Sometimes an artist needs to bend and form to fit a commercial model, but on some special occasions, it’s the artist who can sculpt the market with beautiful intentions and products.
“I love large, minimal, clean, simple, strong,” says Martha Sturdy, whose commercial success started when Vogue editions around the world fell in love with her very first collection of art — a bold line of jewellery. “To do it clean and simple is hard because there’s nothing to hide the mistakes. When you put more and more in a place, the true lines of the art are hidden by all the mess.”
In the late ’70s, Sturdy had just graduated from Emily Carr University, one of the world’s leading art and design schools, and was eager to begin her career as a sculptor. But for a budding new artist, it wasn’t possible for her to start crafting large, expensive sculptures — so she improvised.
“I did wearable sculpture — small sculptures that you could wear on the body, not jewellery so much, because it’s more extreme,” she says of her first line, which enamoured people from the fashion capitals of the world — New York, Milan and London. “They loved it because nobody was doing it at that time.”
That bold, creative courage and commitment to her own sense of beauty continue to fuel Sturdy today, who is now more conscientious than ever with the direction of her art.
“I’ve never done things that are busy, but I think I’m more into the extreme of it now, whereas before instinctively I did things,” Sturdy says. “Now, I intellectualize why I am doing things — I’m trying to make things that are really pure, like pure scale and shape. Before, I just did stuff that was fairly simple.”
Sturdy’s connection with nature helps her find that magical balance of life that is both simple and profound, a philosophy imbedded in her art.
“I think in life it’s about balance,” she says. “I really believe that if I was just in the office all the time, I would be a very boring person. [It’s about] being at my farm, enjoying nature and animals and seeing what’s happening, and being free and breathing.”
Nature doesn’t simply rejuvenate this internationally acclaimed artist, it right-sizes her views of life, especially important in a world that can consume us and guide us to a less meaningful existence.
“To slow down, to breathe, to observe, to smell, to still look,” she says, noting, for example, her love for red flowers. “That’s the richness of our world that we should appreciate and enjoy, because it’s something that we take for granted, and yet if I don’t have that, I can’t come up with new ideas — if I don’t have the freedom to walk, to snowshoe, to be in the snow, to look at ice, rivers, streams, mountains, clouds — all of those things are what make the balance for me as a human being.”
She’s never without gratitude for the wonderful environment of British Columbia, a habitat that forever allows her to be a consummate student of life.
“Nature is a good teacher — that’s a very important thing,” Sturdy says. She points to the cedar wood she’s working with. “Instead of sawing it up on a bandsaw, what I am doing is taking the shapes of splitting wood so you see how it grooves, so you see where the roots were, where the knots were. What did the tree go through to get there? Nature is teaching us, and sometimes we’re really slow to figure it out.”
But Sturdy absorbs nature’s wisdom for a purpose beyond her own well-being, as she believes “a well-articulated space supports peace of mind, and peace in general.” Her sculptural works of art — from jewellery to furniture — act as catalysts in people’s lives to infuse that overall healthy state of being.
“When I go to Japan, I’ve been told I have a very Zen personality,” she says. “I make things that are low, like tables. I make things with nature, so I’m respecting nature. I’m using it, but I’m respecting it, and showing you how it grew.”
Sturdy says that much of what she prioritizes as important now was a gradual journey, but a perspective she thinks the world needs to hear.
“I think when you get older, you don’t want drama and confusion — you just want a sense of peace,” Sturdy says. “As an elder, it’s my responsibility to try and encourage or educate people of what I believe in. It’s not about how modern we are, how many phones, televisions, or cars we have. I think it’s important for others to think in other ways than business and having to have everything.”
Sturdy’s art is clearly more than a career — it’s her passion, her life’s creed, and even her process mimics these core beliefs and intentions.
“How I know I’m going to start creating again is I go to my workshop at my farm, and I clean it. I sweep everything. I have to have a tidy space first,” she says. “I cannot work if it’s messy because it’s distracting. You need a clean space to work in so that the ideas that you’re doing are pure.”
Text by R.L. Hart Photos Courtesy of Martha Sturdy