When an artist dies, their work remains. But if they’re an educator as well, their legacy is carried out through the next generation of artists. This transfer of knowledge is evident between Marie EvB Gibbons, a pillar of the Denver art community who passed away unexpectedly in September, and her former students. A retrospective of her works in clay is currently on display in an exhibition titled TOUCHed at Plinth Gallery in Denver.
Jonathan Kaplan, the owner of the Plinth Gallery, told Hyperallergic that a majority of the people who have come to view the exhibit are fans and art students she instructed over the last 20 years. Gibbons was deeply committed to arts education: the self-taught artist hosted workshops, taught classes, and held community events at her studio.
Gibbons’s work is playful yet grim, and contains recognizable elements. She used waxes, inks, washes, and resin to achieve shadows and texture in her clay pieces, and would incorporate found objects and organic matter into her work. A piece from the “Pins and Needles” collection features a sorrowful, blue-eyed, slip-cast baby head with a quarter-sized pin cushion on the side of its head. Like all of Gibbons’s pieces, this “pinhead” was completed with post-fired finishes.
One of the last pieces Gibbons completed before her death consists of two three-inch, armless clay figures (representing her two children) standing on stiff legs on either side of a similar figure (representing Gibbons) lying on a couch. This piece embodies her trademark practice of using commercial doll molds and slip casting and then altering their surfaces. The nostalgic doll heads invite the viewer in, but a closer look reveals a slightly eerie appearance. In an interview in 2018, Gibbons stated that her goal in using this technique was to “combat what’s supposed to be perfect.”
She began working with clay 25 years ago with raku and then switched from kiln-based finishes to exploring finishing her work with other elements. Gibbons was inspired to be an artist by her grandfather and she sometimes helped him run his roadside ceramic stand. After toying around with different media, Gibbons decided to declare herself an artist. She said in an interview, “I knew nothing really of an artist’s life, work, the hows, the wheres, the whats. So I just began to look around me, noticing art, finding artists, and being brave enough to walk in and say, ‘Hey, I am an artist too.’ I fell into a group of artists that were starting a new cooperative gallery, found my place, my peers, my teachers, inspiration, and most of all the permission to be.”
Gibbons’s legacy is a reminder that an artist can be more than pieces of work sitting in a gallery — an artist’s greatest gift can be the way they helped shape the community surrounding them.
TOUCHed will continue at Plinth Gallery (3520 Brighton Blvd, Denver) through January 25.