Clay artist's heroin overdose was the wake-up call he needed

Cody Hilleboe's 'Indifferent Dependency' debuts this week at Taos Clay in El Prado

By Kathleen Steward
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 6/5/19

Taos Clay resident Cody Hilleboe's artistry is a deep, personal response to the national opiate crisis. His creative energies are fueled by his own experience and funneled through …

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Clay artist's heroin overdose was the wake-up call he needed

Cody Hilleboe's 'Indifferent Dependency' debuts this week at Taos Clay in El Prado

Posted

Taos Clay resident Cody Hilleboe's artistry is a deep, personal response to the national opiate crisis. His creative energies are fueled by his own experience and funneled through the plasticity of clay. He knows whereof he speaks.

Six years ago, Hilleboe overdosed on heroin. His roommate found him in time, but Hilleboe spent a month in a coma. Grateful to be alive and scared, Hilleboe entered into a 12-step program and continues recovery today. He says his work since the jarring wake-up call has been in part related to the national opiate epidemic. In his young adulthood alone, he has lost four friends. "Devastation" is the word he uses.

"Indifferent Dependency," a solo resident exit show, will open with a reception Friday (June 7), 5-8 p.m., at Taos Clay Studio, 1208 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado. Admission is free.

Expect to see clay sculptures that can be visceral and rough-hewn. Spikes figure into a few of his pieces and the result is somewhat medieval. He hand-builds the unattached objects, fires and glazes them. Then he starts to attach the forms. Many of the fired objects do not make the cut. He may have fired 10 pieces then picked three to attach. "I have all these parts that can go places," says Hilleboe. The nonobjective process ambles along to unexpected and intriguing results - that's the way he rolls.

"I consider my work very conceptual because I create it from pure feeling and emotional memory," Hilleboe says. The show's title word "indifference" signals a new direction; his focus is toward the realm of possibility and growth and moving further away from active heroin addiction.

"I've lived two completely different lives," Hilleboe said.

While he considers himself process-oriented, there is considerable wiggle room to allow for experimentation and surprising results. He relishes experimentation and is not afraid to throw failed attempts back into the reclaim bucket.

For instance, he uses PC-11 marine epoxy which bonds and cures wet, dry and underwater. He colors the epoxy with acrylic paint. Who knew marine epoxy could hold together fired clay? Well, Brent Pafford, a clay artist located in Washington state, did. Hilleboe emailed Pafford to find out what his pieces were attached with. Hilleboe asserts that PC-11 will allow his larger creations to stand the test of time outside in the elements.

"Waiting to Move," a piece in the show, is comprised of three objects -- a circle, a cylinder and a slab. They are attached with scarlet-colored PC-11. It is rough and rugged and architectural. The clay's surface is like an ocean getting ready to raise Cain. He wrapped the round pieces around towels creating an uneven effect. His work is in no way shape or form smooth, and he likes it that way.

"One thing I've been teaching my students - we're working on pinching. You just have to work with it and realize what kind of fingerprint you like," explains Hilleboe. "I like these really dramatic and intense marks on mine."

While evoking surface turbulence in a static arrangement, "Waiting to Move" also manages to convey balance and poise through strategic attachment. You almost want to push the sculpture to see if the cylinder will turn, if the piece will move, if the tension will break.

Hilleboe is finishing up his year-long residency at Taos Clay and is in fact getting ready to move. He has received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota starting this fall. Having been in vagabond mode for the past five years, he is happy to alight in the Twin Cities for his master's degree.

"I'm excited to work in a studio that has top-of-the-line equipment again," Hilleboe said.

"Indifferent Dependency" includes Hilleboe's photographs as well. He started photography in middle school when his father gave him his old Minolta XG7 camera to use. The photographs are intended to interrelate with his sculptures.

In the future, the young sculptor wants to return to big sculptures - into the five and six foot range. He is inspired by the works of two ceramic artists in particular: Japanese ceramic artists Jun Kaneko and Tetsuya Yamada. Kaneko's work is spare and elegant; Yamada's work is intricate and ironic. It will be interesting to see what sort of fusion occurs with Hilleboe's future pieces. He has done large sculptures in the past and says moving them into the kiln is a feat in itself.

Hilleboe says, "Most of my work starts either as an accident or an idea - not an accident, a happy accident, and my work is constantly changing and I just let it happen."

For more information, call Taos Clay Studio at (575) 654-2919 or visit taosclay.com.

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