Artist Evan Horn explores Texas rivers with hand-harvested clay sculptures 

Austin-based sculptor Evan Horn’s works are crafted out of harvested Rio Grande River clay. Photo by Evan Horn.

TERLINGUA — Austin-based artist Evan Horn is featuring the Big Bend in his ongoing Texas Rivers sculpture series in which he gathers natural clay from river beds, including the Rio Grande, to form organically-shaped, site-specific works. 

“I had this idea during quarantine when the art supply stores closed, and I was forced to come up with my own materials,” said Horn. “You realize if you go on a walk, clay is everywhere. It’s absurd to be limited by what a store has to offer you.” 

Horn was born in El Paso, has lived in New Mexico and across Texas, and now works and fires his ceramic pieces from his home studio in Austin. His work is shown locally at Garza Marfa. 

In addition to the Rio Grande, Horn is sourcing clay from Barton Creek as well as the Colorado, Pedernales and Pecos rivers. Acknowledging he may be breaking the rules by absconding from river beds with a backpack-full of clay, Horn said his excursions collecting the fine-grained soil have informed his work and help him feel part of a natural process. 

“I traditionally have thought of sculpture and ceramics as being an art medium, but then when you get out there, you’re just working with the ground, the earth,” said Horn. “It feels less like art to me and more like a conversation, play, discussion, or just a collaboration with the land and sites specifically.” 

Photo by Evan Horn.

Horn’s Rio Grande River objects are the first in the Texas Rivers series, originally conceived of in August 2021 during an artist residency he attended at the Willow House in Terlingua, a 12-unit, 250 acre “desert retreat.” He returned this month to “capture the sculptures in [their] native light and terrain” by photographing them in Chihuahuan Desert environs. 

“It makes sense to me to bring this work that feels very wild and yet refined — elegant to a degree — back out into this landscape that is decidedly wild and untamed,” said Horn.  

“The land re-formed and re-presented in this way is interesting to me,” he added.

Horn’s small-scale works are hand built using a method called slab construction and, for the most part, maintain their natural color and texture, free from glazes and patterns. Horn said the Rio Grande-sourced clay, which has yielded a terra cotta-look, was pretty effortless to work with, requiring little as far as the amending process goes. 

“The clay there is just perfect. It’s flawless. It’s been, like, filtered for thousands of miles, and it’s just ready to use,” said Horn. 

The practice of harvesting clay from the local environment for the formation of ceramics dates back thousands of years, appearing in cultures throughout the world. The medium holds a rich history in the Southwest particularly, where Indigenous, most notably Puebloan, cultures became known for their skill and innovation with the material. 

Horn said the clays he has collected vary in quality, including plasticity, in part dictating the design process. “The [types of clay] that have greater plasticity, I can push the material further, so you may get more of these curvilinear, organic shapes,” he explains. 

Horns plans to include some of his river clay sculptures in an upcoming show at Northern Southern gallery in Austin, and will continue on with the discovery phase of the project, ideally showing the work in an exhibition in 2024. 

Lately, the artist finds himself returning to the relationship between “ceramicists” who produce “fine art” and “potters” who produce “functional objects,” he said, as well as the fundamental concept of “the vessel,” which he has strived to stretch the material beyond, yet still references, even if in inverted forms. 

“It would be foolish to try to move away from the vessel as a ceramicist, I think, but a few years ago, I really did, I went more towards sculpture and less about the functional aspect of ceramics,” said Horn. “But what’s curious is that I find the vessel showing up again, even in these abstract works.” 

“I feel like I’m both a potter and a ceramicist and neither,” Horn added. “Also [I’m] just a person with curiosity and a big backpack that can load it full of clay.” 

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