Bouquets, clay and sculptures fill UM grad student show | Arts & Theater

Susan Sinitiere sent a photo of a small piece she’d made to someone, and they replied that it reminded them of daydreaming.

Her sculptures, made with ceramics and other forms, in her thesis show “Seeds Once Sown,” are evocative but sometimes a warm surrealism.

Sinitiere, who’s finishing her MFA at the University of Montana School of Visual and Media Arts, originally started out as a painter.

Now her work might look more like “Faded Blush,” in which delicately sculpted ceramic flowers bloom out of an old wooden chair.

“I just realized that in three dimensions and ceramics, I could do everything I wanted to do in painting and more — in form, space and color,” she said.

Botanicals, sense of place, changing of seasons, motherhood and passage of time all float through the gallery. Sinitiere came to UM from South Louisiana, where a scene like that flowers and chair reflects her familiar environment of front porches and old furniture.

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“It’s so lush. The landscape is green and bright and humid,” she said.

Sculpting with paint

After she arrived here she began to move back from abstraction toward botanical themes with a touch of the surreal or magic realism.

“They became wall sculptures more than painting,” she said. She was using paint on fabric and sculpting with it. Ceramics drew her in, and the content “was a little bit more in my relationships with motherhood, and my kids growing up, and losing certain people.”

A mother of five, her work reflects on the ideas about raising a family and the passage of time, and being open with your children as they grow older to show them your own vulnerabilities.

“You just went into young motherhood, you raised your kids, and you developed a house but it’s not necessarily who you are at the end of the day,” she said.

“Dishwater Blues” is a wall installation, comprising a “faux” wood wall with a real window and sill, with about 15 bouquets of hydrangeas made of ceramics. Regarding the dishwater in the title, a blue tub is hanging on the wall below the flowers, which vary in color from light to purplish blues and pinks.

For those who don’t already know the trick, the narrative in the piece references a way to change the color. Sinitiere said when she was young, she heard the trick: throwing dish soap on them.

She liked the interference of “women passing knowledge onto one another through daily tasks,” and the idea that you could change the color and “have some control of the outcome was pretty fantastic,” she said.

Those bouquets, being clay, number in the hundreds and hundreds. There are also many, many individual berries in “I Can’t Unsee You,” a wall installation of mountain ash branches loaded with bright orange and red fruit.

“I love process,” she said, “in the same relationship that I have with domestic crafting. I used to knit prolifically, I would sit there counting stitches one after the other until you see the whole object come together.”

The hallway between her space in the Gallery of Visual Arts and the one next door had room for an installation — she crafted mullein trees, another new feature of the Montana landscape she’d never seen. Drawing on her time building props at a children’s museum, they loom high against a red painted wall and an arrangement of (real) burned logs.

Before she makes any decisions on a next move, she wants to spend more time traveling around the area and pursuing these directions in sculpture.

“I’ve been here three years, but I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface and I enjoy working with botanicals, and I enjoy working with household objects,” she said.

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