How did you get your start?
I've always been interested in working in different mediums. I studied glassblowing at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, the program was also very sculpture focused and many of my pieces combined different materials, though I didn't do much in clay at that time. A year or so after graduating I moved to Philadelphia and got a job working at a fine arts bronze casting foundry and worked there for the next 9 years. I was able to cast my own sculptures there and started making more work in bronze, combining that with glass and getting more into glass kiln casting at the time. I mostly worked in the wax department and realized I enjoyed that part of the casting process the most - more so than metal working etc, I liked the more hands on-ness of sculpting with the material.
Then I started exploring making jewelry and naturally started to think about combining the bronze with other materials like clay since I really like the juxtaposition of contrasting materials, i.e. smooth shiny metal with the sandy, earthy textures of some clays. At that point, I thought about how I could translate some of my glass and bronze sculptures into ceramic or at least add some elements of ceramic into them. I tend to have many ideas at once and since metal casting can be a long process, it typically took me a long time to complete a single sculpture and I wanted a material that was more immediate - although I should say that working in ceramics is by no means a quick process! That being said, it can require equipment that is less complicated to set up and frees up the dependency from someone else's facilities and being able to be more independent in that way appealed to me.
I then attended a ceramic hand-building class that a local artist was offering at her studio which enabled me to explore some of my ideas, from there I was hooked on clay. I loved the process of working with my hands on the material, the (relative)immediacy of the results and the endless possibilities of what you can do with and how you can get the clay to look like. I began to learn more about clay on my own in my studio, bringing my pieces to be fired at local places with cooperative kilns or friends' kilns until I was finally able to get my own.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from many places for me. When I was making glass sculpture, many of my ideas were based on taking traditional functional blown forms like a drinking goblet and creating sculptural non-functional plays on those forms. Now it's sort of the opposite where I create sculpture that can be incorporated into everyday use.
I think it’s amazing that a piece of art can have the power to elevate the energy of a space just by its presence alone and a functional art object can do the same and possibly more so by elevating the experience of even something as routine as drinking a warm beverage or presenting a meal. It can make you more present in the moment.
I view my jewelry as sculpture that you can wear, art to carry throughout your day and I believe that carrying beauty can feel empowering, because hey, life can be hard sometimes and anything to remind you about the beauty in it is a positive thing, right?! I like the idea of using an object like my incense catchalls to help create a moment of quiet or even personal ritual. With my Wall Vessel Sculptures and other pots, I intend for them to stand alone as sculptures but also to take on a another character by giving a plant or flowers a space to live in, thereby creating its own relationship with the vessel which again goes back to the idea of combining different materials.
I find inspiration in nature by observing plants and coastal landscapes. I look to artists and art movements of the past, architecture and geometry. Somewhere in my head that's all swirling around but for me, drawing specifically from any one source has not been my approach and mostly I come up with new forms and designs from exploring a shape, patterns or color combinations and experimenting or meditating on those ideas, while also being open to let the clay and process guide the results.
It's in that mind space that something will just click and I'll get this feeling that an idea is either working or not, and I’ve learned to follow that intuition. I think it's there that I find my personal voice for my work.
What are some favorite materials?
I use a few different Cone 6 stoneware bodies. One favorite has a really beautiful sand-like color and slight texture with some nice sparkling dark glints in it and I love using another that reveals itself as speckled underneath the glaze. I often leave some parts of my pieces unglazed to show off the detail and beauty of the raw material.
As for glazes, I use a lot of underglazes and like their result consistency especially when doing detailed areas of pattern or to achieve matte pops of color.
How about techniques?
Mostly I use hand-building techniques and have worked a bit with press molds and slip casting. I've incorporated inlaying clay of contrasting colors and shapes into some pieces and also etch and use sgraffito.
Most of my pieces tend to be pretty labor intensive, whether attaching dimensional parts or doing careful detailed glaze work. For the most part I'm self taught and am constantly experimenting with new techniques and approaches and always learning. At times the learning process can be longer than it would have had I been classically trained, but I like coming from a different sculptural background and feel that my approach isn't clouded by a strong influence of academia in ceramics.
What do you want people to know about your collection?
My latest release is full of bold geometric shapes and colors juxtaposed with open spaces of the raw or neutrally glazed clay. By combining these elements, I hoped to create pieces that would both stand out yet still fuse seamlessly into one's existing decor. I want people to know that each of these handmade objects were made to inspire interaction with and further moments of beauty, reflection and mindfulness in a world that otherwise can make those moments sometimes hard to grasp in the busyness of our everyday.
Do you practice anything outside of ceramics?
I would say amassing a good amount of plants and learning to tend to them has become sort of a practice for me. I love being surrounded by these green life forms because they energize my space and also give it a sense of calm at the same time. To learn each plant’s needs and actually help it to grow is a very rewarding feeling. It’s definitely a learning process and while sometimes plants are lost, it helps you to learn what is best for your space or reminds you that if you’re neglecting something maybe you've taken too much on!
Also, my two cats Zolaska and Miss Mabel require a lot of attention and always have some issue going on now that they're getting older so they could be considered a practice, ha! They are both (adopted at different times) "Turkish Van" cats so they look very similar except one is extra large and the other extra small. They are the sweetest, dog-like, weird fuzzy little alien beings that bring me a lot of joy.
What's next for you?
Up until very recently I called my brand, ZOLA, but have decided to switch to creating under my own name, Gabrielle Silverlight. As I've developed my brand, this feels like the right change for me now. Besides that, I've been working on my next collection and trying to find some time to make larger scale vessels.
Also, my husband Brian and I bought a home with an adjoining studio space here in Philadelphia that we have been renovating and although it has been a very long process, we are hoping that by next year we will be in the new space and the studio will serve as both a workspace for us (he owns and operates a guitar effects pedal company, smallsound/bigsound) and also a showroom… so I'm pretty excited about that!
Thanks for sharing with us, Gabrielle.