Most of us haven’t been able to entertain our wanderlust in months. Thanks to Trudy Chiddix’s new show Flaming Fingers at Plinth Gallery, which features glass and clay ceramics that are inspired by her travels and pay homage to the way hardworking people all over the world have helped each other through the pandemic, you won’t have to go far to satisfy your desire to explore other cultures.
Eight sculpted hands with metallic flames extending from the fingertips are the centerpiece of the show. Each pair of hands features a word—including hope, art, and joy—written in a variety of languages. The fingers are imprinted with patterns that are reminiscent of henna tattoos, guiding the eye from the palms to the fingertips. Chiddix explains that working throughout the pandemic she was inspired by the way hands are used as vessels for everything from creativity to healing. In that way, the patterns on the fingers act as a visual reference to energy, as well as using your hands for good.
“There’s an energy that flows through my hands when I’m making art, but now, I’m focused on hands around the world—helping and working in response to the pandemic,” Chiddix says.
While the hands represent both the modality of Chiddix’s art and her reaction to global strife, the rest of the show is inspired by her own experiences with other cultures. For decades, Chiddix has traveled extensively, encountering new patterns and designs along the way. When one piques her curiosity, she translates it into a texture that is then imprinted onto her ceramics. Sometimes, these “texture tools” as she calls them, are tangible items she brings home, from buttons to shells to more intricate items like carved wooden stamps.
One of her most prized texture tools is featured in a recent piece titled “Myanmar Moment” (pictured at top). A rectangular stamp with geometric lines inhabits the middle of a circular disk standing on its edge. This traditional tool was gifted to her by some local potters when they learned she was a ceramic artist. That story embodies how Chiddix finds common ground between her experiences and those of people in other settings and then visualizes that interaction in her pieces.
Once Chiddix has a texture, the rest of the piece springs to life from there. Much of her work fuses ceramics with stained glass, giving the dark and solid clay a contrast of bright pops of color that reflect and filter light. In “Moroccan Memories” the center vase is textured in her own translation of the patterns in Moroccan tiles and rugs, and the blue glass on either side reminds her of the color of the skies while she was there.
The inspiration for other pieces isn’t as clear. Take, for example, “Amber Flurries,” a rectangular wall hanging with black-and-white patterns flanked on either side by caramel-colored glass and backlit with LED lights. With some imagination, the path cut through the center could be considered a road, and the floral surroundings either landscape scenery or symbolic of fruitful discoveries. In this way, the piece, as well as several others, hint at traveling as an act of learning and growth.
For a few moments, while standing amidst the stamped-clay patterns and multi-colored glow from the stained glass panels, it might feel like you’re in a different place. It might remind you of something you’ve experienced abroad, even if it was just a feeling. Ultimately, Chiddix has provided a framework to appreciate the stories behind her work, but also the stories behind other kinds of work all over the world.
If you go: Flaming Fingers is on view from through March 27, at Plinth Gallery, 3520 Brighton Blvd. Open Thursday through Saturday, 12–5 p.m. Masks are required for entry.