In Jane Margarette’s most recent show, Cheer Up, Kitten, the artist considered the dynamics between nature and the man made, life and death, and the real and the artificial. Installed floor to ceiling throughout 1969’s gallery, Margarette’s ceramic sculptures embraced a range of playful and nostalgic motifs, shapes and natural forms. Her work carries a subliminal cynicism, disguised at first through vibrant colored glazes, butterflies, bats and rosebud shapes, and a strong resonance of uninhibited joy.
I’m interested in the symbology that nature provides. Cats and foxes as guardians, fruit and flowers as lures, butterflies for transformation
After spending more time with Margarette’s pieces, and paying particular attention to each work’s composition, and the artist’s choice of imagery, I became aware of the not-so-subtle commentaries and narratives that began to surface. I had an enriching opportunity to speak to Jane Margarette about why she returns to certain imagery again and again, what her work aims to, or accidentally addresses, and the ins and outs of her day-to-day studio life.
Clare Gemima: Jane, thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to you, and congratulations on Cheer Up, Kitten. I am interested in the pieces I was lucky enough to experience in person, as well as understanding the ins and outs of your practice… I am curious, have you always worked in ceramics?
Jane Margarette: Not always. I originally went to undergrad for graphic design, but I took a ceramics class my first semester and have never left the studio since. My early work used to incorporate more mixed media: found objects, fiber, plaster, and photography. At the moment my practice only needs clay and glaze, but perhaps that will change later on.
Clare Gemima: Can you describe an ideal day for you in your studio? Can you also describe the worst possible day in your studio?
Jane Margarette: There are different kinds of ideal days. One can be when I discover a new way of working with the material, and it opens up new ideas for future works, or when I have uninterrupted time to myself, or it can just be when I get everything done that I had planned for the day. Kiln loading days are also nice, it means that the work is going to soon transform and I can switch into a different mode of working like glazing or finally installing the work on a wall. Less ideal is when something breaks, that can be really hard to bounce back from. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often.
Clare Gemima: Many of your ceramic sculptures celebrate the forms of nature’s butterflies, domestic pets, and flowers. I’m curious as to why, and how you choose your subject matter?
Jane Margarette: I’m interested in the symbology that nature provides. Cats and foxes as guardians, fruit and flowers as lures, butterflies for transformation. Pairing this kind of imagery with objects like locks and traps push the work into a more ominous zone, which is where I’m interested in the work being at the moment. These kinds of pairings can communicate anxieties around helplessness, control, and desire.
Clare Gemima: Many of your ceramic sculptures are constructed similarly to puzzles, with certain portions slotting into each other in order to build complete compositions. This feature is particularly striking in your floral pieces, and accentuates the lack of precision in the image’s registration. How did you arrive at this idea?
Jane Margarette: Out of necessity! I’m limited to the size of my kiln. By creating the work in puzzle pieces I’m then able to work at any scale I want.
Clare Gemima: What are the sorts of issues you most regularly run into while using your kiln?
Jane Margarette: I don’t experience too many issues with firing in the kiln, and if I do it’s usually because I’m rushing the firing process which leads to work blowing up or cracking. It’s always humbling and frustrating when that happens, but I’ve learned that I can’t push that part of my practice and so everything revolves around the timing of the firings.
Glazing can be a bit tricky since it’s always different from the way I imagined when applying it, but I don’t see this as a problem, just the nature of working with ceramics, and I’m always excited to see what it wants to be.
Clare Gemima: Several of your ceramic sculptures, like Please (Please) Me More (2022), and Phantom Comfort (2022), resemble pad combinations, padlocks and key locks. What is the lock’s overarching significance, and how did it become such a dominant motif within your practice?
Jane Margarette: I became interested in making locks around 2017 as a way to articulate feelings of being stuck in impossible situations. At the time I was diagnosed with a physically debilitating condition called adenomyosis, and it has shaped so much of the work I have made, especially over the last year as it has worsened (but a recent surgery has made me SO much better).
The locks symbolize so much for me – keeping something captive or restricted, safe or hidden. And as I mentioned before, by pairing these objects with creatures like butterflies and birds, the work then expands its gaze towards the natural world and the impossible and perilous situation it is in.
Clare Gemima: The title of your most recent show, Cheer Up, Kitten, came from Six Feet Under, where one of the main characters, Claire, is told to cheer up, kitten, despite her rough and recent grievance. Was there anything outside of this scenario that drew you to use this title?
Jane Margarette: Myself needing to be cheered up.
Clare Gemima: What is the biggest difference between exhibiting in New York, and exhibiting in Los Angeles?
Jane Margarette: My main art community is in Los Angeles, so that’s the biggest difference for me. I had a really nice welcome to New York with my show at 1969 Gallery in October and met many great people (including you!), but showing in Los Angeles is where my friends and family get to see the work finished after they’ve been in and out of my studio through different stages of making.
Clare Gemima: What are you working on now, and are there any exciting projects coming up?
Jane Margarette: I’m currently working on a solo presentation for Frieze Los Angeles with my gallery, Anat Ebgi, and I have a solo show with Ruttkowski;68 in Paris in October 2023 which I’m very much looking forward to!
Clare Gemima studied Fine Arts and graduated from Whitecliffe College of Arts in Design in 2017. She currently spends her time between making work in the studio and writing a weekly arts column in New York-based publication, EVGrieve.