Romancing the clay

Florence Suerig reads The New York Times’ sports pages carefully every day. But it’s not because she’s a fan of any particular sport or team.

“I love to see the angles of the body, the contortions people make,” she says.

That’s because the Greenwich resident is a sculptor of the human form, specifically the female form.

Suerig’s porcelain figures – which she has exhibited everywhere from the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan to the Blue Door Gallery in Yonkers – present the female body in all its voluptuousness and mystery. Pieces like “Awaken,” “Secrets” and “Windsong” – all from 2011 and pictured on her website – open and close like flowers, revealing and concealing.

“Attitude,” also from 2011, has the proud bearing of a flamenco dancer, her hands on her hips. But it also suggests Picasso’s ceramics, with several different perspectives being realized all at once.

If “Attitude” captures many different perspectives, it also seeks to crystallize many different time periods, as if the work were layers of archaeological strata.

“Some of it was the way you were at 10,” Suerig says. “Some of it the way you were at 15, having reached puberty. Some of it was the way you were at 20 when you were the most beautiful, but didn’t think so.”

All of it is female. While the male body may excite her sexually, the male nude doesn’t thrill her aesthetically as the female nude does.

“I don’t think the male body is as beautiful,” she says. “It doesn’t have the curves of the female body, the S curve that is the standard of beauty.”

For Suerig, molding that S curve from breasts to buttocks becomes a dance, a duet (an idea that recalls the scene in the movie “Ghost” in which Demi Moore’s potter reunites sensually with her late husband through a medium – and the medium of clay).

“The interesting thing is that when I used other art forms, what excited me was color,” says the Stamford native, who has been an interior designer, a fiber artist and an abstract quiltmaker. “Once I touched clay, the exciting thing became the material. It’s a sensual material. There’s kind of romance between me and the clay.”

That romance is carried out in a small building on her property, which includes a picturesque Japanese garden. Suerig doesn’t work from maquettes, or models, but rather freeform from ideas of shapes and sizes that develop in her mind. Because her kiln is small, she fires her figures in pieces, then stacks them, one curve fitting into another as in a jigsaw puzzle.

The sculptures remain unglazed. “The porcelain is white, very white.” Though the shapes are modern, the color suggests something ancient, classical or at least neoclassical.

Those works that do not sell – Suerig’s sculptures are in collections ranging from that of Greenwich Hospital to that of the International Appraisal Company in New Jersey – find their way into her garden, where they are marked by time. Her husband, Karl, suggests cleaning them. But Suerig likes them that way.

Indeed, the sculptor – a warm, empathetic woman who brings an artist’s imagination to conversation – has a way of looking at life and art that runs contrary to the usual notion that while life is short, art is long. For her, it’s all about impermanence.

“My works won’t exist forever, because nothing exists forever,” she says.

The tension between that impermanence and yet our desire to make our mark in and on this world is the subject of her latest project, “Marks, Here and Now,” which combines drawing, sculpture and tai chi.

In this proposed work, which has the support of Silvermine and for which she is seeking funding, there will be an 8-by-8-foot projection of the sculptor making a calligraphic mark as she does tai chi. A video will show her working on a sculpture, with the calligraphy projected onto it.

Suerig shares further thoughts on this in a mission statement that is in the form of a poem:

“Some people make a lasting mark, mine will likely be fleeting. As I go, so will my mark, my voice, my name.

It is amazing to realize that my being here matters not to all but to me, my voice, my name, my mark.

The only Mark we truly have is with the people we leave who care that we were here, our mark, our voice, our name….”

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