Centered. That’s how artist Heather Bradley approaches her art practice these days, and it’s how she’s able to bring her creativity, focus, and energy into balance, not only to support herself as an artist but other people in the process.
Bradley’s ceramics reflect her artistic journey, embodying lessons learned and passions pursued. She became interested in ceramics at the age of 19, and while studying art history and painting at the University of West Florida, she fell in love with the potter's wheel. Through the encouragement of her professors and classmates, and by deciding to follow her heart, she went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts with an emphasis in ceramics from New Mexico State University.
“I just dove in, and I never looked back,” says Bradley.
She relishes in the realm of ceramics, embracing the process from wheel to kiln to exhibition. The wheel is the proving ground where her connection to material begins to take shape. Working the clay, opening it up, and finding the center is the basis for a love-hate relationship with the medium. The variables and risks at play from start to finish, as well as the potential for so-called failure, mirror what we all go through as we seek to find our place in the world. And at that moment, when she balances the weight of the clay with the demands of the form, she says that it all just feels right.
Bradley has been exhibiting her work since the early 2000s. Currently based in Santa Fe, she has been showing her work with Hecho a Mano since the gallery opened. In addition to living in Florida, Bradley lived in Hawaii as a child. Her father was a sailor in the Navy and her mother lived in California before the artist was born. It's like water, the ocean, is in her blood.
“I've spent a lot of time on the beach, in Florida and California, and I found it to be so healing,” she says. “The beach, and the beach sky with all of its different gradations, inspired one of my glazing techniques: I use an air compressor to apply the glaze while the piece is spinning on my potter's wheel. It creates an almost airbrushed effect and allows me to layer the glazes so that it ends up looking like a horizon or coastline."
She draws from those memories and impressions and incorporates her experiences in the New Mexico desert into her pottery today. She works with, and continues to learn from, her good friend Mike Walsh who has worked as a studio potter in Santa Fe for more than 40 years. In his studio, she can use an air compressor to spray glazes on the green ware and fire her pieces in an electric kiln. The result is a beautiful satin white surface, ideal for Bradley’s color gradations.
“I try to keep my color choices and surfaces tied to nature and to have a bit of an aged feeling to them,” she explains. Her patterned works are inspired by her study of art history, her time living in India, as well as the cultures and communities of New Mexico.
Responding to one’s surroundings is a theme rich with creative potential. Bradley looks to Georgia O’Keeffe as an influence for how an artist might respond in experimental and meaningful ways that other people can recognize and appreciate.
“The trajectory of O'Keeffe’s career inspired me because she started really making interesting work in her 40s. And then later, in her 80s, she started making ceramics which makes it so clear to me that it's a long game to be an artist.”
In addition to being an artist, Bradley is also a cyclist, another practice that keeps her grounded and focused. “The spinning motion of my potter’s wheel and the bicycle wheel and it's like an escape. There's definitely a connection,” she says.
That’s a funny thing about centrifugal motion—it draws a rotating body away from the center of rotation, caused by the inertia of the body. Finding the center is also about directing, acting, pushing. To stay centered, to stay balanced, we must keep moving.
Viewers may notice that Bradley often works in series, or what she calls “families” of works. Fitting, as she is currently pursuing a degree in social work, planning to work with and support grieving children. Her mother died in 2019 and finding meaningful work, in addition to artmaking, is at the center of Bradley’s aims. She is bringing her experiences and her skills full circle, back to center, and out into the world.