James Shipman Quotes & Articles


“The titles of two works by James Shipman - Dream Head I and Dream Head Miro- connected this entire body of work with Surrealism's unexpected and surprising juxtapositions of unrelated elements, the "beautiful... encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table" (Isidore Ducasse, 19th Century). Like Miro and others, who unleashes a host of free associations with their alogical, ambiguous, and dream-like compositions, Shipman skillfully combines modern day detritus with his own clay pieces to forge work that defines a neat interpretation. At first glance, it is the combination of materials that catches the eye, the use of pliers, clamps, bolts, wrenches, clumps of cement chains, and wire netting which have become integral parts of each work. the addition of clay brings new life to these discarded materials while, at the same time, creating a tension between machine-made industrial parts and hand-formed clay and a rhythm of textures that animate each piece.

Yet it is the references to Miro which capture my imagination. The two dream heads lead us to an interior world where a different sensibility reigns, where logic is left behind and the mind is free to roam. The caricature/cartoon-like drawing of these heads and the whimsical hands of Boogie Shaman - another reference to the other wold sought by the Surrealists - add a child-like quality to works that can also be interpreted as statements about the consequences of the industrial revolution, as hinted at in the title of The Industrial Revolution Ends. But that message, if even intended, is muted by the grounding aspect of clay, which also serves as the unifying element in all of these works. It gives shape and meaning to the discarded elements, unlocking new forms and new uses. Just as dreams can free us from our normal constraints, these works encourage us to see objects and materials in a new light. “

-Vicky A. Clark, Curator (Pittsburgh Center for the Arts)

Seeking and Finding

I asked Shipman how he encountered the found objects that he uses in his sculpture. You would expect him to be involved in a kind of urban beach-combing, lugging fragments of iron and steel from the waste sites of industrial Pittsburgh to his cavernous studio. His response was a little disarming. For the most part, other people find things, and bring them to him. I doubt whether Picasso, Duchamp, or Cornell would tolerate that practice. But Shipman modestly accepts these offerings.

Thus the sculptural process begins in the studio, where these introduced objects encounter James Shipman the ceramist. He still continues to make large circular works in the tradition of his 'earth disks', made out of heavily aggregated layers of course clay, variously decorated. One such evokes a desert landscape; another the sudden, lightning expressionism of the synapses of the brain. The disk is always an empty canvas to explore.

When clay and rust iron come together in the fantastic configurations he has created, the experience strange alterations of equilibrium. Heavy weights are so balanced that you can push maybe hundreds of solid pounds with your fingertip. Normally these things happen only in a current of dream language, edging on the Surreal. The found objects are transmuted into objects of memory, some personal, others hinting at an industrial landscape of the mind. Ernst, Miro, Klee.

They are nearly all interactive. They come to life through physical contact, and lumber into action. Bedsprings creak, a massive clay ball clicks into place and large wheels grind over the concrete floor of the gallery. The work demands to be explored and meditated.

-Graham Shearing, Art Critic (Pittsburgh Tribune Review)

The pieces are a haptic experience

James Shipman's work embody the visceral. He works from the 'gut', from the senses - he imparts these senses into the sculptures. His presence and the presence of the sculptures of the sculptures are right there, front and center but still carry history. For instance, where a pair of pliers, a railroad spike, a wagon wheel, metal objects, bring their own histories to the piece, these histories accumulate and a new form and meaning emerges.

The clay has a history - from the ground, the earth, that malleable substance that becomes hard and rock-like when fire is introduced to the process - and the clay forms then are an exact recording of what happened to them, The large platters are pounded out rhythmically from a large mound of wet clay, particular attention paid to the cadence of the open palm moving the clay round and out producing it's own song. The rim of the platter is the 'found edge' or that which is the direct result of the process.

-Edward Eberle (Artist)