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Aby Henry

Aby Henry

Please tell us a little about yourself…

I was born in Germany and grew up in the deserts of Nevada. I have called Portland home for the last the past decade, and have been working with clay for the past 13 years or so.

What's your background in art? How did art making first find its way into your life?

I never went to daycare growing up, I spent all of my time with my Italian grandparents. Their idea of daycare was us playing in the yard and going to the art supply store  to pick out various projects, it was amazing. My sister Jen Henry  - who is also an accomplished artist - and I like to joke that essentially all of our adult interests come from them.

Resonance,  2017.  ( 18"H X 14"W X 3"D)

Resonance, 2017. (18"H X 14"W X 3"D)

What advice would you offer to people interested in pursuing a career in the arts?

I suppose the main thing I try to keep in mind is the abundance of the art world. It’s easy to get sucked into a scarcity mindset, which is just capitalist nonsense  trying to pit people against each other so we don’t raise each other up.

As I have been getting deeper into the art world I’m just repeatedly made aware of the abundance of it. There is plenty to go around, and so much out there. And if you can’t find it or it doesn’t exist, grab your peers and make it happen yourselves.  

It’s really valuable in the arts to remember the importance of raising the water level and not just your own ship. Remembering that we all benefit when we all succeed is incredibly important to me. It’s so easy to get scared and defensive and selfish, but when success is shared it amplifies, and the whole thing becomes louder.

Also just showing up is so important. Go to lectures, go to openings, be in your studio as much as possible. Especially in Portland- just showing up and supporting your fellow artists is extremely important.

Reverie , 2017. Gold electroformed porcelain. (12"L x 4" x 12"H)

Reverie, 2017. Gold electroformed porcelain. (12"L x 4" x 12"H)

What keeps you motivated and engaged in your creative practice and how do you maintain it?

For me making art is less of a choice and more of a necessity. I am highly unpleasant to be around when I am not creating in some fashion.

But I also strive to trust the value of the downtime as much as I value the highly productive studio time. I used to fight the highs and lows of my creative impulse. Now, I try to maintain my faith in the momentum that I create. Even if that momentum means spending an entire day reading a book or cooking myself a good meal.

My creative practice often looks like periods of time where I spend time coloring, knitting, painting, doing embroidery, and loads of reading. I used to feel so guilty about these periods but those activities feed me in a really specific way that I need. I suspect it’s because they engage just enough of my mind that while I’m doing them I’m just accidentally thinking about other things.

And then I get onto an idea or get excited and revved up and spend 15-20 hour days in the studio for a period of time.

Could you describe a moment, experience or situation that profoundly changed or influenced your work?

It would be hard to pick out a singular experience. It’s been more like 50,000 small moments that all moved the current of my life in this direction.

My sister actually signed me up for my first ceramics class - before that I had been a photographer for many years. But after working with clay I couldn’t go back.

Watching my first slab sculpture be built by Fred Reid in my undergrad was a turning point in my ceramics life.

Seeing an Ana Mendieta in person for the first time while I was in LA with my cohort and Kristin Cammermeyer is a moment I will never forget.

Alter for Recalcitrant.  Wood, nails. (108"L x 48"H x D)

Alter for Recalcitrant. Wood, nails. (108"L x 48"H x D)

Do you have a favorite artist(s), in general, and/or right now?

Ana Mendieta is by far my favorite historical artist. I’ve also recently been introduced to Anne Brigman and she is rocking my world.

In terms of present day artists Jennifer Ling-Datchuk, Roxanne Jackson, and Julia Haft-Candell are three favorites. They are brilliant, ambitious, generous, kind, badass humans.

You recently graduated with an MFA from OCAC--could you tell us a bit about why you chose to go to graduate school, why you chose OCAC, and your MFA journey?

After my undergrad I took a lot of detours and garnered a lot of life experience. What that meant was that I had basically established many connections where I did my undergrad and then moved here where I knew  no one. I knew there was a massive art scene in Portland, but I just had no idea how to access it or get my foot in the door.

My favorite thing about OCAC was Karl Burkheimer but also the dynamic group of students attending the program. I did a hell of a lot between my undergrad and my masters, which meant that when I went back I knew exactly why I was there. I knew without a doubt what I wanted-  and I was going to drive like hell to get at it. And I did.

Trajectory.  Stoneware, black terra sigillata, lace. Installation approx. 12'L x 7'W x 9'H

Trajectory. Stoneware, black terra sigillata, lace. Installation approx. 12'L x 7'W x 9'H

Grad school is like being a house that gets ripped down to its studs. Then it’s your job to slowly build the house up again from the foundation. I am very fortunate in that I went through the program with a really amazing and dedicated cohort. We were an extremely supportive and dedicated group and I feel really fortunate for that. It was an intense two years, but I am thrilled about what I have gained and what is coming next.

What's are you pursuing now after having graduated?

After graduation I was fortunate to be awarded two scholarships that allowed me to take a workshop with Trey Hill at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. That was an amazing experience. I got so much out of it, it was unbelievable. Trey is an amazing, kind, and genuine teacher.

I received a Windgate Fellowship to attend Vermont Studio Center for the month of September. I can’t say enough good things about that experience. I met so many amazing and dedicated artists and writers while I was there. Just an all around stunning experience.

I just finished a three month residency at Medalta in Canada. While I was there I was working on pieces for a show that I had with Kalpana Vadnagara and Ryan Riss at Concordia University. While I was Medalta I found out that I was accepted into a residency in Rome, so I will be at CRETA for all of June!

Otherwise, I will have a few shows, pop-ups, and studio sales coming up around Portland over the next few months.

My utilitarian ceramics shop is also now live at bridgetownsparrow.com

It’s always a hustle with this life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Find Aby:

Glow.  Stoneware, underglaze, gold leaf. (14"H x 18"W x 4"D)

Glow. Stoneware, underglaze, gold leaf. (14"H x 18"W x 4"D)

Tabitha Nikolai

Tabitha Nikolai

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