Russell Biles, Artist
His formative years were influenced by the dissolution of segregated schools, his grandmother’s chachkas and Claymation. All of this is present in the work as well as his love of nature, backyard animals, and kids. The sculptures, like little gems, evoke nostalgia and outrage. Talk about a balancing act…
He challenges the static art form of clay sculpture with the promise of a narrative dialogue. “To communicate something on a static thing…to see how much you can say in a single piece is pretty hard and not done often.” His work is a complex balance of personal remembrances with universal, multiple meanings and layers.
Russell's Gone series is perhaps his most personal observations of life. Baby, Baby it’s a White World conjures memories of his first grade class’s initial integration day. Race Relations is a self-portrait of befriending a young black boy in 8th grade. Going to the Lake reminds us of the days of loose travel restrictions. How many of you have ridden in the back of a pick up?
Seen here, Free Will, Son of a Bitch, and Jedi Jesus are also part of the Gone series. These include his son and daughter as well as his self-portrait. Free Will illustrates a child’s learning process through choices with and without guidance. In Son of a Bitch, Russell carries his deceased pet in a procession to the grave (“folks call this the Pieta of Dogs”, he laughs). Jedi Jesus is also a piece about guidance and the value of religion. Russell makes his Jesus paper-thin through the use of porcelain clay.
Perhaps Russell Biles is most well known for his series on Politics. He is often described as a “cultural satirist” and is well known for his Wee Art Club series. Here he borrowed from Renaissance sculpture and applied it to current events. Much of his satirical work can be seen on his website, www.russellbiles.com .
Russell works exclusively in porcelain. It is stronger than earthenware and is a finer more vitreous (glasslike) clay. But it is quite challenging. In his words, “If you can master porcelain, the rest is cake.”
Russell considers himself an outdoorsman. His environmental passion goes back beyond his recognition as Eagle Scout at 13 years old. His children were raised to appreciate the outdoors with a sense of athleticism and joy. He is clearly outraged by our current level of apathy towards fixing our problems. The Environmental series reflects that outrage with pieces such as ByCatch (our favorite) and Watch out for Cars II.
Bycatch is a reference to a method of shrimping whereby many living creatures that are also caught in the nets are discarded and die. “It’s a metaphor”, says Russell, “for humanity and cultures. People often look at this as cute. They are all dying! People don’t get that.” Some cultures have profound difficulties assimilating and are cast off.
Turtles for Russell have become symbolic of our need for awareness to preserve and protect our world. This is a beautiful example of a coil built sculpture with exquisite detail. Here he is working directly on the kiln shelf as it sits on stilts used for glazing.
Russell prefers to send his message through the use of common, backyard animals for a more relatable impact. He would like to use sculptural box turtles with children to bring that awareness to a younger generation. His intention is to continue honoring our community with school residencies, master classes and workshops. Stay tuned for one coming near you.
Writer: Lianne LaVoy