ichelle Laxalt never expected to major in art, let alone find her way into ceramics.
Originally an anthropology and art history major at the University of Nevada, Reno, Laxalt jumped into what she thought was a basic pottery class to take with her friend for fun. Little did she know it was actually a ceramic sculpture class.
“It just clicked in a way that other materials haven’t clicked before,” she said.
After that one semester, Laxalt jumped headfirst into a majoring in ceramics and double minoring in art history and Spanish.
“I just have such an easier time working in three dimensions rather than two,” she explained. “I was just able to bring those ideas to life in a way that was a lot easier for me sculpturally than they were depicting things two-dimensionally.”
During her early years growing up in Reno, Laxalt said her mom and dad had a big influence on her art experiences. Under their roof, the family had a whole room dedicated to arts and crafting, and during the holiday season, Laxalt’s mother would make ornaments for their family.
In high school, Laxalt said Laurie Macfee, one of her art teachers, was another big role model along her path into the art world.
“A lot of women in my life were responsible for that trajectory,” she said. “[And] it’s always just been nurtured in our family, which I’m lucky.”
After her time at UNR, Clayton Keyes, a professor of ceramics at UNR, was a big help for Laxalt when she was looking for grad programs that had a figurative emphasis.
That was when she discovered Christina West at Georgia West State University. Laxalt said she jumped at the opportunity to study with West, which led her to her acceptance into the program in Atlanta.
When she finished graduate school, Laxalt remained in Georgia. “I’ve kind of fallen in love with Atlanta,” she said. “And it’s a really supportive place to be a working artist, and a lot of my grad cohort stuck around too, and they’re probably the thing that would be hardest to leave if we ever were to move.”
Since graduating, she’s found herself finishing works that are more autobiographical and less influenced by an academic institution.
“I’m just not interested in things that are overly literal,” she explained. “I want them to be more evocative and more open-ended so that other people can bring their experiences to the work.”
Laxalt’s new exhibition, The Soft Animal of Your Body, which consists of ceramic sculpture and works on paper, is on view at the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon.
“I just hope [the] work feels authentic,” Laxalt said. “I hope it feels fresh … sincere and empathic, because … we’re all in this together. And by we, I include the natural world and the animals too.”
The exhibition’s title is from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, which Laxalt said is important to note, as she hopes the viewers see the same ambiguity in her work that’s illustrated in the poem.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
—Mary Oliver, 2004
Michelle Laxalt’s exhibition The Soft Animal of Your Body is on view at the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon, along with Emily Najera’s exhibition In This Place, through June 17. A reception for both artists is scheduled for May 6, 5-7 pm, with a talk at 5:30.
You can see more of Michelle’s work on her website and on Instagram @michellelaxalt.