updated March 2022
I am interested in the emotions and motivations,
the experiences and influences,
that drive how humans engage with and shape their environments,
and how place shapes humans in kind.
My practice works to turn the intangible
philosophical, scientific, intellectual,
socio-ecological, political, and emotional
of a person
– a fluid concept that transcends the individual –
into tangible multi-dimensional
sculptures and installations.
My practice incorporates intrapersonal experiences,
turns interpersonal journeys into relatable and universal representations,
and brings extrapersonal journeys into form.
My projects put an aspect of human experience on display,
celebrating the brilliance – and equally shining a light
on the darkness – possible in our species, its biogeography,
and its social institutions.
Through unearthing and revealing,
interrogating and exploring,
I seek liberation, retrieval, and integration
that outlines pathways to social transformation.
I use a mixture of media including sculpture,
performance art, digital technologies, qualitative and quantitative
data collection and visualization, and interactive installation design.
Thematically, my work touches on
environmental justice, the built environment,
community and place, nature/nurture, authenticity, and social activism.
Subject matter ranges from
the personal – individualistic healing through biographical sculpture – to wider
ranging exposés of socioeconomic and racial inequity
and the everyday realities of life in corporatocratic America.
written April 2022
2019 to present - began Thinker Ceramic Arts, lived through global pandemic that
"nobody could've predicted" >> eyeroll<< >> facepalm <<
2015-2019 - senior analyst in corporate geospatial data capture and analytics firm
2013-2015 - full-time mama
2012-2013 - PhD student, interested in environmental toxicology, because there was no
reason (or funding) to continue pursuing study or work in emerging
infectious diseases >> eyeroll<< >> facepalm <<
2011-2012 - finishing graduate thesis, moved to Portland
2008-2011 - graduate master's program investigating transmission dynamics and
molecular epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases
2001 - travels in Japan and SE Asia
2000-2010 - ran away and joined the circus; began and operated HelioLab Arts circus
arts performance and production company
1997 - travels in Caribbean and southern USA
1995 - 2004 - burningman
1994-2000 - undergraduate degrees in biology and environmental studies -
ethnobotany, social/political ecology, and environmental justice foci
1990-1994 - high school, but also ceramics, renaissance faire, pagan ritual, herbalism
1976-1990 - childhood, but also gymnastic at Karolyi's, rhythmic gymnastics in
Montreal, dance, theater, nationally competitive synchronized
swimming, and sewing.
written March 2022
Brianna Tarnower’s education in the arts began as a gymnast, rhythmic gymnast, dancer, stage performer, synchronized swimmer, seamstress, improvisational actor, costume designer, and ceramic sculptor, all by the age of 16. At 23, she established a working arts practice as performer and producer for HelioLab Arts, her circus arts company. For the next 7 years, her character design and performing art works were featured by Cirque du Soliel, Sea World, Red Bull, Bill Graham Presents, Disney, ESPN, DreamWorks, and the San Diego Zoo, among others. In late 2019, Brianna re-emerged into her new arts practice as a multi-disciplinary sculptor. Within a few months, her work juried into ASLD’s biennial gallery show, “delecTABLE: The Fine Art of Dining”. Her 2021 project “Life is Art, Art is Work, Work is Love”, in which she designed and built 400+ square feet of ceramic studio/rehearsal/event space in her backyard, will be featured in Portland Open Studios in October 2022. Her science education includes two BAs from UCSC, an MSPH from UCLA, post-baccalaureate studies at CSULA, and preliminary PhD work at PSU. She also won merit-based grants and fellowships from the NHS, HHS, UCLA, and PSU for outstanding research and achievements during her graduate studies.
written April 2022
Writers - Kafka, Conrad, Tolkien, Nin, Bukowski, Vonnegut, Watts, Garcia Marquez, Eco, Coehlo, Shusterman
Sculpture - Rodin, Picasso, Andreas Kerstan, Theodore Gall, Yoshi Aoki, Ruth Asawa
Visual artists - Manet, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Klimt, Mucha, Ernst Haeckel
Music -Anima, Elizabeth Frazier, Kurt Vile, Metric
Interdisciplinary - da Vinci, Pinar Yoldas,
Movements - impressionism, La Belle Epoque, brutalism, postmodernism, scientific illustration, ethnobotany, geographic information systems, projection mapping
* some of them, anyway
written June 2020
There are two divergent compartments to my practice, one grounded in the visual arts and the other in craft. The boundary that separates these spaces; however, is a permeable membrane through which energy is generated and harnessed as ideas pass from one space to the other.
My visual arts practice aims to create large-scale ceramic artwork that brings complex biological and geographical concepts to life. My goal is to bring the beauty of abstract scientific knowledge – from microscopic and biochemical to topographic and electromagnetic – into tangible forms in a way that engages the viewer and creates experiential understanding. Far from dry and analytical, as reading a textbook or journal article might be, the work I create inspires wonder, curiosity, presence of mind, and equanimity. Unlike science, the work does not aspire to exclude the sociologic, politic, economic, and ecologic underpinnings and emanations, and sometimes reflects a deep critique or celebration of the interplay of these forces in real time.
Each sculptural and functional collection of work is centered around a concept, and then many iterations of the concept are explored. Working within the design construct, my techniques evolve and refine and divaricate, creating variation through reproduction much like the process of natural selection. And like natural selection, no one outcome represents the pinnacle of the collection, but rather another evolutionary branch on the phylogenetic tree-of-life shaped by my practice environment. A collection is intended for display as a group – suspended from the ceiling, hanging on the walls, arising from the floor and podium – filling a room in order for the viewer to be fully immersed in the experience. Nevertheless, the craftsmanship in each piece also allows for individual work to be displayed on its own to full effect. These pieces are intended for public exhibition and for private collectors, marketed by galleries and fine arts fairs.
My craft practice is geared towards making smaller easily marketable pieces that allow customers to bring personalized ceramic art into their homes. Craft collections currently include hand-painted (and/or illuminated; in development) three-dimensional holiday star ornaments and customizable functional keepsakes (plates, handprint soap-dishes, dog bowls; in development). The ideas guiding my craft collections are the same as in my visual arts practice – using biology, physics, and math to inform my designs – but the time invested must be balanced by marketability and cost for a broader audience. I hope to be an innovator in the world of craft through the integration of technology with tradition. These pieces are intended for sale in online markets, on my website, and at craft shows and pop-up shops.
As I grow as an artist, I expect the places where these two practices converge to get really interesting. I can see whole rooms filled with the ceramic hands of children, reaching for growth and understanding. Similarly, a hallway of illuminated stars. Beyond these visions with what I already am making, I have a list of 40+ functional and/or sculptural collections waiting in the wings for me to have the time and resources to make them.
I began sculpting in clay as a teenager, and recently returned to it when Art began calling me back as a career path. Currently, my preferred media to craft ideas into form is clay. In both my visual arts and craft practices, my relationship with clay is always finding new depths. As I push traditional methods and the limits of the material to meet my vision, the clay schools me and refines me. In the past, I utilized costume design and performance art (HelioLab Arts, 2000-2008), as well as academic writing, in order to enlighten, empower, and inspire others with my unique interpretations of the world.
Though I use a variety of clay techniques, my current collections are hand-built using slabs. Before construction, slabs undergo manipulations – carving, cutting, twisting, pattern generation – using custom tools and sketches that prepare the slab to convey the intended effect once built. I also use plaster mold and slip casting techniques. I plan to incorporate more mold-making and casting into future works, as well as move my practice into casting metals. The community studio I use for clay firing currently only does mid-range glaze firing to Cone 6, so I work within that restraint for now. In addition to glaze and underglaze, I employ acrylic methods for adding color and depth.
- nature and science inspired art - large scale ceramic sculpture - three dimensional sculptural wall art -