"Sanctimony" by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media, life size.
“Sanctimony” by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media, life size.

There are qualities inherent to each art media. We call these qualities Material Properties. These days, when artists are not bound to one medium alone, material selection for completing and artwork is challenging and important. We can choose a material because it is the one most suited to fulfill the physical demands of our vision or we can choose a material because of its inherent conceptual implications.

When I was in graduate school a fellow classmate returned to the studio after a walk in the hills with an armful of fallen eucalyptus bark she had picked up on the hiking trail. This artist had recently moved to Southern California and was unfamiliar and with this tree. She began to sew the bark pieces together with wire to form large boat-like platters. The bark was already curved to imply this form. This artist’s work has always been about nature and community. This idea; the boat form implying her recent voyage, the platter signifying togetherness, the bark connecting with nature, was in keeping with her process. Almost right away, however, the bark began to dry and turn very brittle. Within a couple of days it could no longer be handled without breaking into shards. There was no way to sew it and doing so would be an exercise in futility. The material properties of this tree bark were not suited for the project this artist had in mind.

I choose clay for the construction of human faces because to me, clay is like human flesh. When wet, clay is malleable and moist to the touch. It warms when we manipulate it. Clay gives to gentle pressure while holding its overall form. What better choice for creating the expressions made by skin and muscle over bone?