“Family is a constant source of inspiration both as image and encouragement. I don’t believe artists make the decision to become artists. They are born. The hope is that they find the will to pursue their vision, an environment in which to develop , and a culture respectful of their contributions.” This insight from her artist statement also describes her body of work as an artist. Syd’s handbuilt/sculptural work frequently draws on her connection to the earth and her research into the history of African American agriculture. Many of her organic cellular forms have been directly inspired by her own garden, as seen in a few of these images. She is inspired by the physical and emotional grounding that gardening provides, whether that is a necessary function to produce food or a way for someone to express their own artistic urges through color, texture, and light created in an ornamental garden (functional vs non-fuctional, anyone?). Her large-scale sculptures beg to be displayed outdoors and her hope is that they become a garden themselves as a habitat for other organic matter like lichen.
Syd Carpenter’s work is incredible, but I found myself so much more struck by her descriptions of how she incorporates agricultural and generational influences into her art. Maybe that’s because of my particular perspective? I’ve been surrounded by so many different types of art all of my life that I’m more interested in the story behind the art. Listening to Syd describe the genesis of her art is giving me all the feels.
Syd Carpenter discovered clay in her undergrad days and was fortunate enough to take her first clay classes from Rudolf Staffel, one of the most significant American ceramic artists working in the latter half of the 20th century. Around 22 minutes into the May 20, 2020 video, “From the Ground Up,” she describes that his classes welcomed and embraced all artists, contrary to the white male centric atmosphere in art at that time. In Rudi’s class, “all things were equal” among everyone in the room and provoked a learning narrative of “what did you bring to the experience?”