Christine Kosiba's nature-based sculptures hold lessons for humanity
The North Carolina artist's work is featured in 'Rhythms of Life,' a new duo show at Not Sheep Gallery in the Short North
When Christine Kosiba sculpts clay, she tends to mold the earthen material into shapes from the natural world, particularly woodland creatures like owls, foxes, rabbits and ravens. To Kosiba, these birds and mammals not only speak to the wild spaces around us, but also to the dynamics of human relationships, similar to the way Aesop’s Fables used animals to teach lessons about people.
The raven, in particular, shows up often in Kosiba’s work, some of which is on display through the end of April as part of “Rhythms of Life,” a duo show with Columbus artist Deborah Griffing at Not Sheep Gallery in the Short North. “Ravens are messy like us,” Kosiba said in a recent phone call from her home in western North Carolina. “If you think about them in literature and folklore and fables, they've been prominent from the beginning of time. Sometimes they're portrayed as very evil and omens of death, but then sometimes they’re the tricksters or the messengers from the spiritual world. And in some indigenous cultures, they’re even the creators of the world. So they're like us. They’re complicated.”
In a sculpture titled “Keeper of the Bones,” a raven with a bell in its mouth hunches over a large bone, bringing to mind the bird’s harbinger-of-death reputation, while another, “Full Circle,” depicts a raven perched atop a circle, evoking the infinite circle of life.
Kosiba was drawn to nature from an early age, when she became enamored with primatologist Jane Goodall and marine biologist Rachel Carson. Moving around the country with her military family, she sought out nature wherever she lived. “We would make little forts, and I would go walk around and find wildflowers and pick blueberries. Everywhere we ended up, there was always nature,” she said. “That is the beauty of nature. Even in the city, you can find it.”
A self-taught artist, Kosiba spent 12 years as a schoolteacher before pursuing art full time, focusing on sculpture and working the malleable clay with her hands, using additive and subtractive processes to experiment with the earthy, grounded medium. The pandemic recently gave Kosiba even more time and space to push herself creatively, particularly as she used armature to work on larger pieces, creating a life-size wolf and boar.
“Scale is interesting. It changes the narrative and the dynamic,” she said. “I've always been a coil builder, where you build hollow. But when you go big and build on an armature, you’re using a solid mass of clay, so the process is really different. There's a physicality involved with it. My arms would be tired from smacking this clay around.”
One of Kosiba’s larger works came to Not Sheep Gallery last fall — a wolf in sheep’s clothing for “The Masks We Wear” exhibition. In “Rhythms of Life,” Kosiba similarly explores themes of predator and prey. “The Dance” features a fox and a hare side by side, while “Delicate Balance” depicts an owl on a vintage beam that holds a small skull.
“We, as humans, have a complicated relationship with predators, because really we are a predator,” she said. “We kill off [animals] because they eat our sheep and they get in our way and they hunt the things that we want. But then we’re messing up this whole ecosystem. … So you've got that happening, but then you've also got people who work tirelessly to protect. It's very complicated.”
To Kosiba, intention and balance have to be parts of the solution to living in harmony with the natural world. “We don't have to have it all. We can save some wild spaces,” she said. “And we know it's better for us. We know in cities where they leave a little bit of green, there's less crime and better mental health. We know these things, but we don't always want to do it.”