American artist Amber Cobb creates captivating sculptural pieces that explore themes of trauma, the abject and push material boundaries.
Could you describe your creative practice in 50 words or less?
At times my practice is playful and experimental. I schedule 'play days' in the studio. I don't think about the underlying concepts. I just have fun messing around with materials and objects. My practice then shifts from play to reflection. I observe, marinate, and allow concepts and connections to emerge.
Eerie, abject, beautiful, bold, visceral, triggering, complex can be words used to describe your work. How do you navigate these complex ideas that often converge in one work?
I look for the duality in people, situations, and experiences. Searching for multiple perspectives is the way I connect and emphasize. For example, the hotel room mattress's silicon casts explore the aesthetic of physical trauma and its psychological impact on humanity. Yes, it is violent, ugly, and grotesque. Yet I see beauty and power found in the ways our bodies and minds change and alter as we heal.
As artists, pain is something that is integral and emerges in many of our practices. In your work, it is visceral. How would you encourage an artist to embrace and confront their pain?
Pain is part of the human experience. The pain we experience is unique, and it is ours. It will
change us, but we can alter its path. Not to sound too abrasive, but one must accept the pain and face it even with fear. Don't push it aside or try to bury it, it will emerge or lurk in the background. Recognize the pain, pay attention, and allow yourself to feel all the emotions. Sometimes I allow it to spill, explode, or pour out from my gut into a giant mess of mixed emotions. Emotions I recognize and some I have never met before. Hold onto your mess, and love it tenderly with compassion.
Take a break.
Fake a smile, maybe fake 100 smiles.
Treat yourself, find a space to laugh.
Then go back to your mess, dissect it, spread out all the parts. Pick up the pieces one by one
observing and reflecting. By understanding your painful experiences' nuances, you will start to empathize with your hardships and heartbreak.
How does your drawing practice inform and influence your sculptural works and vice versa?
Speaking of confronting pain and the steps in the process. My drawing practice falls under 'treat yourself.' Drawing is therapeutic; during the moments and days, I feel overcome
with anxiety; I find relief by repeating thin lines over and over. It is meditative.
I discovered my drawing practice while working on a series of sculptures and installations that focused on sexual assault and trauma. The sculptures were physically demanding, and at times the process was aggressive. The physicality released so many emotions and negative energy. It was exhausting but in all the right ways. However, as I mentioned above, there is a duality I find myself facing. Drawing gave me a break. It offered time and space to look at the painful experience with tenderness.
Can you speak to your materials and the process of manipulating them in your
I experiment a ton with materials and the objects. I utilize silicones and plastics in unconventional ways. Sometimes I pretend that I'm a scientist and conduct tests on small objects and surfaces. I often fail, but this process is how I discover new ways of working with the materials. Some of my best works have come from a mistake.
How do you go about titling your work?
Hahaha! Titles stress me out, and I always procrastinate. I feel like I have no consistency, which in some ways makes me feel a little insecure. Some titles are poetic, some funny, and some are straight to the point.
I usually start with the research, looking back at my notes and highlighted sections of the books, articles, and theory related to the concepts. I create diagrams and word maps
on large pieces of paper. This is also how I start any word related project (artist statements, applications, lectures, even class assignments). It helps to see these in a visual, almost horizontal format rather than a linear form on a word document. I also like to stir things up a bit and toss in the unexpected (memory from a dream, lyrics, or quote from a film).
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
The best advice I received was to read Bruce Mau's Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. It has been hanging in my studio for years. When I feel lost or unsure, I go to the manifesto. My favorite lines are listed below:
18. Stay up late. Strange things happen when you've gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you're separated from the rest of the world.
34. Make mistakes faster. This isn't my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
41. Laugh. People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I've become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.