To highlight the wonderful artists we have in The Store, we’re kicking off a new series on our blog – Featured Artist of the Month. Each month, we’ll be selecting a different artist from The Store and asking them to share a bit about themselves and their work.
Getting things started for us is an interview with Jeffrey Lloyd Dever. Primarily working with polymer clay, Jeffery creates whimsical jewelry, baskets, vessels and sculpture that pay homage to the natural wonderland of his youth. Combining bold colors, patterns and forms, his work is a feast for the eyes.
What is your artistic background?
I’ve been a maker my entire life, drawing almost every day since I could hold a pencil. My formal training is a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, but I’ve spent most of my professional career in the commercial fields of graphic design and illustration. I am the founder and creative director of Dever Designs in the Washington DC suburbs, and served on the adjunct faculty of MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, teaching graphic design and visual metaphor illustration for twenty years. Today I devote most of my time to the pursuit of my studio art. When my schedule allows, I also enjoy teaching multi-day masterclass workshops around the US and internationally.
What are your favorite materials to work with/types of items to make?
I am an analog animal living in a digital world. Therefore, I love working with my hands, and the feel of using various materials to explore whatever my mind’s eye envisions. Over a period of several years I gave a series of three PowerPoint lectures at different conferences on the theme “Immaterial”. The purpose of the series was to inspire artists to look at everything around them as potential art material, and to free them to consider the possibilities. To illustrate the presentations, I made over 150 pieces of jewelry from everything from cardboard to paperclips, and Q-tips to dried fruit peels. It was a real growth experience.
Today, my primary medium is polymer clay and exploring the possibilities beyond what it was designed to do. In honor of a fellow artist, Elise Winters, my quest is to respect her legacy of elevating the medium into the broader art and fine craft world. I seek to do this by creating sculptural objects from jewelry to vessels, basketry, and installations, with works in many significant collections, exhibitions and museums.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
I grew up in New England with a deep love of nature. It has been and remains a primary muse. I do not seek to replicate it, but rather draw from it as a starting point for the conceptual ideas I wish to express. The jewelry pieces Contemporary Craft has are from that naturalistic perspective.
Over the past few years I’ve amended my portfolio with a body of work that is inspired by a fusion of modern art, and mid-century design with a touch of Asian aesthetics. I love exploring this very different direction. It keeps me from becoming bored, and equips me with a fresher point of view as I toggle back and forth between these two worlds.
What is your creative process like?
I am a sponge. Curious by nature, I’m constantly absorbing visual information and ideas wherever I am. I can’t help it, it’s part of my addiction. I document these ideas with notated sketches jotted on scraps of paper, dated and kept in files marked by the year. Then when working on new pieces, I will peruse these files and select pieces that will best express my ideas, or explore a new technical challenge.
All my work, whether jewelry, baskets, vessels or installations are born through a series of sketches that mature into sculptural forms through numerous repeated cycles of fabrication, layering, and oven curing. Each color you see is the actual color of the material. The patterns and lines are not surface decoration or paint, but carved or incised details backfilled with contrasting colors of polymer. An individual piece can easily go through dozens of such cycles and take weeks or months to complete. This is why I work on multiple pieces at one time to be more efficient. When I finally finish a piece, I need to sit with it awhile– to be still, to observe and absorb it – that’s often when the final title reveals itself.
What is the most rewarding part of your practice?
As a lifelong maker, just the act of creating an original expression of my own from simple materials is very rewarding. Something of meaning from nothing. I particularly enjoy working with non-precious materials where the value of a piece is purely a result of the artist’s hand, and not the commodity’s commercial value. Polymer clay is particularly suited to this goal.
As a person of faith, I also love the ability to express my values through my work. To express ideas of hope, renewal, humility, or confront social and political injustices. There are also times when the work process itself can almost be contemplative.
And what challenges do you face as an artist?
Time. Because my techniques and work process are so labor intensive and time consuming, I never seem to get to the finish line. There is always more that I want to explore. I suppose as problems go that is a pretty good one—maybe even a blessing.
There is also the challenge of getting polymer clay recognized for its potential. As a young medium without centuries of history to build on, it is exciting to help foster an environment of experimentation and evolution as a medium, but it also means the art marketplace must be educated.
Outside of your practice, do you do any other creative activities/what are your interests?
I hate to admit it but I’ve become rather myopic in my other creative pursuits, as I tend toward an obsessive compulsion toward my work. I do however enjoy and draw on the fruits of others in film, music, and other arts. I’m also fascinated by any TV program where people are problem solving and making things. I don’t care whether it’s a baking competition, custom car builders, fashion competition or “Lego Masters”, there is just something about the creative human mind problem solving that captures my imagination. I guess I see myself as a very left and right brain-oriented artist, and as such I love a problem in search of a solution.
What role does the artist have in society?
I absolutely love this Shakespeare quote, which is to the best of my recollection, “artist uses imagination to bring forth the forms of things unknown and turns them into shapes and gives to airy nothingness a local habitation and a name.”
First and foremost, we are communicators. We’re called to be observers, commentators, and when necessary advocate/activists. Yes, there are the day to day utilitarian uses of art and craft, and at times we are purely makers. But never forget that art can be a balm to heal a hurting world, or a toxic venom that feeds despair. It’s our choice as artists.
What is art/craft to you?
This is a dangerous question, as simplistic narrowly defined definitions are inherently inadequate. I guess the safest answer I can give is to say that it is a material form of human expression–again a communication medium. Even without an apparent message it will elicit a personal response from us, whether it’s what the artist intended or not. We do not have to appreciate or resonate with all artists expressions, but they are all valid in their own right none the less. I’m a firm believer in technical and artistic expertise and standards within various art disciplines, but I humbly decline to define them for other artists.
Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspires you.
The list would be way too long, but to name a few Calder, Miro, Matisse. More contemporary craft artists Helen Shirk, Bruce Metcalf, Michael Sherrill. I guess the thing they have in common is they all have a graphic quality in their work that lends itself to my fascination with three-dimensional form, whether they worked sculpturally or not.
Anything else you would like to add?
You can find Jeffrey’s work in our physical Store at 5645 Butler Street and in our online Store.
To learn more about Jeffrey, you can also check out his “Meet the Artist” interview with The Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States.