Briefly describe the work that you do.
Welcome to my world, where clay and words mingle and entangle. I create hand-built ceramic sculptural works finished with a variety of layered lusters and glazes. Archetypal images emerge as I give my imagination free play, drawing on a vast array of sources from realms of dream and folklore alike.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I never made a conscious decision. I was nourished on a rich Wisconsin diet that included a belief in incredible occurrences, the power of love, the value of an education, and the falsity of colored oleomargarine. Nursery rhymes and unadulterated Brothers Grimm, radio music of singing cowboys, a grandpa who lived with us and brought me puzzles, a cigar box of crayons, and a generous sandbox of silica sand from the banks of the Wisconsin River all came together to create this self that could not live without artistic enterprise in word and deed.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As the eldest of five children, I was expected to set the standard of academic excellence. That wasn’t hard, because I loved school. When I was thirteen, I wrote an ode to the statue on top of our capital building in Madison. It began: “Miss Forward, way up there so high, where all can see as they pass by…” Amusing in retrospect, but through its many stanzas of rumination on the human spirit, it opened a door to the power of words and ideas within my grasp.
Fast forward almost two decades: My husband, our toddler, and I are living in a basement apartment by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. We are the building caretakers; in exchange, we get free rent. It seems to be taking us forever to finish our degrees—and readings for my MA in Comparative Literature have become arduous. I stop writing anything other than papers. I need something creative, but non-verbal; words fail. Then the opportunity arises through Theater X to learn how to make plastic wood puppets. I juggle schedules and jump into puppet-making.
Fast forward another decade: Degrees completed, two babies half raised, living in a Queen Anne house on the Lower East Side, teaching English, making puppets and collages, writing again. My daughter is taking a ceramics class at the UWM Craft Centre and I “sit in,” as parents are encouraged to do. I am permitted a lump of clay. I make a base, coil the sides. I see a snake pot! I add a head with bulging eyes and forked tongue: Inside, I inscribe the word: Hiss-tory, and the date: 2/2/82. I am on the threshold of the next phase of my life! Instant affinity: Clay!
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
The process of ceramic sculpture allows me to enter a timeless state of mind as I concentrate on creating a piece. During creation, the process and the outcome are not separate entities, just as a human is not just that flesh appearing before you at one single instance in time. Clay speaks to me and I talk back and punch, pick, soothe, smooth it until it is shaped to my liking. I let surprises happen. As I work, sometimes words and voices emerge; I never stop the sculpting to write things down. They will float around and have their due. Since I have taught myself how to work with clay, I don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. This is a freedom I revel in, since so many other areas of my life are so proscribed.
Clay work must go through several stages. After sculpting comes the drying process—which teaches patience. I always take pictures of my work at this point in case a piece explodes in the kiln.
Glazing: In recent years, I have taken up icon writing using egg tempera, mixing the minerals and meticulously applying the colors. When I began, I thought I was taking my art in an entirely different direction; but like many aspects of a life, things begin to merge after they are internalized. I realized a year ago that my method of applying ceramic glazes has subtly changed: I layer color upon color, using floats and highlights as one does in iconography. It has given my glazes a new depth and luminescence.
Some works might undergo one or two more glaze applications and firings, each firing temperature lower than the previous one, ending with an 018 firing for lusters or metallics.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
My life is still a juggling act. I teach part-time; I am part owner of an art gallery; I am a caregiver. Since retiring from full-time teaching, I have more time to devote to my clay work, and I am loving it. Even when not in my studio, I remain immersed in the process. I find that having a goal such as a one-person show can be a great motivator. I often create a series of related works. For this blog, I am including one image each from the Brothers Grimm Series, the Lost Milwaukee Series, and the Loose Cannon Series.
In the past five years, through part-ownership of THE Fine Art Gallery, I have had the opportunity to display my work on an ongoing basis. I have discovered that I actually enjoy sharing my work—the images and the words.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
I am influenced by Beatrice Wood, Maurice Sendak, Franz Hals, Gabriela Munter, Jack Earl, Henry Varnum Poor, Gary Schlapal, Mary Nohl, Marc Chagall, Albrecht Duerer, Katherine de Shazar, Anne Kingsbury, Susan Falkman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Lucas della Robbia, Monica Leo, Jim Henson, Mary Frank, Minoan sculptors whose names are lost, and a host of others depending on the day of the week.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in? Reading, writing, swimming, playing Scrabble, leading workshops, teaching, caregiving. I am immersed in a large, expanding circle of family and friends. I cherish time spent in their presence.
Darlene (Lolly) Wesenberg Rzezotarski is an artist, educator, mythologist, writer, and gallery owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Working out of her home studio, she combines her love of storytelling with her love of sculpting, creating vivid folkloric pieces that speak their own tales to the beholder. Basically self-taught, Darlene has taken independent study classes in ceramics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee under the supervision of Professor Gary Schlappal. Additionally, she holds a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from UWM.
Darlene’s work has been featured in various exhibits including the Museum of Wisconsin Art, the John Michael Kohler Art Center, the Cudahy Gallery of Wisconsin Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and yearly Wisconsin Visual Artists shows. Her recent publication, Trick a Witch, Wed a Hedgehog, Save your Soul: An American Artist Encounters Poland, contains original renditions of Polish folklore illustrated with over 25 of her ceramic sculptures. Currently Darlene is an adjunct professor at the Art Institute of Wisconsin and part-owner of THE Fine Art Gallery LLC, 207 East Buffalo Street, Suite 210, Milwaukee, WI 53202. Several of her pieces are always on display there.
Accompanying Text to Image 1:
Discovering Snow White
When we walked inside, we knew that something was strange,
But in a good way.
The floor was swept, the beds were made,
There was a hearty beet and bramble soup bubbling in the cauldron.
We asked ourselves,
“Are we dreaming? Brothers, it’s tidy here! Brothers, what do you see?”
Then we spotted her and we gasped— o largely splendid, deep in slumber
Blood red lips
Ebony black hair
“SHHH! Don’t disturb her,”
We whispered among ourselves.
“She must be a dream princess.”
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.