Improvisation & Creation The Work of MaPó Kinnord

A work of improvisation is something created without preparation. Improvisation relies upon the hands of the artist improvising, channeling their vision through the slippery medium they manipulate. Jazz musicians are famed for their capacity to improvise, and jazz songs are written to make room for improvisation during performances. Such artistry requires immense skill and command over a medium, as well as the humility to let the medium command you. 

MaPó Kinnord, “Cosmic Key,” 2004, Stoneware, acrylic, wax pencil, 36 x 34 x 24 inches, Collection of the artist

In ceramics, this also entails an embrace of the unknown. How will a piece respond to the kiln? Will it remain intact when fired? What will be altered by the elements beyond the artist’s control? How does an artist exert power over her vision in the face of such uncertainties?

MaPó Kinnord is a master of improvisation, of using the most unruly elements of the ceramic process to bolster her spatial and formal explorations. The artist grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and received her first training in ceramics through Cleveland’s Quaker-founded alternative high school, the School on Magnolia. She apprenticed with several production potters before receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1984. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1994. Arriving in New Orleans in 1995, she now serves as an Associate Professor of Art at Xavier University of Louisiana. A well-respected educator, Kinnord has taught workshops in Matsue, Japan, as well as the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. Her Contemplative Clay Project explores clay-working as a meditative practice. A lifelong scholar, she has researched the traditional and contemporary art of Ghana extensively, and has produced video documentation of the traditional pottery, kiln building and ceramic architecture of West Africa.

MaPó Kinnord, “In My Beginning,” 2021, Stoneware, acrylic, mixed media, pedestal by Martin Payton, 66 x 36 x 26 inches, Collection of the artist

MaPó’s work is firmly rooted in the act of improvisation. Her work explores space and form – both internally and externally – literally and symbolically. Through technical mastery and irreverent experimentation, Kinnord’s work in clay expands the traditional boundaries of the medium. Her studio practice pushes the potential of clay, as well as her own imagination, testing the limits of clay’s malleability and strength with her large-scale sculptures. By incorporating assemblage, collage, light, drawing and painting into her practice, she challenges the very definition of ceramic art.

MaPó Kinnord, “Fear Not,” 2012-2021, Stoneware, acrylic, mixed media, 28 x 26 x 24 inches, Collection of the artist

Outside In, Improvisations of Space brings together works from throughout Kinnord’s career to illustrate her practice in clay. Allowing herself to be led by the material, she finds her greatest joy in the physical act of creation “I work with clay because I love the physical interaction with the material,” she explains. “My current work embodies the technical challenges and creative dynamic of improvisation.” Her organic clay improvisations are three-dimensional drawings in space, and the resulting forms are the physical evidence of that act of creation.

Through the building of architectural forms, Kinnord creates empty spaces within her sculptures. Dark internal spaces become a platform for further improvisation and creation, a place where she builds internal worlds through collage, painting, drawing, assemblage and light. It is through bringing light to the darkness of inner-space that Kinnord deepens the narrative elements of her work, creating intimate landscapes to comment on history, culture, identity, spirituality and social issues. 

Come explore the world of MaPó Kinnord at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art today! Outside In, Improvisations of Space is on view through July 18.

MaPó Kinnord and Lin Emery, “Untitled” (detail), 2021, Stoneware, acrylic, aluminum, 88 x 74 x 22 inches, Collection of the artists