Rebecca Potts Aguirre is a California artist who uses unusual materials and methods to make these beautiful pieces. People often think it’s paint, but these artworks are made with polymer clay and Play-Doh.  Think of it as a pointillism, only instead of paint, she builds up the images almost pixel by pixel, using polymer clay.

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the miniature solo show plus one full size work by each artist in the show, “Miniatures Conjure Delights,” at the Garrett Museum of Art in Garrett, Indiana.  The show, which is up from March 22 to May 5, 2024 includes 15 artists.

Here’s her full size work in the show at the Garrett Museum of Art.  This piece is 18″ across.

The Miniature Solo Show!

Naturally we served water! Here’s Rebecca’s solo show.

View of the back wall of the solo show by Rebecca Potts Aguirre.  Circle piece is 4″.

Here are three of the four rectangular pieces that are on the back wall of the micro gallery.  Each one is 1.5″ wide x 3″ high.

Three oval pieces by Rebecca Potts Aguirre. From her solo show in the Angelica Kauffman Gallery in the show Miniatures Conjure Delights, at the Garrett Museum of Art.  2.5″ x 4″.

This pair of works are called “I Will Never Be… Without You,” and are 2.5″ x 4″.

Artist Bio and Statement for Rebecca Potts Aguirre

Artist Rebecca Potts Aguirre

Bio
Rebecca Potts Aguirre (she/her) is an artist and educator whose work explores themes of feminism and gendered labor, memory, and healing. She is a member of Spilt Milk Gallery and is listed in the curated directories All She Makes and Visionary Art Collective. Potts Aguirre earned her MFA in Visual Arts from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Australia at spaces including The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Zhou B. Art Center, New York Studio Gallery, Art Share L.A., and SoLA Contemporary. Her essay on art and climate change, “Creating a Fourth Culture,” was published in 20UNDER40: Re-Inventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. She founded and hosts Teaching Artist Podcast and is a K-12 Curriculum Designer for The Art of Education University. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughter.

Artist Statement
I am documenting and finding metaphors in childhood and motherhood. My practice centers around photographing daily life. I curate these photos as works themselves and references for linocut prints, cyanotypes, or work with polymer clay and play-doh.
Water is a recurring theme in my work, holding many emotions and experiences. Water is a place of calm and chaos, peace and danger; a valuable diminishing resource; making up ~60% of our bodies. My work takes on the blues of this blue gold and rainbows refracted in its ripples.
During hours of mixing colors by mushing clay, I process emotions through tactility. I use a small clay blade and a sewing pin to shape and place each color onto glass where I build my images. As my hands stay busy, my mind wanders between fragmented memories, the history of the water in my body (has it existed in the sea, the clouds, another body?), and my child’s future. By elevating “low-brow” child’s and craft materials into a referent for the work of mothers, I’m making visible the often unseen act of mothering and ignored inner worlds of children.
I honor the play between abstraction and realism. Tiny rainbows, blended skin tones, and wavy lines create compositions within compositions. I zoom in to focus on color and texture, then zoom out to reveal an image. My colors are oversaturated from the original reference photo, exaggerating rainbows and pops of color. Memory for me is color-based with this over saturation permeating a foggy history.

Artist Interview

Here’s an interview we did with Rebecca in 2022, on the occasion of a previous show of her work in the Angelica Kauffman Gallery.

Q: A friend who works with polymer clay, knew that people were making pictorial work in polymer.  I had totally missed this, so of course my question is – how on earth did you come to this style of work?  What did you do before?  Did you come to it from jewelry making or were you a painter before?

A: “My background is actually in printmaking, but I’ve always worked in many media. I sought out an MFA program that didn’t force me to specify, but had a strong printmaking program and facility. I came to polymer clay after play-doh, which I began experimenting with as a painting media when my daughter was 2. 

Motherhood derailed me and I didn’t make art for 2 years, but seeing my child’s brave color mixing with play-doh lit a spark. I started borrowing her play-doh and experimenting with making “paintings” with it. 

At the time, I had organized a local crit group with a friend (thanks Angie Bradshaw!) and they encouraged me to try polymer clay when I was having trouble with the working time and detail in play-doh (it dries fast and is crumbly). Polymer clay is great for my busy life as it allows me to come back to it and work little by little.”

Q: How long have you been working with the theme of water?  I saw a post of a cyanotype with awesome ripples of water on it, so I know you address water in other forms as well.

A: “Yes! I have a long history with water. I’ve been digging into the roots of that and it really goes back to childhood. My dad spent over 30 years working for the EPA on water quality and I grew up rafting the Blackfoot River (picture “A River Runs Through It”). In grad school a decade ago, my work focused on climate change, specifically the glaciers in Glacier National Park. I collected rainwater to freeze and melt. I see so much beauty in water, but also so many metaphors. It is a life-giving material. It makes up about 60% of our bodies. Water cycles through us to the sea to the clouds to the trees. It’s everywhere and it can embody every emotion. Water is a place of calm, peace, and solitude; or chaos and danger; or sadness. It’s in our tears. It’s a valuable diminishing resource: blue gold. I think about how both Toni Morrison and Olaf (from Frozen) talked about water’s memory and that leads me meandering like a river to the water in our bodies and all the places it has traveled. If water has memory and our bodies are ~60% water, what does the body remember? Does my daughter’s body remember floating in my womb? We’re forever connected on a cellular level through fetal microchimerism, but I also think about how connected we are with the earth and other bodies through water.”

Q: Tell us about the role of photography in your process.

A: “All of my work starts with photography. I take many many photos of daily life and then curate them to select my next work. I often edit and piece photos together to get the composition I want. When I work with clay, I usually print the photo to the size of the piece (which means for larger work, I print and tile it together) and work directly from the photo. With cyanotypes, I invert the photo to create a negative and get that printed on clear film. Part of what drew me to printmaking was the ability to combine photography with drawn or painterly marks. I’ve always loved the immediacy and accuracy of photography, but the texture, color manipulation, and direct evidence of the artist’s hand in print – or now in clay.”

Q: Tell us about the role of photography in your process.

A: All of my work starts with photography. I take many many photos of daily life and then curate them to select my next work. I often edit and piece photos together to get the composition I want. When I work with clay, I usually print the photo to the size of the piece (which means for larger work, I print and tile it together) and work directly from the photo. With cyanotypes, I invert the photo to create a negative and get that printed on clear film. Part of what drew me to printmaking was the ability to combine photography with drawn or painterly marks. I’ve always loved the immediacy and accuracy of photography, but the texture, color manipulation, and direct evidence of the artist’s hand in print – or now in clay. 

4″ circle, polymer clay artwork by Rebecca Potts Aguirre.

Polymer clay painting by Rebecca Potts Aguirre. 1.5″ x 4″.

Artist Interview March 2024

Q: How was the process of working miniature for you?  Was it difficult?  Easy?

A: Easy! I went so much faster! I work with tiny bits of clay even when I create larger work, so working in miniature made the process go faster.

Q: How did you approach creating a cohesive mini show?  (And/or talk about your show’s theme.)

A: I initially planned out my show by making a paper mockup of the gallery and pieces. I moved the paper pieces around and tried different sizes, shapes, and arrangements to see what worked best. I also curated reference photos and looked at them together, thinking about colors and themes flowing throughout. I titled the show “Cellular Connection” and titled the artworks around the ideas of connection between mother and child, but also between humans and the universe. I love the children’s book “You Are Stardust” by Elin Kelsey and the beauty of that micro-macro zoom from the cells in our bodies to the stars in the galaxy. I’ve also been reading “Cell Traffic” by Heid E. Erdrich and “Where Hope Comes From” by Nikita Gill and those poems have inspired a lot of recent work and titles. The drop shapes that are on their sides and kind of reaching for each other have been symbols I’ve sketched for a few years and I’m excited to see them finally come into this work. They of course reference water droplets, but also blood and the connection of DNA, as well as these sort of circular characters pulling away from each other as mother and child separate or as cells divide. Of course, water is also a theme that recurs in my work. I see so much beauty in water, but also so many metaphors. It is a life-giving material. It makes up about 60% of our bodies. Water cycles through us to the sea to the clouds to the trees. It’s everywhere and it can embody every emotion. Water is a place of calm, peace, and solitude; or chaos and danger; or sadness. It’s in our tears. It’s a valuable diminishing resource: blue gold. I think about how both Toni Morrison and Olaf (from Frozen) talked about water’s memory and that leads me meandering like a river to the water in our bodies and all the places it has traveled. If water has memory and our bodies are ~60% water, what does the body remember? Does my daughter’s body remember floating in my womb? We’re forever connected on a cellular level through fetal microchimerism, but I also think about how connected we are with the earth and other bodies through water. 

Q: Did you learn anything useful that you can apply to other solo shows, at any scale?

A: Yes! Mocking up the show with paper was so helpful! I have done that before, but will definitely continue to make scale mockups to help plan. I also loved seeing the drop shapes together and have ordered some large drop-shaped panels to work with. 

Q: Tell us about how the work in this mini show is similar or different from your usual work.

A: This work is similar to my usual work. I worked in the same way I usually do: I start by taking lots of photos, curating and editing them, and printing them to size. Using a sewing pin and a clay blade, I piece tiny bits of clay together on glass to create the image, working from the front to the back (opposite of how I’d build up a painting). With these mini pieces, it was exciting to see the final piece come together much quicker than it does with larger work. Working in miniature also meant I didn’t have to think through ways of cutting up and reassembling the image to fit inside my oven. When I work larger, I need to bake each artwork in pieces and then puzzle it back together on the panel.

Q: The micro gallery has this element of imagination and play – we invite the viewer to shrink down and enter our tiny world.  What kinds of play did you do as a kid?  Favorite toys? 

A: I played outside a lot. If I didn’t have my head stuck in a book or sketchbook, I was climbing trees and running around with my siblings and cousins. We did a lot of inventing and discovering with natural materials, like making mud pies to sell to my uncle or bringing home a frog to live in the bathtub. Growing up in the 80’s, I also had a sizable troll collection and put on plenty of Barbie fashion shows.

Q: Is this your first museum show?  What are you looking forward to about this show?

A: It’s not my first museum show, but it is my first show including both miniature and full-size work. I’m excited to see all of the other artists’ work in this show and to be exhibiting alongside such stellar artists. I love that the museum is supporting this work and I’m so grateful to be included!

Q: What else would you like folks to know about your art?

A: My work with polymer clay is made without paint. I’ve been calling them “clay paintings” but want to be clear that this is all made with colored clay, pieced together slowly to make an image. 

Where to Find Artist Rebecca Potts Aguirre

Find Rebecca @pottsart and www.rebeccapotts.com. She is also the host of the podcast the Teaching Artist Podcast.