Is it possible to take the road less traveled while still promoting a sense of community?
Artist Elysia Vandenbussche represents this dichotomy in both her own life and her artwork in our most recent exhibition, COMM[UNITY]. Vandenbussche’s installation, untitled., is made up of 65 handmade porcelain canvases. Each piece began as a pile of powder, which Vandenbussche made into clay and then formed into her unconventional canvases. From there, each canvas was carefully painted, fired, glazed, and re-fired, resulting in a stunning coalescence of shape and color.
“I want each piece to be so strong that it can stand alone, but it doesn’t hurt the piece as a whole by being in unity with the others,” explains Vandenbussche. “Kind of like humans, we’re all unique — we can stand alone and really have a presence, but when we’re all together it’s great, too.”
All of the canvases fit neatly into beautifully mismatched rows of eight — except one. The outlier is a 22-carat gold glazed piece with the word “rejected” revealed, as if the gold has been peeled back. Vandenbussche explains that, although all of her pieces are dear to her, this one is especially close to her heart.
“This piece is a response to me being really comfortable in my own skin and letting go of fear and expectations,” says Vandenbussche. “I made that tile gold because the whole idea is to challenge how we view the word ‘rejected. We see rejection as something so negative, but I feel like there are a lot of valuable things on the outside.”
The 30-year-old artist has definitely had experience living on what some would consider the “outside” of societal norms. While most young adults head to work for a company or attend grad school after college, Vandenbussche opted to take a risk and open her own studio in downtown Detroit. A graduate of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, she was seeking to be embedded in an artistic community outside of a university environment.
“When I was signing the lease, I was like, ‘what am I doing this is insane?’” Vandenbussche remembers. “But there was a part of me that just felt driven to really get my feet on the ground in the city that I’m living in before heading off to grad school or something else.”
Since then, Vandenbussche built out three different studio spaces, started a ceramics company, and held a residence at the Red Bull House of Art. Still, she admits that her individualistic path comes with its fair share of ups and downs, including a challenging situation that put her out of a studio for almost a year. This experience taught Vandenbussche a valuable lesson about letting go, which she says ultimately helped her grow as an artist.
Vandenbussche explains that her drive to keep creating in the face of adversity comes from a need to express herself in a way not possible with words alone. “For me, clay is just another language to express myself. I love words and I’m fascinated by them, but they can also be very limiting,” she says. This longing to create a physical manifestation of her emotions is what will keep Vandenbussche creating for years to come.
“I want to create in some way until the day I die,” Vandenbussche muses. “Even if that means I’m old, my back hurts from making so many ceramics, and I can only make gummy bear art.”
Elysia’s work in on view through Saturday, January 13th as a part of the COMM[UNITY] exhibition at PLAYGROUND DETROIT.
Featured image credit, Charles William Kelly.