Marcel Fournet used to work out his designs on paper, loosely sketching them and knowing the end result would stand in perfect symmetry.
But Fournet liked the balance he found in the asymmetry of free-hand drawing. There was no measuring; just creativity.
Even his young daughter Ruth could sense this balance. Her dad was an architect, a good one at that. She knew from watching that the sketch eventually would end up in carefully planned blueprints.
They always did.
But it was the beginning that always thrilled him, the figuring through a sketch. That was his inner artist speaking.
That inner artist spoke to young Ruth, because she, too, would grow up to build things, asymmetrical structures that her father would have loved.
They’re signed Ruth Siporski, her name after marrying Dennis Siporski. He teaches art at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, and several of his paintings hang in Caffery Gallery.
This is where Ruth Siporski’s totems are featured in the exhibit gallery through Sept. 3.
That’s what she calls her sculptures, some made of clay, others created from handmade paper. This has been an ongoing series for the last seven years.
“I’ve been making them on and off,” Siporski said. “In 1997, I was making clay vessels, but they weren’t functional. They kept getting taller and thinner.”
And they eventually morphed into what are now Siporski’s totems, which is an appropriate name for her creations. Stand among them in Caffery Gallery’s exhibit gallery, and you’ll immediately notice a resemblance between these and totem poles created by Native American tribes.
But there is a difference. Siporski’s totems are abstract. Maybe you can see an animal shape emerging from a smooth shape or a face from a rounded piece. The point is, the vision is left to the viewer.
Totem poles tell stories, and Siporski has told her story in the creation of the pieces. The rest is left up to the viewer.
Again, these pieces aren’t symmetrical, a characteristic Siporski inherited from her father.
She was the youngest of eight children while growing up in Thibodaux, and she spent much of her childhood hanging out with her architect father. She stood by him as he worked and especially enjoyed watching him work out new ideas on paper.
“He had an interesting way of working, and I learned from that,” Siporski said. “He loved art, and he was the one who designed the golden Buddha and the rocket ships for our proms. It gave him a chance to create.”
Growing up in this environment encouraged Siporski’s creativity.
Her dad died when she was a student in the LSU School of Art. So, he never saw her totems.
“But I think he would like them,” Siporski said. “He did get to see my work when I was in college, and he was proud of that. And he did live to see my oldest brother become an architect.”
“My brother works a lot like my father,” she said. “He draws things out on paper.”
While her brother designs buildings, Siporski designs the artwork that will be placed inside them. Her totems can be found in corporate and hospital spaces as far away as Los Angeles.
Her pieces also are a part of private collections nationwide.
Now, not all of these pieces are stand-alone, three-dimensional totems. As visitors to the Caffery show quickly will discover, some are two-dimensional pieces Siporski calls wall totems.
These are the pieces she creates from handmade paper.
The three-dimensional totems are sculpted from clay. Their bases are designed to create balance to support the asymmetrical creation that emerges.
Siporski will draw out the piece in the beginning, but the totem seems to write its own story during the creative process.
“Form always wins over function,” Siporski wrote in her artist’s statement. “Kiln size is my only limitation but just requires creativity to overcome. My structures have always been somewhat 'architectonic’ in shape; I inherited that by exposure. The hand-built forms are labor intensive and made from slabs. These slabs give the work their two-dimensional, sleek look. Many layers of color, sanding, carving and rubbing are used to achieve the desired result. If I don’t like it, it goes back for more.
“The pieces tend to take on a personality, whether cocky or stoic that comes from the pleasure I get making them and the care they get during the process.”
She’s right. Each piece stands as an individual with its own way of seeing the world. Even the wall totems emanate personality.
Which again brings up Siporski’s use of handmade paper, which is lightweight. The material offers lots of textural possibilities and isn’t too heavy for wall hanging. Such texture is especially prominent in one particular wall totem in this show. The bottom portion is ridged. It’s abstract, yet familiar.
“I look equally at architecture and at nature,” Siporski said. “I may look at a window’s design in a building or the patterns of a husk on a palm.”
And that’s it - the source of the wall totem’s ridges come into focus.
Siporski was visiting the Asian section of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans when she noticed the palm bark. She studied its pattern, how it covered the tree.
“And I noticed the blast of orange light from the sun between the trees,” she said.
This accounts for the burst of orange in the wall totem’s green and tan format.
All of it working together to create the totem’s narrative, as well as Siporski’s.
The possibilities are endless here. It’s something she tries to teach her students at Christ Episcopal School in Covington, where she teaches art to first through seventh graders.
“It’s a challenge,” Siporski said. “The students know they’re going to have me as an art teacher from year to year, and they’re always expecting me to come up with something new, which is good for me, because it keeps challenging me as an artist.”
Add the fact that the campus stands in a green environment filled with trees, and Siporski can’t help being inspired.
“I see things there, and I want to go home and create,” she said.
That’s when the balance factor kicks into play. She and her husband are parents to two children, so family life, work and creative endeavors must be juggled.
So, the love for asymmetry Siporski inherited from her dad makes sense. He understood that it was in asymmetry where his true balance of creativity was founded.
As is hers.