by Yolanda Wysocki
Kendall Madden is an emerging artist featured in the Winter 2014 edition of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions.
Kendall Madden: I am very much an amateur; I make art for the love of making art. Through middle school I drew and explored various mediums, took art classes in small groups from retired art teachers who taught out of their homes, nothing formal. But in college I studied psychology instead and got a degree in education. I teach middle school English in the gifted program. But I have to make art for my own sanity; I realized that when I finally found my medium.
Yolanda Wysocki: How did that happen?
KM: A few years ago, in California, I took a five-day sculpting workshop with Paul Lucchesi and found I loved the physicality of it, the feel of the clay, so I started sculpting figures. I love working with the human form, especially the female form.
When I moved to Portland I quit my job and was unemployed for two years, so I took another figure sculpting class at PCC for four terms. There, students have to create a sculpture a day, no matter where it ends up. The goal isn’t to capture a likeness — you can’t make clay into skin — but to create a sculpture through line, gesture, strokes and texture of the palette knife, using shadow to create depth and color.
I’m not taking any classes now and that’s a new transition — not having models to work from. I miss seeing the three-dimensionality, and the connection I feel when working with a model that doesn’t come through when working from photos.
I also make whimsical teapots, each with its own personality. Sometimes I start out my session by making a teapot. I have less judgment about it so it’s really easy to start creating from there. They’re very tiny and purely decorative.
YW: What is your very favorite sculpture that you made?
KM: I created a small bust, not even 12 inches. There’s something about her look — I didn’t use a model, but she has this very wistful expression I love. My teacher looked at it and said, “I am very disappointed.” I was a bit shocked, but he went on, “I’m disappointed because this is one of my favorite pieces in all my years of teaching and the base of this sculpture doesn’t fit the beauty of it.” It was the best back-handed compliment I’ll never forget.
YW: What do you enjoy most about creating?
KM: Being in the moment; it’s like a meditation; you’re focused on that process of creation, nowhere else. When I feel in the flow, I know that what I’m creating is good and what I intended; it’s very satisfying.
YW: I love that. So when it’s not working, how do you inspire yourself?
KM: Although my husband and I live in a very small space, we live on 1½ acres and we have sculpture everywhere outside, so I get to enjoy my work all the time. But it’s not always about being inspired. Sometimes, it’s more about doing the work — getting into the studio, and seeing what happens.
We block ourselves. We judge what we do and think oh, that’s not good enough, but it’s totally good enough. Even if it’s awful, it’s good enough because it’s not about mistakes; it’s all about playing and learning in the process.
The greatest part is creating art but it would be great if other people saw it, too.
I created a lot for two years, then started teaching again, but am now on a leave of absence. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of my healing tools in this cancer journey has been The Artist’s Way. I found a small group and we meet once a week and do different activities.
Although I cannot do as much, I am working on a few sculptures.
YW: How is cancer informing your work?
KM: Usually I celebrate the human form in my sculpture, but for the first time I created a bust that was intentionally ugly; it’s full of rage and fear, the feelings that a cancer patient goes through but people don’t want to discuss. It shows scars, words scrawled into it.
Yet cancer is giving me a whole new appreciation for life that I didn’t have before, so I’m back to making beautiful or whimsical things again. We’ll see how this cancer journey will continue to inform my work.
YW: Has being a teacher influenced your art?
KM: They seem mutually exclusive. I love working with young people and their energy, but I was most productive artistically when I wasn’t teaching full-time. Part of my future transition is about figuring out how to balance those two. I know I want to grow as an artist, and I hope to be inspired by their enthusiasm.
Being around these young spirits who have their whole life ahead of them with their big dreams is a great energy to be around.
YW: It must be wistful in certain ways to be with that youth, energy and potential, when you are dealing with a life-threatening illness. I wonder if/how the juxtaposition of those impact you.
KM: I think it’s important for young people to have adults who are vulnerable and completely real with them; I wanted to model that. I think watching their teacher battle cancer at a young age will give them a valuable perspective on life. The kids have been so supportive and responsive. I have these amazing eight graders who organized a surprise going-away party for me — all on their own — everything from making decorations to food and individual notes. It was heartbreaking to have to leave them halfway through the year.
YW: So what is it that you would like folks reading this to “get” about you?
KM: I create just for the love of it and for myself. I think it’s a wonderful gift when someone else can feel the energy in a piece. It’s an amazing thing as an artist, to make an impact on someone else.
Kendall Madden is a Vancouver, Washington ceramic sculptor compelled by the human figure in all its manifestations. From empathetic portraits to odes to the feminine form to fanciful teapots, Kendall’s pieces speak in a vibrant visual language, sharing stories of the human condition: longing, uncertainty, rumination, vitality, whimsy and hope. Kendall works from her tiny home studio, inspired by the rippling of Salmon Creek passing just outside her window.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.