Alisabeth Brown, Potter and Glass Worker
Pottery & glass work
Sewing & tailoring, fermentation, motorcycles
New York City & Los Angeles
No shop, but pieces occasionally available at Opuntia
Alisabeth Brown is one of the first people I met when I moved to Santa Fe. We were friends for months before I ever saw her work, and when I did, I was completely blown away. We were neighbors when we both lived at the Lena Street Lofts, and it was at the Winter Open Studios/Holiday Market that I first saw her pottery. It was there that I bought one of her pieces that now have in my bedroom, and it's the one piece in my house that guests always compliment. I caught up with Alisabeth to speak with her about her artistic process and unique aesthetic, and what's on the horizon for her art.
SFF: Your aesthetic is so different than anything I’ve ever seen. How would you describe your work?
AB: On a technical level, many of my ceramics are wheel thrown and altered. But when I moved here, I went back to handbuilding pieces because it’s more conducive to a live/work space. The wheel is a little messy. I recently started using paper clay, which is a lot stronger. I call this series here with the round and pointed bottoms my weeble wobbles. Do you remember those toys? When I handbuilt this large-scale coil pot I was riffing off the smaller weeble wobbles. It was fun to build - I would sit on top of the table and sculpt it in my lap. My friend initially dubbed a lot of this work “my vagina china”.
SFF: Because you would birth it in your lap?
AB: Yes, and because they have all these folds, and they’re sensual. And then one day I looked at my weeble wobbles and realized I had graduated to breasts. I actually think this large one looks like a womb.
SFF: What piece are you most proud of?
AB: The small blue one is literally my favorite piece I’ve ever made. I stained the wet clay without using precise measurement and threw the piece on my wheel. After firing it I finished it, as I usually do, with lots and lots of sanding of the raw, unglazed clay. It ended up with this wabi sabi moment where I hadn’t mixed the pigment thoroughly. I love the indigo. There’s that great moment in ceramics when you open up a kiln and you don’t know what you’re going to get - it’s a surprise every time. Always. As many controls are in place, there’s always something that gives me pause. When I was in school I couldn’t deal with that at all, so I would open up the kiln, do this sort of analytical survey of everything, then dump everything in the trash. And I didn’t save anything or proclaim it worthy of showing anybody for years and years.
SFF: Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
AB: I have a sketchbook where I draw ideas, but everything is a line drawing and nothing is three dimensional that would indicate where it will actually end up; just impressions, shapes, flat profiles. I’ll sit down at the wheel with some of these sketches in mind as my assignment for the day, and I don’t necessarily end up with any of them, but it’s a place to jump off from. Also, I recently took a class that was all about process, and that’s how this colorful piece started, just from freeform exercises. I was playing with chalk pastels and experiencing such joy in just mashing them into this beautiful paper and then of course I ended up creating it into a sort of vessel, because that’s just what I do! It was such a fun class to take, to be “in process” without investment in the outcome, and to see where I go when I’m free. One of the things I found out is that despite how much I love how upfront form and line are in the white-on-white pieces, I love color and still very much desire to bring it into my work.
SFF: It seems like you have distinct chapters of your artistic life and work.
AB: Exactly, and that’s representative of me having time in a studio, then shutting it down. Having more time in a studio, and then shutting it down. I can look at my work and see “that’s when I was in Venice, that’s when I was in New York”, et cetera.
SFF: What state are you in now?
AB: At the moment, there’s nothing fully realised. That’s my embarrassment right now. I live in this perpetual state of having ideas, and getting to do them to a degree, but not fully. I work at a couple of cafes, picking up shifts as necessary, but soon I’ll be relegating more time to being in the studio and focusing my creative impulses. I have not been in the flow of practice in so long. I’m also taking a glass class at Bullseye, and I’m excited to see where that leads me. Glass is really the material that is talking to me most right now and I am curious to know how this conversation will flesh out. Will it bring me back to clay exclusively? Can the two work together through me? Do I finally make friends with two-dimensionality?
SFF: How long have you been doing glass work?
AB: About a year, but glass is the medium I’ve always wanted to work with. Years ago when I got into art school with clay as my medium, my intent was to switch over to glass, but I never did. Then when I moved here, I started going in and picking up shifts at Liquid Light Glass Studio. I ended up making friends with one of the teachers who I now work with.
SFF: How do you work with her?
AB: When we first met I told her that I do ceramics and have all these ideas for pieces I want to make in glass. She is what is known as a gaffer, and so I basically I describe my ideas to her and she helps me realize them. I’ll come in with a plan, draw it out on the floor with chalk, and we’ll discuss what we’re aiming for. Then from there I’ll assist and verbally communicate things I want to happen with each piece. It’s crazy, because I have to be clear about what I want and not in my head like I’m used to when I’m at the wheel or building. With ceramics I can just see what is happening, change it myself, and make it work. But with glass, I have to rely on another artist’s eye and expertise and hope that our visions will meet.
SFF: Do you find that frustrating?
AB: I think it’s a great exercise for my brain and for my overall creativity. Because I have to stretch my brain to converse in a different way than I’m used to. But I haven’t yet had a full realization of what I’d like. A lot of the pieces I’ve made so far aren’t even finished. They require a lot more work, so I haven’t gotten to a stage with a piece where I absolutely love it.
SFF: Is that a dinnerware set?
AB: Yes. They look a lot like porcelain but they are actually blown glass, and they have these subtle splashes of color. They start out glossy and then I sand blast them matte.
SFF: It’s like you’re kind of mixing your two mediums of clay and glass.
AB: That was my idea. To do something organic in shape, but still has function. I love when you turn it over to the side that hasn’t been sandblasted and there’s this whole other relationship between the colors. That makes me really happy.
SFF: Do you currently have your work for sale anywhere?
AB: Not currently, no. Although I’m aiming towards having a bunch of pieces featured at Opuntia sometime soon.
SFF: You made that bag you’re wearing, right?
AB: Yes! I was buying these bags made for carrying water bottles, and kept going through them, so after a certain point I was like, ok I need to learn how to make one. I also knitted these gloves. I’ve been wearing half gloves since I was seventeen years old, so I had to learn how to make them. My mother taught me how to sew and knit as a kid. I’ve been able to sew well since single digits and then I figured out how to fake my way through working a sewing machine. There’s probably not one piece of clothing I wear that I haven’t kind of fussed with. I altered this jumpsuit. It passed through my whole family but it didn’t fit anyone, so I took it and altered it and I love it.
SFF: What made you move to Santa Fe?
AB: I moved here just over two years ago because I had reached the threshold when it came to living in LA or NY. I had been coming to Southern New Mexico for about 6 years before moving here to work with my spiritual teacher. Every time I visited I fell more and more in love with the terrain. One time after I had finished an intensive retreat, I was driving back to the airport in Albuquerque and I just started bawling. I saw the sign for Santa Fe and thought “I should just keep driving to Santa Fe”, but I didn’t have the courage. So I got on the plane, and on that flight I decided to move to Santa Fe. I had only spent a total of two weeks in Santa Fe before moving here, and I had little sense of what it had to offer me. But coming here, it kind of feels like a haven to me, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with it. Santa Fe is such a great place to operate from. I still have those moments where I feel restless or wander-lusty, when I think I’m going to move to Europe, but if I have to be functional, operational, and meeting responsibilities for my family, this is a great place to do that from. I feel held by the community and really welcomed by it. I’ve met such kind people here, and Santa Fe is amazingly beautiful. I don’t have to remind myself to be grateful for mother nature here at all. I open the door every day and my first thought is “thank you”. And that is a tremendous place to live from and exist from. Especially compared to New York or Los Angeles where there is such an aggressive and hard hitting mentality. The more time I spend away from those big cities, the harder I’m slammed by those energetics when I go back.
SFF: I also love LA, but the last time I was there I was overwhelmed by how much noise and commotion there was.
AB: Yep, there is so much energetic interference. I would come here to NM and have these deep spiritual experiences, and when I would go back there, I would lose it in a week. I couldn’t maintain what was given to me in this realm. But there are parts of Los Angeles that I love. Every time I go back I have this whole list of food places I have to try. But all those things I can live without, and all those things are far more fun in smaller doses now. They really are a treat then, and that’s another place where gratitude can come in.
SFF: What are your favorite spots to hang out and eat in Santa Fe?
AB: Iconik is my living room outside of my living room for sure. I also love the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Food-wise, I think Jambo is fun, Vinaigrette rocks. I loved Rasa when it was here, and found out that they’re actually opening up another juice bar in the space. When I first got here I had fun going to the Tea House and brining friends there.
SFF: What do you like most about Santa Fe?
AB: When you move here you have that moment of clean-slating and you get to be authentically you, and then if you can hold yourself to it, there is the space for you to truly be yourself in this town. There’s this experience I’ve had of expansiveness, literal expansiveness. I can breathe. Everywhere you look, there’s openness and there’s blue sky and phenomenal clouds. I’m always feeling the embrace of mama nature. And there’s also the ability to curate your social life and really hold it to the terms you determine to be working for you. There isn’t that kind of pull that happens in LA or other cities where you’re always “on” in some way or another.
SFF: There doesn’t seem to be a dominant culture here in Santa Fe like there is in other places that you can just fall in to. Like everybody moved here for a reason and they just wanted to be themselves and do what they want to do, and we come together at certain points to see each other. I really appreciate it, that everyone seems a lot more comfortable being themselves.
AB: Yes, and along that same line, this is a place where I’ve encountered a lot of creatives. So the ratio of dissatisfaction to satisfaction is a lot lower and here. People are doing their own thing. They make money off of it, maybe not all of their money, but they’re getting their fix and they are really happy about it. There’s no caveat or footnote to being a creative when you live in Santa Fe. And that’s what is really cool about this place.