Artist in Residence: Brittany Sparks


by james.i.chung and james.i.chung / Garnet & Black

Brittany Sparks is a fifth-year ceramics student working on building her portfolio for grad school, but in a way, she’s been sculpting her whole life.

“I grew up with boys, and we would play and make our own simple stuff with branches and sticks. I guess my first sculpture was some creation of leaves and twigs in our backyard,” Sparks says. Without a program dedicated to clay in grade school, she was essentially her own teacher growing up. Lack of guidance didn’t stop her, however, from submitting pieces to the state fair and pursuing her love of sculpting. It wasn’t until she arrived at USC that she took her first class on the subject.

Transferring from Clemson after her first year, Sparks fell in love with the ceramics program after her first course with professor Virginia Scotchie. “She’s the head of the department, and usually she just teaches advanced or intermediate classes, but I was fortunate enough to have her my first year here,” Sparks says. “She actually played a big part in making me want to stay in the ceramics department because she is just this wealth of knowledge.”

Since that course, Sparks’ love of sculpting has only grown stronger, and her own unique style has developed. She works largely with cylinders, ranging in sizes, and likes to test how they interact with each other. In terms of inspiration, she is drawn to exposed piping behind restaurants, or water towers left to rust. “I draw from the mundane — dirty stuff that everybody uses and it serves its function, but nobody really looks at,” Sparks says. “Nobody is going up to these things and saying, 'Oh, let’s take a photo of this.' I look at things that serve a purpose but don’t necessarily stand out, mostly pipes, and that’s where the cylinders come from.” She also likes to experiment with glazes on her pieces and describes her artistic process as essentially a series of experiments with configurations of cylinders, combinations of glazes and various firing techniques.

Four of Sparks' pieces are to be shown in an art show in Chicago titled “Sculptures: Shaping Ideas” alongside her professor Virginia Scotchie, ceramics department adjunct faculty instructor Bri Kinard, and two other prominent artists. Her work was chosen because of the relationships between her forms, surfaces and compositions. The show is in March, but until then, she continues to create and glean textural inspiration from various artists, mostly contemporary. Some notable influences include Takuro Kuwata and George Ohr, but she also enjoys looking at MFA candidates from different universities and even contacting them to inquire about glaze recipes or firing methods.

When asked about what she wants to elicit from audiences through her pieces, she offered a refreshing perspective: “I want them to question it, not so much feel something or admire it from afar — I want them to want to know more. I want people to actually go up and feel the sculptures, and I know that in museums that is sort of frowned upon, but I want people to really experience the surfaces and textures. Because I know that when I see a texturally fascinating piece, that’s what I want to do.”

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