Extreme artistry
Rebecca Barfoot explores confluence of art and sport

by Jules Masterjohn

One doesn’t usually think of an individual as both an athlete and an artist. For some reason, these stereotypes seem mutually exclusive. Yet, there is a woman living among us who not only engages in both activities, she does so to an extreme degree. Durango artist Rebecca Barfoot speaks eloquently of the confluence between art and sport, and her need to be at her edge. “There is a connection between pushing both physical/athletic boundaries AND creative/artistic ones,” she says. “I seem to need the intensity provided by ‘extreme ambition’ in both endeavors – art and athleticism – because these are the arenas in which I feel most invigorated, aware and alive.”

Whether making a technical ascent of Snowdon’s ice-covered north face or riding the Death Ride, a 228-mile circuit over local passes and back to Durango in a day, Barfoot seeks the same sense of exhilaration and exhaustion in her artistic pursuits. As well as teaching herself how to master throwing pots on the wheel with porcelain, one of the ceramicist’s most challenging clays, she is eager to push the boundaries of her creative comfort zone. This inner challenge manifests itself not only in the difficulty of her materials and techniques, but also in the creative environments she chooses.

Barfoot seeks to extend her limits in hopes of discovering a sense of “limitlessness” within and without. To this end, she will be uprooting herself from the security and familiarity of her home studio in Durango to spend three months in Denmark. She applied for and was awarded an artist-in-residency fellowship that will allow her to live and create at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center near Skælskør, an old Danish harbor town. An active international center, Guldagergaard offers professional and emerging artists the opportunity to immerse themselves in their creative work, in a well-equipped ceramic facility, with the company of other committed artists, artisans and designers from around the world.

Most of Barfoot’s days (and likely nights as well) will be spent in the facility’s numerous specialty studios where she will further develop her technical ability with a photographic image-transfer process on porcelain. She also hopes to move away from functional work to making work that mounts on the wall. To do this, she must figure out how to cast large slabs of porcelain that will be used as her clay canvases. Problem-solving these very technical processes is a “big leap” for her. She will, fortunately, have the assistance of a lab technician provided by the institute. Equally as important, Barfoot will be part of a broad and experienced international group of professional ceramic artists, craftspeople and designers. This extensive, intensive community concept is intended to encourage “artistic development, professional knowledge and international network.”

Traveling a bit is also on her itinerary. Guldagergaard is located an hour and a half from Copenhagen. From there, she is a 10-hour train ride to Prague and the same distance from Amsterdam. Rome is a mere 30 hours by train. She is anxious to be in proximity to the countries that gave birth to some of her favorite artists – women painters from the early Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Truly, for Barfoot, this will be an exciting and extreme change – from the sunny Southwest to a soggy seaside town; from her solo artistic lifestyle to living, full-bore, in community; from a relatively young American culture to the cradle of European civilization. “I expect to be really, really challenged – having the use of this technical facility and expertise to help me push my boundaries with clay,” she offers. “I feel a positive sense of pressure, and I am going for broke. I expect to make my best work ever.”

No stranger to immersing herself in new places and new studios, early last year she spent a month as an artist-in-residence at the Women’s Studio Workshop, nestled in the Catskills in New York. “The residency allowed me to begin my technical interest in the image-transfer process,” she says. Barfoot spent last summer making pottery and paintings at the Powerhouse, the under-renovation Durango Discovery Museum, where she was the artist-in-residence. Ever seeking the next challenge, this fall she has been invited to be the guest artist at the Tin Shop in Breckenridge.

Filled with exhilaration, she admits to waking up regularly these days at 3 a.m., thinking about the logistics of leaving home and her habits for three months. And, like many faced with a huge opportunity in a foreign environment, she is a bit apprehensive. “My mind is working on the ‘what ifs,’ and then I remind myself that they selected me for a reason. This relaxes my self-doubt and questioning.” Once she has quelled the fears about her creative work not meeting her expectations and not holding its own in Guldagergaard’s international artistic climate, her biggest fear is that “the value of the dollar to the krone will tank and I’ll have to take a cargo ship back home!”

Doubts aside, Barfoot is steadfastly philosophical about her upcoming journey. “It is such a luxury and so fabulous to be immersed in my work 24/7. Art making is a world where I can feel my own voice, and my heart and mind are flung open. It is when I’m at my best. But ultimately, art can’t just be about me, my program, my show. Good art stirs something up in a world that has become numb. We have forgotten the inner life and are unwilling to look at our vulnerability.” Her understanding illustrates why Barfoot is drawn to both ice climbing and art making: each puts her in touch with her vulnerability and is an opening to feeling totally, extremely alive. •

Rebecca Barfoot’s work can be viewed online at www.rebeccabarfoot.com, where there is a link to the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center.