Carole Epp is a Canadian ceramic artist educated under the mentorship of Jack Sures, Ruth Chambers and Rory MacDonald at the University of Regina, and Janet Deboos, Greg Daly and Gail Nichols at the Australian National University. She is known for her two distinct bodies of work; one figurative based sculpture, alongside functional pottery. Both bodies of work, through different means thematically and conceptually address contemporary politics and society.
Known internationally through exhibitions of her work, she has also contributed to the critical writing of craft through numerous publications. Respected as a curator she has been involved with curating and organizing a number of ceramic and craft based exhibitions. She has traveled extensively to teach workshops and to engage with communities of craft practice internationally.
In 2017 she received the Artist of the Year award from Ceramics Monthly in recognition of her years of advocating for the ceramic community through such projects as Musing About Mud (established in 2007): an online curatorial project and community resource on ceramic arts internationally. She is also recognized for her contributions to the promotion of Canadian Ceramics through co-founding the organization Make and Do Ceramics (established 2015); a collective of artists working towards unifying and amplifying the Canadian clay community to larger and diverse audiences internationally.
In the last 12 years my artistic practice has centred around figurative sculpture. I work primarily in clay, but also incorporate found materials and objects in my work. My figurative sculptures are based on traditional kitsch collectibles and are a statement regarding contemporary society, mass consumption, media propaganda and global events.
The tradition of collectible ceramics has always intrigued me and working within that context has brought further desirable subject matter into the work. It forced the work to exist in a balance between beauty and kitsch, or refined beauty and the everyday manufactured object. I found that I could use the expectations of the medium and the collectible object as an accessible entry point into the work, allowing for a non-confrontational or disconcerting perspective on the subject matter. My work also speaks to the history, nostalgia and aesthetics of children’s stories. I’ve had a long interest in fables and fairy tales as a means to disseminate ideology and moral teachings to younger generations. Much of my work looks to the future that we are carving out for our children.
Since beginning this body of work in 2005 it has evolved in different ways, both thematically and visually. The impact of having my own children and working with imagery of children and childhood has propelled the work into a more personal realm wherein issues of motherhood, identity, and childrearing have become part of the larger discussion of the work. My aim with this work has always been to find a space of dialogue for issues of political and social relevance; to tap into the humanity behind the headlines, to address concerns we face in day to day life, and to create an active desire for change in our world.
My most recent series of works bring forth some strong emotions about the struggles of the creative artist as parent. The works use imagery such as missing limbs to reference not only art historical content but more importantly the loss of ability to make work and feelings of helplessness as a parent attempting to protect our children. The maternal body versus the plastic idealized body of a doll is often also placed in scenes with branches and dead trees simultaneously signifying grow and decay; give and take.
I joke that my current work can be summed up as being about diapers and death. Overly simplistic as that might sound it’s reasonable accurate. My art has always reflected my life. Inspiration comes from that which is closest to me. I am currently sandwiched in between young children and retired parents, grasping to try to make sense of things and realizing that none of us really know what we’re doing. We make it up along the way and our failures have the potential to lead us towards paths of success should we chose to learn from them.
It's simple really, I like to make things that make people smile. I want to be a maker of objects that through their imagery, evoke nostalgia, innocence and love. Perhaps sometimes a greater narrative or story is lurking in the images sometimes not. Within the whirlwind of a busy life with two young children, my functional ceramics have evolved towards contemporary narrative representations and whimsy. From books and their elaborate illustrative art, to my children’s drawings and imaginations I find inspiration all around me. The reward of this work for me is that young and old find happiness though the work and its engagement with nostalgia, familiar imagery, and an ability to perhaps see themselves represented in the handmade objects that they use.
Beyond the simplicity of the work is lurking a desire to create sustainable objects in a world hell bent on disposability and consumerism. I hope to redefine for an audience how they engage with everyday objects and I wish to contribute to a dialogue of how even functional work can be political and socially minded.