Susan Tunick: The Color of Clay

Ceramic artist Susan Tunick has a penchant for scale and surface. All of her creations, site-specific sculptures, mosaic murals and individual bricks and tiles are testaments to architecture. The surfaces are intricately laced, lush in color and texture. Studying architectural ornamentation has given Tunick a heightened awareness of edges, shadows and context-both physical and historical.

Tunick_02 Mt. Top Trio: Rouge (side 2). Dimensions: 46 1/2” x 41” x 15 3/4” wide.

Tunick was inspired to work spontaneously on her recent site-specific commission, Mt. Top Trio: Vert, Violet & Rouge. Located on a 600-acre Vermont farm, the land is fertile with wild flowers and grasses, pear, apple and plum orchards. There are three sculptures that provide permanent landscapes of color. The sides of each organic shaped cedar sculpture are clad in ceramic tile. Each side of clay bands were created at the same time to insure that they would all shrink at the same rate and fit in their respective place. Tunick chose a completely new glazing method that allowed her to “build the colored surface from one firing to the next.” She allowed the color to evolve by glazing non-adjacent elements. By staggering the glazing, she could watch it blossom, a process Tunick compares to “the way a pointillist painting was created.”

Tunick_10 Detail of Mt. Top Trio: Violet (side 1). Dimensions: 53 1/2” x 36” x 16 1/2 “ wide.

There is a mesmerizing quality to the sculptures. The trio of forms reverberate color perhaps most vividly when seasons are harsh and nature is devoid of any strong hues. Inspired by haystacks found throughout the countryside, Tunick says, “I didn’t want the shapes to be so symmetrical. Thus, I felt that adding curves and some type of opening in the center could work well. The tile bands reiterate the circular motion of the haystacks – around and around and around!”

Tunick_12 Blue Double Screen. Dimensions: 6” x 6” x 3/4”.

On a smaller scale are Tunick’s perforated tiles and brick units. Both forms explore dimension. The perforated tiles are built with layers revealing surprising glimpses of pattern and depth. The perforations are witty reminders to both inspect and respect what lies beneath the facade.

Tunick_13jpg Cranberry Double Screen. Dimensions:  6” x 6” x 3/4”.

Tunick explores the rectangular brick by forming them in wooden molds, stacking and carving them. Constructed of thick hollow backed slabs glazed in radiant colors, the pedestrian brick is elevated to iconic status. Used throughout the world for thousands of years as a humble building material, Tunick has given reverence to the shape by invigorating the surface with color and texture. The bricks vary in depth, creating shadows in their concave spaces and staggered edges. Tunick’s bricks are investigations of architectural masonry in a way that Vitruvius could have never imagined.

As President of Friends of Terra Cotta, a preservation organization devoted to protecting historic and architectural ceramics, Tunick has studied clay in architecture for over 25 years. She is invested in “seeing ceramics re-integrated into our environment…into landscape, interiors and into the facades of new buildings.” Her work represents this evolution precisely. 

Design ResourceSusan Tunick