Lincoln, RI fine artist Suzanne Volmer on the essential quality of materials and making art that is experiential.
In the thick heat of an afternoon, Suzanne Volmer emerges from her expansive and well loved studio to greet me. As we enter the space, the all-white room unfolds with high ceilings and windows cascading light. Her work floods every corner: wide steel sculptures, paintings, models of outdoor installations, and her vessels—soft bending porcelain structures—all illuminated in afternoon sun.
Like her work, Volmer exudes an infectious intensity as she floats between bodies of various work. It is hard to not be enamored by every item; even small scraps of paper from various project models beam with creativity. In the furthest corner, her vessels sit quietly but demand attention. “These vessels are fired in an electric kiln,” she says. “Most people do not want their work to move once it goes to fire. But I specifically formulate the chemicals in the porcelain strips to shift. I want them to look like they are breathing.” She notes that while porcelain may appear fragile, her vessels also demonstrate immense strength in form and movement.
Volmer is vested in the scientific processes of working with steel and porcelain, manipulating chemical formulations to disrupt the ways in which porcelain and metal fuse and come undone. “What is fascinating to me is that porcelain and steel ignite at the same temperature,” she says. “Porcelain becomes glassy whereas the layers of steel that have been layered together begin to spring apart.” Her pieces, Metal Wedges and Tepees, for instance, are steel sculptures that have been heated to spring apart the layers, exposing charged edges and flakes of metal that she likes to “paint with.” Their texture is reminiscent of charred bark, seemingly fragile and haunted by fire.
Volmer leans into the “essential qualities of her materials” and creates based on the movement of a location. Using the natural lines of a hill or the wide support beams of a gallery space, Volmer creates a symbiotic relationship between material and environment, “reusing anything intrinsic to the space.” “I want to create experiential work that does not have a directly obvious narrative,” says Volmer. “It is important for me for my work to exist naturally within a space, but to also command its attention while letting the person viewing it to map their own experiences and feelings.”
Since graduating from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn “too long ago,” she laughs, Volmer has been deeply immersed in the world of fine arts. From teaching at Rhode Island School of Design to being a guest artist at Massachusetts College of Art, she continues to mentor other artists and writes art criticism for various publications. She enjoys collaborative projects as well, including with seemingly non-art related collaborators such as engineers, metal fabricating companies, and various other specialty fields. “I love working with these people within my community who would not otherwise be involved in fine art,” she says. “They get a tremendous charge from being able to put their skills to use on something creative.”
“I like working with porcelain and various metals because the processes are not fragile. They are incredibly labor intensive and forceful and yet the outcome can be very soft,” Volmer says. “As a female artist I have been drawn to this because it commands a type of skill that enables me to be both technical and creative.”