May von Krogh‘s ceramics have a common thread, they’re soaked in emotion, each a conscious and meaningful meditation on a theme. Besides that, each is an isolated incident, a standalone testament to her ability to create novel and nuanced work. Aesthetically they are deep and penetrating, most of her subjects are children, which makes their expressions all the more effective. Check out her interview
How long have you been working with ceramic as a medium?
With ceramics as the main medium, since 2001, when I started at the ceramics department at Oslo National Academy of the arts (KHIO). But I also worked for a couple of months as an apprentice at a ceramic studio, and had some ceramics at high school and at pre-art schools before that.
When I started my art education I first wanted to be a painter, actually… but I guess coincidences made me tend more towards sculpture and ceramics.
How do you feel interacting with your materiel directly? Do you think it changes your relationship with a piece when you lay hands on it yourself, instead of using a vector, such as paintbrush or pencil, to create the work?
I like working with my hands directly, but of course I do use different kinds of tools too, so I´m not sure if it changes my relationship with the piece that much compared to working with a paintbrush or a pencil. Working with ceramic sculpture is often a long and complicated process that you have to plan in advance, since it has to be hollowed out before drying and firing in the kiln. I’ve had a lot of accidents during the years, sculptures collapsing in the building process, or exploding during fire. In this way the process changes my relationship with the piece compared to working with many other mediums, since the piece is not yet ready when you finish modeling.
Tell us about ‘Angels trumpet and the milky moon violin’. Where were you when you came up with the idea? How did you feel emotionally as you worked on the piece? How did you feel when you finished? What do you see as the meaning of the piece?
In my previous work, like the more naturalistic pieces of mine from my MA, I had been deeply into the theme of children in armed conflicts. The reason for me getting into this in the first place was because I experienced becoming a mother myself and started questioning the distortions in the world and how we interact with the world around us. I had never been a particular politically active person, and it was not my intention to do politically motivated art, either. I just got emotionally touched, and tried to put some of that feeling into my work.
When I start working with an idea, it usually starts with an image in my head, and this was also the case with ‘Angels trumpet…’. Since I had been so deeply into all those terrifying stories and images in advance, I guess some of them were still haunting my thoughts at that time. But the idea behind ‘Angels Trumpet…’ also started with me thinking of the English nursery rhyme ‘Mary had a little lamb’.
At first, I only actually thought of the sentence: ‘Mary had a little lamb’, and of this image of a girl and a lamb. I also thought about the name Mary, and how it was kind of loaded with religious/spiritual meaning, as Virgin Mary is a classic symbol of innocence and purity. The clear conscience and the universal love between Mary and the lamb in the nursery rhyme makes it kind of trivial and light, and by turning the characters into this grotesque setting, they become more like martyr symbols, where their universal love will keep on existing beyond borders of time. The combination of something beautiful and fragile and the grotesque has always fascinated me, and I believe it awakens feelings and thoughts that wouldn’t appear without this duality. Usually we don’t want to see what is pure and innocent in combination with the grotesque.
I wanted to create an atmosphere that was somewhere between dream and reality, life and death, like a limbo state that these two figures were in. With the title, ‘Angels trumpet and the milky moon violin’, I wanted to emphasize this condition, as angels trumpet, or brugmasia, is the name of a highly toxic plant with beautiful characteristic flowers. The rest of the title ‘…the milky moon violin’, had a touch of melancholy about it, kind of sad, but beautiful. We are daily exposed to terrifying images in the news, and I think as a reaction to protect ourselves from those images, we either turn our heads away or abstract them in a way, making them not real or none of our business. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or that the problem will disappear.
How is your body of work a reflection of yourself as a person and your life?
Some of my work is more personal related, and the way I experience the world around me is always present, but still, I wouldn’t say that my work is a direct reflection of me as a person. I’m not that dark and dreary in life.
Which is the most important of your pieces in terms of your evolution?
The piece that have given me most recognition is ‘Angels trumpet…’, but personally I would say ‘Ataraxia’. It made me realize it was possible for me to work with other techniques and mediums, as I automatically would approach a new work, walking down the figurative path. Guess I had to free myself from the figure to appreciate it again… It also opened my mind towards working in collaboration with others, which I never had done before.
Which piece was the most technically challenging for you to execute?
I’m always doing things that are technically challenging…unfortunately, I have this tending towards things that I do not fully master…
Which was the most challenging emotionally?
Even though the issues I deal with thematically can be emotionally tough, the making of the piece is always the most challenging.
I wouldn’t say one piece stands out more than an other, its more that they individually have their own challenges. My sculptures always have a risk to collapse during the building process or in the kiln. With ‘Ataraxia’, there was a new challenge when it came to technology.
Can you point to different pieces and say, in 2012 so and so was happening in my life and you can see that expressed in this piece?
No, not really…, other than what I’ve already told. That would be writing a biography… Isn’t that supposed to be written after my death?… 😉
‘Ataraxia’ and ‘Tell me a story’ are the only two pieces that are abstract. What was different about the idea that you had for these two pieces that made you want to execute them in this way?
‘Making art is always an abstraction from reality, there are just different levels of abstractions’ a teacher once told me. I try not to work within forced frames, other than what I give myself. Sometimes I like working more abstract to see what it does to the expression. I enjoy creating certain atmospheres for the viewer to enter, and the idea of being surrounded by art rather than looking at it, also triggers me when I work. This was certainly the case for ‘Ataraxia’, as you walked into this magical landscape of lights and sound. When I make sculptures, I always try to put them in a surrounding which activates the room in some ways. ‘Tell me a story’, also had a sound-image, which you can’t see in the pictures, that made it active in this way. They say that when a baby is in the womb it can hear the sounds from outside the stomach and find comfort in the recognizable sounds after it’s born. ‘Tell me a story’ is kind of like a reflection on this, as the sound-image consists of ongoing heart-rhythm and distant daily life sounds. I wanted to make a sculpture that was a mixture of a nest and an anchor being dragged out of the ocean, naked and brutal, as the life soon to become a part of its new existence…
‘Pale sky in the eyes of a stranger’ seems cartoonish compared to your other figure pieces, what prompted that?
I wanted to work more simple and abstract on this piece, as it had a more physiological content which I felt was necessary to approach differently. I’ve been a big fan of the work of the Japanese movie maker Hayao Miyazaki for a long time, and I love the way he portrays his characters with many layers and depth. The simplified and animated look also makes the characters even more true in their authenticity. ‘Pale sky in the eyes of a stranger’ is about having diverse inner conflicts. My sister has been struggling all of her grown up life because of bad things she experienced in her childhood. She was bullied a lot as a child, which made her doubt the value of her existence. I believe we have this ghost-package from our childhood that we carry with us for the rest of our lives, and this kind of forms the person we become. I also believe that we as humans are complex creatures often struggling with inner conflicts pulling in different directions. The girls that may seem like Siamese twins at first are more like a portrait of one person with this diverse personality. If you look at the girls very closely you may notice that despite their similarities they appear different. The girl on the right is more anxious in the way she stands with her feet inwards and bites her lip, as the girl on the left is more confident in her appearance. The title is supposed to underestimate this diversity, as the stranger in this case is yourself.
How finite of an idea do you have in your mind before you begin a piece? And how do you arrive at that idea?
As I told earlier, when I start working with an idea, it usually starts with an image in my head. I also listen a lot to different podcasts and radio stations, audio books and music, and sometimes if I hear something I find interesting, I write it down, thinking it might come in handy some day. Sometimes images come in my head like short glimpses, as though my unconsciousness is giving me a hint…that probably sounds kind of silly, but I don´t actually know where it comes from sometimes. Maybe it just takes time for the brain to digest all the impressions, and it comes out like this mixture of everything?
Do you have anything you’re working on now that you’re excited about?
Yes, at the time I am working on my first public commission at an elementary school that is being built, which is exciting. I also have two solo exhibitions in Norway next year.
Do you have a specific way that you want to challenge yourself, whether in the next piece or in the future?
I´m always challenging myself in some ways, whether it is technically or thematically…in other words, experimenting…;)
The New Year is soon, do you make resolutions?
I try not to do that…I´m more the impulsive type, deciding things here and now.
Is there anything you do to celebrate the ending of one year and beginning of another?
I wish I could say something like I always fly up in the sky with my hot air balloon, letting the wind take me wherever it wants me to go. But, unfortunately, I don´t have a hot air balloon…yet. Anyway I guess the closest thing I get is to make hot air balloons out of tissue paper with my kids, sending them up on new years eve 🙂