Every month, we like to celebrate our resident artists with an honored focus on each person’s new works, source of inspiration, talent, and origin story. This month we are excited to turn the spotlight on Michael and Sumati Colpitts. Join us for their opening reception, Uplifting Exploration, on Friday, October 20th, from 5-8pm.
At Creative Gateways, Michael and Sumati are our biggest source of joy. Their hand-crafted pieces capture the imaginations of everyone who walks in. Many of the sculptures around the gallery are beautiful collaborations between these long-time partners, yet their history and influence on each other never seem to show stagnation. New techniques, materials, and influences are necessary elements in their never-ending development. International cultures and unexpected materials are a common theme in Michael’s multi-dimensional pieces on both canvas and pedestals, while Sumati’s animal sculptures are known for their skillfully built structures, expressive features, and unique textures. We are fortunate to have two uplifting professionals in our collective, and look forward to highlighting their new work this month.
Michael and Sumati first met in India, as colleagues in a ceramic studio in 1989. “Before meeting Michael, I’d only worked in hand built and pottery clay, never sculpture. I remember the first time he gave me some wet clay and said ‘now make a bear!’ It was the start of my journey to becoming a sculptor,” says Sumati. At that time, Michael was applying hand building and pinch techniques he had picked up in Barcelona and Ibiza and combining them with the inspired content of wildlife and cultures from Southeast Asia and Northern Africa. Eight years after their one year working relationship in India, their personal lives became entwined when they crossed paths again in Sedona, Arizona. They have been working and living together for almost 20 years now. Last week, they were kind enough to share their techniques with us at our second Art Night, hosted at their home studio.
Sumati’s hands are her instruments, and her education at both the Chicago and Kansas City Art Institutes, combined with her love for food have served to enhance her innate physical wisdom. “Before I was a full-time artist I was a cook at a vegetarian restaurant; I’d worked as a personal chef to a couple of households in the Hamptons. I cook very visually, and of course making great food is all about working with your hands, thinking about colors and textures and what goes well together. I’m also trained as a massage therapist – all tactile, touch-based practices,” she shared with us this April. These skills fittingly mirror the intuitive nature of working clay and have been a foundational element of her subtle approach to her work.
Michael is a self-taught sculptor who has picked up his skills during his travels through mentorships with artists like Don Reitz, Toshiko Takaezu, and Paulus Berensohn. After he dialed in his basic ceramic construction techniques, he expanded his passion for clay by experimenting with slab work and became enchanted by the practice of draping and folding clay like fabric, as seen in the exotic masks hanging in the Creative Gateways gallery. One of the best examples of his applied experience is the 7-ton brick walk-in kiln built entirely by his hands. This building-like structure serves as a unique feature in the Creative Gateways garden and often fascinates visitors with its sheer mass and beautiful construction. In March, Michael shared what it is like to work with this sometimes unpredictable element. “There’s as much of an art to making sure firing goes well as there is to making the pieces themselves – taking the readings and making the adjustments is a process of flow, a dance between what we want to create and how the materials react in the kiln.”
Sumati’s animal sculptures breathe life into the halls of our artist collaborative. Playful river and sea otters pop around corners, while joyfully coy animal heads seem to come through the walls and greet visitors in the main gallery. She employs unique elements like acid treated wire whiskers, ornate embossed patterns, bright glass eyes, and naturally pigmented glazes that set her sculptures apart from others. Her sculptures’ enchanting facial expressions and soft texture encourage the viewer to reach out a pet their fantastical features. “Some people think I’m very realistic, but I’m really not; I do things that please me. I see shapes and translate them. To make the animals as endearing as they are, you have to exaggerate certain things. It’s not just about being accurate – what we want to capture is their personality.”
Embracing the third dimension
These days Michael has brightened the walls of the Creative Gateways gallery through his work with mixed media and acrylic painting. His abstract and landscape scenery have a multi-dimensional quality and are rich with textures built up by unexpected mediums like sand, cheesecloth, modeling paste, gesso, and thick oil paints. His use of natural washes and bright pops of color bring to life interpreted subjects like flowers, markets, elements, emotions, and mythical creatures. The concept of flight is also a huge inspiration for Michael. “I’ve been really focused on creating the feeling of uplift. That even though they’re abstract, there’s a sense of soaring, flying, wings outstretched, uplifting when you look at the paintings. I’m giving you a taste of my attraction to birds flying, soaring. I’ve been a pilot on commercial jets, on gliders, and on hang gliders. I really want that feeling to come across in my paintings.” If you look closely you can often find hidden textiles and objects embedded in the deep textures of his oriental inspired pieces. “Throughout my art, you’ll see my enjoyment of the balance between man-made structure and the natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Sometimes the expression is a subtle balance, and other times there is a more urban edge, depending on my mood,” Michael explains.
Celebrate with us during the opening reception of Uplifting Exploration: An Artist Spotlight of Michael and Sumati Colpitts on Friday, October, 20th from 5-8pm. Listen to Sumati talk about the unique personalities of her sculpted animalia and learn about Michael’s tricks for creating unique textures from unexpected media, all while sipping wine and enjoying some of their favorite foods. Don’t forget to check out our other events and upcoming workshops at Creative Gateways.