Del Mar artist highlights evolution of styles in two shows

Joan Thorburn
Brittany Woolsey

For 65 years, Joan Thorburn has found molding clay into elegant pieces to be her calling. While her styles of art have evolved and changed over the years, the Del Mar woman can't see herself stopping her craft soon.

Thorburn — who founded and formerly hosted the Carmel Valley Artists show twice a year — has used different methods over the years to create two-dimensional pieces that are both abstract and unique.

In a show on display at the Encinitas Library through Aug. 7, the artist features 18 ceramic pieces, inspired by the sandstone cliffs that surround her home, that she created by hand over the last decade.

The process for this style of art begins with a slab roller, which Thorburn uses to roll up clay and make patterns to use like a stencil. She then uses a tarp-like paper that helps add stability for the patterns so they stick to the clay to create the sides of a two-dimensional sculpture. The final step is using two different types of glazes — a color wash and nickel-based paint — to brighten up the piece using drawing techniques.

Joan Thorburn
Ceramics by Joan Thorburn Brittany Woolsey

"I make it so that I can use it like a canvas so I can put the colors of different glazes on it," said Thorburn, who has a studio, glazing room and kiln in her three-story home. "It's almost like painting. My feeling is that the work is very structured, but the painting on the pieces are looser and more spontaneous. I love the combination of the way it's one against the other.”

While Thorburn, a member of the San Diego Potters' Guild, formerly created pieces, like plates and teapots, with a wheel, she said hand building allows for more creative control.

And the artist can, once again, see herself moving on to another style of art, which can be previewed at an upcoming show at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, beginning Aug. 4.

That show, which runs through Sept. 1 and features 50 local artists, features abstract sculpture work by Thorburn. The pieces contain uneven sides that appear as if they're falling over.

"I try to make my sculptures so they're kind of fighting gravity and slanted," Thorburn said. "I've made pieces that I've ruined because I moved them over too much. People think they're going to fall, but they're not."

The artist said she considers her work constantly evolving, with most periods lasting about 10 to 15 years before she's ready to move on to the next style of work.

Thorburn, who has been a full-time artist for about 40 years, considers creating sculptures and ceramic pieces as cathartic.

"Being an artist, you've just gotta get it out of your system," she said. "I do this because I want to do it. I'm not thinking about who's going to buy it. I just want to get it out and try something different. I'm not afraid to try different things. I think that's important to artists; you have to keep growing."

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