With an insatiable need to evolve, ceramic artist Anne Hirondelle will never be satisfied doing the same work over and over again.
“I think the work has been the teacher,” she said. “The work is always taking me to the next step. I think I have always been more interested in the evolution of the work rather than just finding some successful thing and sticking with it. It would be boring.”
Hirondelle, 74, creates both abstract ceramic pieces and drawings in her Port Townsend studio. She said she is on a constant search to discover the mystery of what is possible through art.
“The not knowing, which I think drives most people crazy, for some reason I am drawn to that. When that is gone, if I ever know what I am doing, that probably means I am done.”
Hirondelle enjoys abstract art because, in her mind, it flows in an elegant and orderly manner.
“I guess my work is a little less visceral and is pretty tight,” she said. “I am more interested in creating order in arrangement than I am in telling the story or finding inspiration in nature or figurative work. I am more interested in line and form and how it all comes together.”
Among fellow artists, Hirondelle’s work stands out as exceptional, said Rikki Ducornet.
“Anne Hirondelle’s ceramic sculpture and pencil drawings are exceptionally beautiful, elegant, measured and imaginative — and they are in conversation. Each time I visit her studio, I am surprised by the work’s shifting weather. Living with her sculpture, I find that the surprise is ongoing, that the work continues to spark delight, to demand my attention, transform the rooms in which I live, offer new ways of looking.”
Frequently the work changes and shows Hirondelle where to go, she said.
“People ask me frequently where I get my ideas. I get my ideas from my work and from working. I don’t get them from anywhere else.”
The work gives Hirondelle a sense of structure throughout her entire life, she said.
“Working is the most important thing. It keeps the rest of my life in order. I need to work to keep my life going. I guess I am glad what I make is mine and not an imitation of anything else.”
An artist, or any individual, really can’t get away from themselves no matter what they try, although they are continually evolving in new ways, Hirondelle said.
“I hope there is a sense of integrity in all of that.”
Hirondelle’s love for the sense of order is on display in each unique piece she creates. While all distinct, the pieces are almost universally contained within a circle.
“The circles are because I started working on the (potter’s) wheel,” she said. “Then, all of my drawings I make after I have made my pieces with clay. Virtually all of them involve a circle but then straight lines. I try to remain true to my beginnings which were the wheel and round and the circles, even though I cut them apart and distort them.”
Another series Hirondelle produces consists of ceramic coils which are intertwined in a chaotic yet logical dance.
The coils are made by forcing clay through an extruder in a similar manner to the way noodles are made. She started out using the machine to make handles for cups. One day, she was inspired to use the machine for less utilitarian purposes.
“That is how I came up with these coiled forms,” she said.
Each form consists of one to three coils, and is similar in appearance to a 3D drawing.
“I make several coils and fire them and then stack them,” she said. “Once I find how they go together, I use epoxy and glue them together to create the ultimate form.”
A selection of Hirondelle’s work is currently on display as part of the “Departures and Arrivals: Artists in Abstraction” show at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, and in the “Innovation Through Repetition” exhibit set up for the month of July at the Port Townsend School of the Arts downtown gallery.
Discovering her inner artist
Hirondelle did not set out to become a full-time professional artist. She initially received a bachelor’s in English from the University of Puget Sound in 1966 and a master’s in counseling from Stanford University the next year.
She moved to Seattle in 1967 and directed the Young Women’s Christian Association until 1972.
“Then I decided I wanted to start up a women’s law collective,” Hirondelle said. “I knew the very first day it was a big mistake, but I didn’t have the courage to quit that day, so I spent an entire year there, probably the worst year of my life. It wasn’t a good fit for me.”
When the summer came, instead of getting a law job, Hirondelle decided to take a pottery class.
“I knew nothing about art or clay, but I just loved it,” she said. “It was over that summer I found the courage to decide not to go back to law school.”
Realizing her true passion was in ceramics, Hirondelle enrolled in the Factory of Visual Arts in Seattle, and later in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Washington.
“I was able to get admitted to the University of washington ceramics department as a fifth-year student.”
What’s in a name?
It was at about this time Hirondelle decided to change her name to what it is now.
“I had worked directing a feminist social agency,” she said. “I had had my husband’s last name for five years. I decided to get my own name. I had read a book by a woman named Kate Chopin and it was called, “The Awakening.”
In the book, the protagonist is very unhappy in her traditional marriage and visits an elderly friend who is rather eccentric and feels her shoulder blade to see if she has strong wings, Hirondelle said.
“She tells her to soar above the traditions and prejudice of the time you need strong wings. I loved that image and decided when I changed my name to get some strong wings.”
Hirondelle was struck with the beauty of swallows, but didn’t fancy herself as “Anne Swallow.” So she went with Hirondelle, French for swallow, she said.
Building from clay
Hirondelle’s beginnings as an artist were with clay. For over 20 years she was drawn to the vessel as an abstraction and metaphor for containment, taking ideas from traditional functional pots and stretching them into architectural and organic sculptural forms, according to her biography.
In 2002, to explore more formal ideas, she abandoned her signature glazes for unglazed white stoneware and moved the work from the horizontal to the vertical plane.
Then, she began painting the surfaces. Simultaneously, her drawings, once ancillary to the sculpture, took on a life of their own. Derived from the ceramic forms, drawn with graphite and colored pencil on multiple layers of tracing paper, they are further explorations of abstraction.
Still very much spry and young at 75, Hirondelle has no intention of retiring from the medium any time soon, she said.
“I don’t plan to stop. I am not ready to die.”
For more visit annehirondelle.com.