/ by Tasha L. Harrison
/ photography by Latoya Jackson
Alice Ballard recalls scribbling crayon on the wall. It was one of the first ways she found her purpose, to create art. The second discovery was when her grandmother gave her seeds of corn and beans to plant. These two pivotal moments unlocked a theme, a blend of observations in nature and the careful, steady application of techniques mastered during years of education and teaching that are firmly rooted in these two experiences. “As far back as I can remember, I never considered being anything other than an artist. The only question was which area of the arts I would pursue,” she says.
Born into a family of creatives, Ballard’s artistic aims were always supported and encouraged. She pursued her undergrad and masters at the University of Michigan, both in art, however when it came to the focus of her studies, Ballard leaned towards the practical. Clay wasn’t an option at the time and any other type of sculpture would require an expensive studio and the help of others. “I remember thinking I could be more independent if I were a painter.”
At the same time, the California Clay Movement was born. The movement was part of a larger transition from designer-craftsman to artist-craftsman. Wayne Highboy, a ceramic artist known for his inventive use of raku earthenware had a MFA show during Ballard’s time at University of Michigan. ‘They were colorful, large and full of life and movement. And so the seed was planted.” From then on, Ballard worked with clay, even painting it. Overtime, clay became her primary medium.
Working with low-fire earthenware called terra sigillata—a white refined slip that can be airbrushed or painted—Ballard captures the natural world around her. Growth, transition, renewal or emergence are words that leap to mind when experiencing her sculpture. Each piece seems to be frozen in transformation from seed to sprout. They feel delicate and feminine, and resonant with a responsibility of our place in the world. It’s sensors and fecund and invites the touch. This is extremely evident in white pieces from an installation named “A Walk Remembered.”
“White reminds the painter in me of a blank sheet of paper or a white gesso canvas, filled with potential,” Ballard says.
“White Work” was a series Ballard started in the 1980s and has directed much of her most celebrated work. It was inspired by a bag of tulip bulbs under her studio sink that she forgot to plant in the fall. “To my surprise, they had begun to grow in the darkness of the closed bag! My fascination with these beautiful and sensuous white forms that miraculously produced my mother’s favorite flowers, tulips, were the beginning of my love affair with white forms.”
The installation was positioned on grounded pedestals meant to portray the way that Ballard experiences and is inspired by nature. The theme is grounded in the same place all of her work takes root; renewal, the fear and enchantment of the sacristy, calm, and the quietude of snow.
Ballard is reluctant to label herself as a painter or a sculptor and simply prefers to call herself an artist. However, even that label seems limiting when considering her work. Rooted in what feels real and tangible, and using materials from the earth itself, it speaks to a connectivity that answers a question many of us can’t find the words to ask in this day and time.
Ballard is currently working on smaller sculpture as well as meditation bowls and has recently completed a ten-pod installation for a hospital gallery in Charlotte. She has plans to revisit “A Walk Remembered” as well and expand it with drawings and paintings.