the Louis Vuitton architectural team in Paris about commissioning work for permanent installation in the United States. There was a discussion about their different locations and in the end, they chose my work for their Boston, MA store. Different than anything I had done before, it was exciting to be part of their vision of melding fashion, art and culture in the commercial realm. Initially, I couldn’t imagine how my work would fit within that context, but as soon as I was on-site bolting armatures into the sub-floor for the six-foot-tall sculptures, I understood their vision. The design of the new space melds warm textures, materials, and colours to contrast their very polished line of merchandise. The work they chose was not my more current, contemporary unglazed porcelain but very earthy, rusty, textural, carved sculptures from a series of work that I first made 15 years ago in the Yukon.

In addition to public exhibitions, you are represented by Madrona Gallery in Victoria and Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery in London, Ontario. Could a client commission you to produce a piece for their home or commercial space? Yes, commission work is always welcomed. I enjoy working with clients to customize the scale of a piece depending on where it will be installed, as well as designing the armatures to be suitable for public, commercial, or residential space.

Where is your happy place when you’re not in the studio? I have a strong sense of wanderlust and am drawn to exploring any small corner of the earth, near or far. I am most content on the water, in the forest, on mountains, or in the backcountry. Outdoor exploration always refuels my sense of curiosity.