Artist Spotlight: April D. Felipe
April D. Felipe grew up in Queens, New York with her sister and parents, who both emigrated from the Caribbean to America in their youth. She earned her BFA from Alfred University, concentrating in ceramics and sculpture. She received her MFA in ceramics from Ohio University, where she created large digital prints and mixed media installations. Felipe’s work was recently featured in Northern Clay Center’s 2019 exhibition, Horror Vacui: Across the Margins. She creates through a variety of artistic mediums including ceramics, sculpture, performing arts, fiber art, and installation, among many others. Her work explores ideas of identity and heritage alongside the idea of what it means to belong to a culture. She came to work with the figure through her interests in puppets and doll-making. Clay is just one of the many tools in her belt.
Please join us in delving deeper into Felipe’s life in and outside of the studio.
NCC: Tell us about your work
ADF: I have two bodies of work. One body of work is assemblage/collage sculpture and jewelry. In my sculptural work I am interested idea of identity. Not just who we are, but how we place ourselves within groups beyond our families. For me, this placing became a cultural question. My parents were from the Caribbean, connecting me to multiple cultural groups. However, having grown up in America and not fitting the visual stereotypes of my heritage, I never felt like I truly belonged to any of those cultures. I became aware that the way I presented layers of my past could be used to validate my desired place within these groups. Reflecting on my struggle, I began to question the way we construct personal history in service to our desire for belonging. In this work, the color is driven by historical floor patterns from the Caribbean. These faux tile mosaics are a product of colonialism, used as a way to showcase one’s European lineage while distancing from one’s African and Native lineage. However, when we look at the history of these tile patterns, it is revealed that they are derivative of Moroccan tiles. I am drawn to the fact that while striving toward colonial ideals, these tiles are actually representative of our African histories.
I love the idea of adornment—how do we decorate ourselves? When, and why? Each piece I create I hope will be enjoyed. I love imagining who will wear it and how it will be worn. Jewelry allows me to experience the anticipation of the relationship between the work and the user. With jewelry, I can move through patterns and colors more freely. Jewelry has created an opportunity for me to explore outside of my ceramic sculptural process. Working within two crafts shifts your perspective, opening new avenues to explore. I’ve become really interested in working with fiber. I have been exploring embroidery and felting techniques. I have begun to incorporate these more into my work.
NCC: What else do you do in addition to making your work?
ADF: In addition to selling jewelry and sculpture, I primarily create my income from teaching through community arts centers in my area. One of my biggest joys is teaching children’s art classes. I do visiting artist gigs and occasionally adjunct at universities. I love the range of students that I get to work with. There are days where I’m teaching ages 5 to 65. It puts into perspective all of the different ways that making enhances people’s lives. I can embrace things as silly as creating tiny snails, to looking at ceramics, or mark-making through an academic lens.
NCC: What do you love most about making your work?
ADF: What I love most about making in ceramics and some of the new processes that I’m exploring, is that they demand that I slow down. I am a pretty loud person with a lot of energy, and my work allows me to have a quiet voice and a place for contemplation, almost in a meditative state. These methods require you to be present in the moment.
NCC: What’s the hardest part?
ADF: The first thing is balancing my time, splitting my days into studio time, production time, my job outside of the studio, caring for my home, and my relationships. Each of these different aspects all have their own demands and challenges that need to be met. The second is maybe more of an internal challenge. Because I work at a home studio, I miss out on those wonderful conversations that can randomly occur when you’re working in a studio with other people. Although I try and use FaceTime studio visits to combat this issue, I have to be a little bit more proactive. Third, you are the only person responsible for pushing your work, questioning and researching as you continue to create. My biggest fear is forgetting that.
NCC: What are your goals for the future of your work?
ADF: I think in the future of my work I’m really excited to incorporate more fiber and textiles. I am very excited for my next project. I just received a new tool to allow me to shift scale a little. I used to create these larger installations utilizing wallpaper and because of the show I had at NCC I am thinking about the language of rooms again.
NCC: What else are you excited about in your life?
ADF: The most exciting thing going on in my life right now is the work that I've been doing to help create The Color Network.org. We are building a community for artists of color working within ceramics to help achieve more visibility, expanding the richness of narratives within the overall clay community.
NCC: What art do you look at for eye candy?
ADF: Doug Jeck, Joanna Powell, Natalia Arbelaez, Woody Othello, Sonya Yong James, Paolo Puck, Christian Rex Van Minnen, and Aurélie Guillaume, to just name a few that I was looking at today.