Norleen On The Cusp

IMG_0268-1Norleen (On the Cusp). Graphite on paper, 16 by 16 inches. 2014.


Norleen Nosri is an incredible person: Daughter, Artist, Mom, Malaysian, Muslim, Wife, Teacher, Lover of the World, Speaker of Truths, Embracer of Difference, Celebrant of Joy, Preparer of Meals, Peacemaker, Calmer of Hearts, Tea Drinker, and so much more. While each graduate student I have worked with has unique aspects which make them special and necessary to my experience as an educator, Norleen shares a special spot with Natalie Shelly; being with them is like spending time with God. Norleen’s gentleness, care for people, and passion for work are just humbling to witness.

In my portrait of her I got something we almost never see: a completely still and silent Norleen. Usually she’s a flurry of activity, all smiles and happy exclamations. Here I saw her in a moment of pensive awareness. She’s not unhappy, just leaning into life with resolve; she’s receiving some of that grace she so easily gives to others. That open face and intense look in her eyes speak volumes.

When I drew her she was on the cusp of a huge life change – moving into a new space and new opportunities in St Louis, MO. And now she’s about to undertake her greatest challenge yet: a tea ceremony installation work serving thousands of people (read more about her current work as Artist-in-Residence at the Craft Alliance in STL here). I’ve written a bit about Norleen before, so I’ll let her have the last word. Below are just a few of her thoughts from the conversation we had last year.

On graduate programs:

“I gotta do this. That’s the only mentality. My mind at first was like, what is the MFA? But I never took it lightly. It’s supposed to be intense. It’s gotta be intense. It’s going to squeeze all the crappy parts out and just leave the pure… so it’s going to be painful. I knew from many of my ceramics friends – with Bede (Clarke, head of Ceramics at Mizzou), just be prepared to cry a lot. But the best of what happens is reciprocal, between you and (your faculty). It’s not so much about discipline. The discipline is what got you in. The relationships get you through.”

On art:

“How I see the world – in terms if what part of life I’m imitating in my work – seems like a moral obligation to me. The way I interact with people, the way I hope for people; I have that embedded within my material and whatever I’m working on. It’s so specific. But the dialogue around art is often different. Critique in art can be such obsession with intense reason and cost/effect, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, concept, aesthetic… I hate that kind of conversation. I use art as my arena of letting go.”


If you can spend some time with Norleen, do it. See her work. You’ll see there’s a bit of divinity hanging in the air.


Inspiration – Norleen Nosri

Norleen Nosri is a talented ceramist from Malaysia who is earning her MFA here at the University of Missouri. I’m privileged to work with her and to own several of her beautiful pieces. Her work is, to me, almost above comment. The compositions she creates are gentle and evocative. She says they are an attempt to “elicit harmony in duality.”

Above: Two images I took when I met with Norleen in her studio this past week. These groups of objects were there awaiting their placement in larger compositional arrangements and I was struck by the incidental beauty of their color, interrelated shapes, and intimate space. There was an amazing northern light coming in through a bank of windows; it produced a wonderful glow on the exquisite surfaces of Norleen’s porcelain vessels…

Here are two cups my wife and I have that were made by Norleen.

This last image is an example of Norleen’s awesome maker’s mark. The Nosri name is of tremendous importance to her, and is a connection to her family, her country, her heritage, and the meaning she understands of life. Having discussed this name with her many times, I always make it a point – whenever I hold one of her creations – to turn it over and look upon this honorable name.

Inspiration – Ian Shelly

Ian Shelly is a former student – and current friend – of mine. He teaches at Indiana University Southeast with his wife, the inimitable Natalie Shelly. They are awesome people and I’m so glad to know them.

Yesterday I drove out to St. Charles, MO to see Ian’s show at the Foundry Art Center there. It was great to see the continuity between his newer work and the thesis work he made here at Mizzou. Below are a few shots of the works installed at the Foundry. For best viewing check it out yourself! The Foundry is a very large space with tons of art and it’s situated in a beautiful waterfront area with lots of shops and parks. I think the space offered some really nice context for Ian’s work.


A glorious homestead… I loved the overhead views that dominated this exhibition. Ian works to make the wall a ground plane and affords his viewers a God’s-eye perspective. This piece has a synergy with some of the not-so-intended intensities in Thomas Kinkade works…


Orchestration of shadowspacestructure!

Pallet! The many miniature elements in this body of work are quite beautiful to investigate and serve to focus viewers on the deeper subtexts of Ian’s work. You can read a bit more on what he’s trying to do here and here.

Egress Solution!

Rooted – this piece was especially dynamic and evocative. The lighting and overall space around the piece was also powerful – a typical aspect of Ian’s work.

Archetypal… the shapes, forms, and the interactions of mass with shadow and light, as well as the dynamics between tension, balance, and stillness are all elements of Ian’s works that helps them access a sense of the archetypal. Go see the show to learn about titles for these works and to read Ian’s longer statement about the work. Seriously, you need to experience the light and space around each work to get a true feeling for what he’s accomplishing through his playful yet intensely felt art. Good stuff. Glad I got to see it.
The show is up until September 7th, so check the Foundry’s website to get directions and hours of operation. Go there!

PS: This isn’t the first time Ian’s inspired me… Click here.

Inspiration: Natalie Hellmann

Natalie Hellmann, a wonderful ceramist and person, is holding her MFA Thesis Exhibition this month. She has been an absolute joy to work with over the last three years, and I know I’ve learned much that I would never have known if not for our discussions.

Aarik Danielsen talks to Natalie about her trajectory as an artist in this feature in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

And here’s a link to a shorter article about her and her show.

I was asked a number of questions about Natalie and her work for that short article. Obviously space didn’t permit them to publish all of my thoughts, so I want to include them here as a way to honor Natalie.

Interview Question: “What do you enjoy most about her growth as an artist since you’ve met her? How has she grown?”

My response: “I am most impressed with how Natalie has held onto the core things she has cared about for many years while at the same time found ways to grow in her understanding of the materials and integrated relationships of form, content, and emotion with which she has worked while in grad school. Practically, this means that she has made numerous attempts to invest her project with fresh investigations, often working with different forms, structures (and orientations of these two) in order to determine what felt right. In many ways what she presents in this Thesis work seems inevitable, as if it all just had to be. But this is not the case. Natalie has studied her own work and intuitive expressions while also looking to other artists, writers, and philosophers who seek poetical understandings of human experience rather than just rational, direct, closed meanings in that experience. Natalie’s work is thus not meant to function as didactic communication first and foremost. Instead, it has grown to become a kind of emotional sounding board, wherein viewers may, if they are inclined, examine themselves via the suggestions of the forms. The work is more about awareness of being than declaring some specific message. I enjoy the fact that I got to participate in her exploration, be around her welcoming spirit, and grow in my own apprehension of what art can do through my time with her. ”

Interview Question: “What do you think her viewers are going to enjoy most from her exhibition this coming week?”

My response: “I think that viewers who allow themselves to intuitively consider the objects and arrangements in Natalie’s show will find a resonance in their own past experiences of feeling, seeing and being. What I mean is that, to me, the strength of Natalie’s work has always been in its gentle invitation to participate in awareness and emotional connection to shapes, colors, and surfaces. Being with Natalie’s artworks is something akin to standing by a stream and looking at the smoothed stones beneath the undulating water – if you’re in the right frame of mind, your emotional and psychological experience can become one of calm awareness. I think that’s the “repose” that Natalie suggests in the title for her exhibition. I hope that viewers will both experience and appreciate that quietude and tenderness; it’s something not often seen in art.”

Thank you, Natalie, for your work, your spirit, and your presence.

Inspiration: Ian Shelly

Ian Shelly was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in ceramics, working with the great Bede Clarke. He was among the first grads I taught and eventually developed good relationships with. His work, balanced in an evocative place between technical precision and playfulness, utilizes a modular methodology to arrive at installations that are unique and impressive. I sense dualities in his work: it’s emotional and flippant, gentle and muscled, intentional and intuitive. But it is in the continuum between those poles that deep meaning is conveyed. His project while at MU was impressive, and he’s continued that during his long-term residency at Hub-Bub in South Carolina. His work is now featured on the accessCeramics website.

Of Pots and Beards

Two people I greatly respect were in the local paper recently.

First, Ian Shelly, a grad student in ceramics here at the University of Missouri who has been a student of mine in the past (and whose studio I often stop into  to see new work and chat with [or head out to Klik’s for a beer or two of an occasional evening]), was featured in the Niche column of the Columbia Tribune. Check it out here.

The author of the piece, Aarik Danielsen, is also a friend of mine. Aarik is a great writer (and music aficionado) and has crafted pieces for PopMatters, Ethics Daily, among others, and is a zealous advocate for beards. Good stuff.

I’m enjoying this synergy of people I like doing things that I like. Best line by Ian from Aarik’s piece:

“The pots I like are brown,” Shelly said. “Nobody likes brown pots.”


Ian enjoying a famous ceramic work, Spring 2009