Collen Toledano




WALL FAT, 2010, Porcelain, plaster, paint, flocking, hardware, flocking


Life Body Study #1, 2012, Porcelain, wood, plexiglas mirror, vellum, resin


Smoke Screen, 2012, Porcelain, balsa wood, rice paper, red LED light, 36”x14”X20”

Meet in the Middle.  2012, Porcelain, balsa wood, rice paper, plexiglas mirror, 60”x24”x12”

Colleen Toledano is a mixed media artist with incredible ceramic skills.  Her work deals with body, architecture and beauty vs prettiness.  Colleen is also working on a project in Buffalo, NY that honors artists and craftsman making handmade objects.  The project emphasizes the importance of community building by bringing together local farmers, artists, and other Buffalo natives to share ideas, get to know each other and learn about one and other’s creative outlets.  Learn more Here:

The interview below is a discussion between the artist and I about her meticulous and awe-inspiring work: 

A:  Your work calls to mind artists like Paul Thek, Alina Szapocznikow and some influence of Rococo flourish.  Can you talk about your influences and art historical lineage? 

C:  I have always been influenced by opulence, excessiveness, and abundance. These are concepts that I think are both of personal importance when I make connections between one’s body and home. So making reference to the Rococo period and style only seemed natural. Maybe because I am a ceramic artist I seem to be more aware and influenced by other clay people, such as Nicole Cherubini’s work that I think also references abundance in our culture of mass consumption. Also Sara Lindley’s ceramic, skeletal furniture sculptures.  I admire her work technically because I know how finicky porcelain can be, but also the consideration to this and how using the clay gives her pieces an undeniable vulnerability and fragileness that I seek to have in my pieces.    But I attempt to simultaneously make them appear strong and in control.  I have been influenced by artist, Damian Ortega’s sculptures that have made me think about my relationship of my own body with the material world around.   

A:   I love the way that you weave surface/exteriors into the visceral body of an object.  The piece, Slice Life #2, for instance has this beautiful, subtle detail of a white and blue floral pattern that one might find on wallpaper or fine china, it runs in between a pink, marbleized shapes that are reminiscent of skin and tiles all at once; this all lives in a compact “slice” of a brick wall.  I’m so drawn to this piece because it is so full of contradiction and unity all at once.  The “decorative” flowery detail is also a network of veins breathing energy and life into the piece.  I feel like this piece is talking about the inside and the outside existing as one and being on an equal plane - as if to say the icing is not a mere topping but it is integral to the cake.  What is it that attracts you to surface details as well as the insides?

C:  I consider the duality between the exterior and interior of my pieces to be co-dependent of each other.  Without the other, one would not exist.  I can never ignore the “insides” of the pieces because for me it’s what drives the power of what I am talking about.  I enjoy assigning “decorative” elements to the context that can feel or can be considered as messy or grotesque.  This contradiction gives importance to the necessary role that it plays in the overall concept.  Creating beauty helps to draw the viewer into the piece and demanding consideration and introspective to the dialogue of the various concepts involved.

A:   I notice that framing is a consistent element in your work.  Pieces such asSmoke Screen, Wall Fat, Slice of Life, Lux Luggage III and more all have a defined perimeter.  Calling attention to the fact that these pieces are on display creates a sense of distance while making them feel all the more tantalizing.  What role does framing have for you?

C:  This is my attempt to bring attention or give important presence to the piece.  By “framing” or giving a “defined perimeter” I am asking the viewer to mentally and visually enter my pieces.  This is allowing for investigation within a small and concentrated context. 

I am also interested in the rigid structure of architecture, comparing it to the skeleton of our bodies.  Without this integral component neither would be able to hold themselves up.  Making the framework vital to the integrity and strength of both.

A:  I notice your drawings have a “barely there” quality, delicate, yet precise like blueprints; while your sculptures have a real sense of weight.  What are the differences and/or similarities in the two processes? How does one influence the other?

C:  I spend a lot of time in my studio thinking and considering the various materials that I use and how they work together or against each other.  I try to create a dialogue between the different materials that contribute to the overall concept of the piece.  I enjoy pairing soft and delicate materials next to hard and sturdy materials because I believe they emphasize each other characteristics even more.  I am concerned that my viewer can experience the feel of the materials with out touch them.  That the weight of the material is apparent when considerably used. Lightweight, often translucent materials are used when I want to speak about a delicate, fragile, and/or sensitive situation.  Heavy weighted materials are almost always about strength and power.  Although there are times that I have tried to make contradictions, such as in the piece Meet in the Middle, the white paper fence is the component that demands attention and in the narrative is the most desired.  But by using the delicate material it is also perceived as the most difficult to attain.

A:  Some pieces with multiple components such as, Meet in the Middle, seem to be more narrative than a piece like, Life Body Study.  Is narrative an important element in your work and does it manifest itself differently at different times? 

C:  Presently my work has become more narrative as I attempt to visually communicate the complicated relationships and events in my life.  In the past I have discussed several ideas of how  “control” plays a role in my life, but I was always concerned with talking about it universally in order to make it more accessible to my audience.  As the work becomes more narrative I am interested in my viewer experiencing the way I handle control by conceiving of pieces that when in their presence an emotional and/or physically reaction occurs.  I want to the viewer to feel how I felt.

A:  I admire the way you defend “girliness” in your series Foxy Fuss, by embracing femininity while demonstrating an awareness of the sometimes wincingly grotesque means of attaining beauty.  Can you talk about what beauty means to you and if it relates at all to question 1, in regards to surfaces.

C:   In thinking about this question I remember using the word “pretty” often when I was making the Foxy Fuss series as opposed to the word “beauty”. The two words had different meanings and connotations to me and still do.  

In my mind I assigned youth and delicacy, and maybe a little weak, to the term “pretty”.  The series Foxy Fuss had much to do with how I could use my femininity as my power, giving me control in any situation.  Acknowledging that “pretty” was not always seen as powerful or strong, I tried to play against these ideas by making objects that were usually seen as aggressive and masculine.  I made these objects, such as weapons, ultra-feminine and desired by using qualities that were commonly associated with “pretty” like, curvaceous forms, soft pinks, and floral aesthetics.  

This use of attaining “beauty” was more relevant in the two series that preceded Foxy Fuss; Bodily Trays and Sufficient Stitchery.  Conceptually I was speaking about extreme actions that are done to attain beauty. I was thinking of “beauty” more in terms of aesthetics, what looks pleasing to the eye. Also how there is power associated in being able to make those decisions to attain this beauty and that one should feel good about it, never apologize for it.  This is a very third wave feminist viewpoint. There was still use of soft pastel colors, but there were a variety of soft and hard materials within the same piece.  I saw the use of a variety of materials gave more balance between masculine and feminine within the same piece.