31 Women – March 25th: Michelle Gregor

31 Women – March 25th: Michelle Gregor

Michelle Gregor   
“Odalisque”, 2017
Multi-fired to stoneware temperatures with glazes and underglazes

An Interview with Michelle Gregor

Michelle at work in the studio

MKM: Tell me about your childhood, where did you grow up? Were you always creative?

MG: I was born in San Francisco (third generation San Franciscan) and moved to Tahoe City, CA at a young age. Raised by a single Mom, I’m the second of four children. I have a younger sister that I entertained by making drawings, puppets and toys. I’ve always been creative and originally thought I’d become a writer. I ultimately found my creative voice in the clay studio during my first year of college.

MKM: Why did you pursue art?

MG: Why did I pursue Art? I’ve always had a vivid imagination and loved to draw and make things with my hands. My Mom encouraged me to study what I loved and so I took many art classes in college. The communal aspect of the art studio felt like my spiritual home. I’ve always been drawn to creative people, they are the source of my greatest wealth, my artist family.

MKM: Where did you study?

MG: I studied first at UC Santa Barbara and transferred to UC Santa Cruz for my BFA. After completing the degree, I moved to SF and worked at a ceramic cooperative studio (Ruby O’Burke’s ) for about 7 years. I decided to go back to graduate school so I could have access to better studio facilities and attended SFSU where I earned my MFA. I had the opportunity to study with Stephen De Staebler there. 

MKM: Did you have any memorable teachers at SFSU, UCSB and UCSC?

MG: Stephen De Staebler at SFSU, David Kuraoka at SFSU, Sheldon Kaganoff at UCSB and Sandra Johnstone at UCSC. These teachers were all important to me. I feel very fortunate to have been a college student in California during the golden age of education. I have been deeply influenced by each.

MKM: When you’re creating what’s your daily routine? rituals, patterns?

MG: Ceramics is a process-oriented art form. There are many steps and phases an artwork goes through from beginning to end. Much of the work isn’t glamorous. There is the wedging and preparing the clay, recycling the clay, hollowing the form etc. etc. Always many tasks to accomplish! I work on several pieces at once and move back and forth between them. Clay takes time to set up, to hold its shape. It’s easy to overwork a sculpture which may cause it to slump or fall. By moving back and forth between pieces, I can allow works to stiffen up and hopefully retain some of the fresh mark making as the sculptures progress. Deep looking is also an essential part of my process. I sometimes just take a cup of tea into the studio and look. I’ll rotate the artworks and return to my chair and look some more. 

Michelle at work in her studio

MKM: How has your practice changed over time?

MG: I include a lot more drawing in my daily practice. I sketch from works in progress. I allow myself more freedom and am more generous with experimentation and mark making. Now I paint and draw as well as sculpt.

MKM: Do you focus on a specific medium or combination of mediums? Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

MG: Clay is the most familiar medium and I hold a great love and respect for it. With clay, I can explore form and surface. It’s a generous medium. Over the past 7 years I’ve painted, sketched and drawn more on paper, canvas and board. I’d love to learn encaustic and oil painting.

MKM: What themes do you pursue?

MG: Themes of pursuit are both figurative and abstract. The figure provides a vehicle to explore form, shape, texture, color and space. I will never tire of it! Abstraction has limitless potential to describe emotional and spiritual states. Together the two themes encompass our human existence. My work explores what it is to be inside our human containers.

MKM: What is your most important tool?

MG: My most important tools are my hands.

MKM: Is there an artwork you are most proud of?

MG: There are artworks that I’m prouder of than others but in general, I’m never fully satisfied with anything. I am in pursuit of something that is just out of reach.

MKM: What has been a seminal experience?

MG: A seminal experience might be having first seen the work of artists like Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell and Auguste Rodin. Being brought to tears by a canvas covered with scratchy marks and not knowing why. My relationship to looking at art has brought me profound emotional experiences.

MKM: What art do you most identify with?

MG: The art I most identify with is abstract expressionism.

MKM: What inspires you? Other artists, other women from history, your process, a theme?

MG: Inspiration comes in so many forms; a poem by Mary Oliver, a canvas by Joan Mitchell, a story by Haruki Murakami… I am deeply inspired by artists of all kinds. I never lack inspiration. It surrounds me both in culture and in nature.

Michelle at work in her studio

MKM: Do you have a sense of connection to a particular woman artist from art history? 

MG: When I was a young girl, I spent a lot of time in our small town library. I recall being particularly interested in the art section and was perplexed why there were so few books on women artists. I remember counting only three books with women’s names on the spine (O’Keeffe, Imogen Cunningham and one other). From that day on, I have relentlessly pursued finding everything I can about women artists and their creative processes. I still recall the thrill of discovering Artemisia Gentileschi. As far as specific artists and their work, I’m deeply enamored of Joan Mitchell’s paintings. 

MKM: Who are your female role models from history or present day? 

MG: My female role models are many and they have shifted places as the years progress. My earliest heroine was Georgia O’Keeffe followed by Anaïs Nin and Colette. Now I look to the Abstract Expressionist painters like Mitchell and Lee Krasner for inspiration. Artists like Kiki Smith, Phyllida Barlow and Kara Walker also are part of my pantheon. 

MKM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

MG: The best piece of advice I’ve been given is from my Mother who told me to “follow your heart”.

MKM: What is your dream project?

MG: My dream project is to have a one person show in Paris.

MKM: What can we expect to see from you in the year ahead?

MG: What you can expect to see from me this year is the creation of new works both three dimensional and two dimensional. I have a couple of exhibitions lined up and a lot of work to accomplish.