Meet Wanaree Tanner

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wanaree is an American artist who won first place in the metal clay category of the prestigious 2013 Saul Bell awards. By Sian Hamilton.

Wanaree 1 (1)

I met Wanaree when I attended a short course being taught by her at the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery back in the spring. From the moment we first spoke, I knew she was a special artist and a lovely person. Wanaree exudes enthusiasm for her art, she absolutely loves metal clay and boy, does it show in her work. As a pretty much self-taught jeweller, her natural talent for design is awe-inspiring and in truth (I’m sure I’m not the first to say) a little over-whelming! (as I mutter, I must get my sketch book out more often). She has graciously given a little time out of her very busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

Wanaree, the first basic question is where did your interest in jewellery start?

It was accidental really. Previously I drew, painted, and sculpted, but I was unsure about how to go about making a living while still being true to my vision. Jewellery became a way to make ends meet while still using my creativity. Once I realised I could combine those previous skills with jewellery through metal clay, the creative sky opened up for me.

What is it about metal clay that is so attractive to you?

Its malleability. It can be sculpted, formed, textured yet when fired, it’s metal. That’s incredible to me. Being able to bring my love of illustration into my pieces through texturing and my love of sculpting all in one medium makes the artistic possibilities endless.

Where does your inspiration come from and how do you start when designing pieces?

This great mystery of life that swirls all around us, it’s all filled with creative potential, any and all of it can spark an idea. Everything from a discarded piece of plastic, a kind act, to a towering tree. I do what I can to be aware in each moment because I never know what I could miss if I move about unconsciously. When I do have a vague impression of a piece I try not to force it. Ideas start as a whisper, and like a seed, I gently water them, allow to them sprout and grow. If I push it or bully it, the whole process becomes stifled. The downside is I could have a head full of sprouts and no plants for six months, but ultimately the process of the work becomes the focus not just the end result.

 Wanaree 3 (1)

What is currently on your workbench?

Sketches and more sketches. I’ve decided I want to do an exhibition of larger, more involved pieces, which is exciting, but that kind of work requires a bit more planning and lots of time. The general concept is set for what I’d like to convey; creating a cohesive exhibition out of that is the trick.

This year you won the metal clay category of the Saul Bell awards. That must have been very exciting. Tell us a little about the piece that won?

The piece that won is my bronze and copper bracelet called ‘The Gate’. It was inspired by a shrine doorway in a sculpture garden in North Eastern Thailand called ‘Garden of the Gods’, which I was fortunate enough to visit a few years ago. I’d taken a photo of the gate, and another artist, Gordon Uyehara, commented that I should create a project based on it. It was an “ah ha!” moment, and the piece began to coalesce. It required me to develop several new techniques to execute it and took about three months to complete. It was a turning point project on its own, to have it recognised by the Saul Bell awards was like thick and delicious cream cheese icing on the cake.

You teach a lot; what is it about teaching that you like?

Sharing the tricks I’ve developed in the studio and watching it really click for a student then watching what grows out from there. Often, the students end up teaching me by coming up with some new derivation, so it’s a vital process that is brought to life through that exchange of ideas and skills. So long as I remain open and aware of each new student, each new class I leave with more than what I arrived with.

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How did you find teaching in the UK; was it different to the USA and are you coming back any time soon?

I found it really pleasant, and I will definitely be coming back. I’d have to say the biggest difference is breaking for tea or coffee. In the UK you work hard when it’s time to work, and you take a little break here and there, often together. It’s a rejuvenating pause that can alleviate a lot of the frustration that can come from an intense workshop, which I think leads to an overall better experience. In the US we push on through, and often forget to look up to take a little breather. There have been a number of times with American students when I’ve had to nudge them to take a break before their frustration lead to full on project disaster.

Though not really jewellery-inspired, I have to ask about the tattooing! How did you get into that and what is it like to see one of your designs adorn someone’s body?

I actually had an apprenticeship at a tattoo studio 12 years ago, and an opportunity opened up for me to moonlight at a local studio. It’s amazing to me that someone would choose to have one of my illustrations permanently adorning their body, but I have to admit my true love is working with metals, and that is where my focus is once again returning.

What does the future hold for you?

Currently I’m developing a collection of work that I intend to have as a full blown art exhibition. I will be tying together all the different mediums I love in order to express a number of concepts that would be difficult to convey in a single form. I hope to engage the viewer as an active participant in the act of creation and share with me that moment of awe and inspiration that transcends the concrete reality we often associate with daily life. Instead, if only for a moment, see the infinite potential in each and every moment.

And then finally (this may be a difficult one, though as you visited the UK this year I’ll ask anyway) the most important question has to be; tea and cake or pie and a pint?

I’m going to have to go with tea and cake, mostly because tea often means there will be clotted cream and jam somewhere nearby.

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