“I practice yoga so I am aware of my body in space,” says ceramic artist Kate Piretti. “I am aware of my arms, my legs, the muscles I’m using, and it feels beautiful and it feels strong.”
Piretti’s embodied practice is made solid in clay. When she was younger, she longed to be a ballerina. This is reflected in her most recent work, which draws inspiration from photographs of famous principal dancer, Misty Copeland. The elegance and long lines of Piretti’s figures can be witnessed at 621 Gallery’s “Shape Glaze Fire,” an exhibit by Tallahassee Clay Arts which opened Oct. 3 and runs through Oct. 25.
Though she started working with clay four years ago, Piretti started creating clay portraiture two years ago. She quickly joined Tallahassee Clay Arts led by Susan Stelzman, bought a wheel and kiln and built a studio. Piretti was hooked from the first feel of the earthy, pliable medium.
“It is a luscious material,” says Piretti. “When I am forming muscles and forming contours, my hands are running over the clay. It is almost a form of massage as I am formulating the muscles and the contours.”
In her seventh grade yearbook, Piretti stated she wanted to be a commercial artist. Working in the field that is now referred to as graphic design, she created posters using block colors, illustration and Asian aesthetics. Piretti graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s in fine arts and visual communications before teaching high school graphic design for 17 years.
When Piretti picked up clay, she quickly became disinterested in producing the same form every time. She played with making small figures first and continued to push herself with larger works. Influenced by sculptors like Auguste Rodin, she gravitates towards a classical modern style, though her methods are continually evolving.
“Nothing I do is planned,” says Piretti. “Everything I do is like exploring. Each piece is from somewhere in my memory, personal experience or something I’m dealing with in my mind. That’s usually how the work starts.”
The process begins with the head. Rather than working from live models, Piretti researches photographs until she finds faces that fascinate her. As she works the clay, she thinks about the expression of the eyes, and how that would tilt or turn the head. Next comes phrases or thoughts that she would use to describe the work before she starts on the body.
Piretti works slabs of paper clay into a hollow form. Because she works with larger pieces, the sculptures are segmented into smaller parts so that they can be fired in the kiln before reattaching together. After the head, Piretti focuses on the bodice, the lower body, and finally, the arms.
“It is not a smooth process,” says Piretti. “I am finishing one piece right now that collapsed since this is wet clay. She must have collapsed six times in different forms, but I was determined to get her done. She’s been fired but I am still trying to figure out how to stand her up right since she is off kilter.”
Piretti sculpts the female form since she often projects her own narrative onto the bodies. Her favorite piece, “Metamorphosis,” shows a woman dangling with a rope wrapped around her arms, head downcast. A first impression might be that the figure is being tortured, but Piretti says it is the portrait of a woman in wait, patiently longing for something miraculous to happen.
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