Our Garden Tour Star Kayla Sweet-Newhouse


Each month, we are highlighting “Our Garden Tour Stars” — landscape architects, florists, artists, and interior designers who have participated in our annual Garden Tour and Showcase Estate at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. We want to let you know about these very talented designers, their inspirations, and their creations.

This month, we are featuring artist Kayla Sweet-Newhouse.

We asked her these 5 questions:

1. What work of art changed your life or made an impact on you?

I remember being quite little and staring up at an immense painting. It consumed every corner of my vision. Standing there in front of it, I felt this deep expansion and calmness starting in my chest. I realized—perhaps not at that moment, but later as I learned more—that looking at certain works of art can elicit the same feelings as looking into the Grand Canyon or scrutinizing the minute twists and undulations of a fern. Or within the human sphere: the feeling of sitting in an exquisitely conceived garden, being surrounded by books in the hush of a library, or the meditative silence creeping into you in an empty place of worship. I figured out that art is not just something to look at; it can be a place to go to: a sanctuary. That is what art is to me. It’s got to captivate me in a way words and thoughts cannot and connect my mind and body, because both are required for understanding. There are many types of art, but that’s the type that inspires me — that’s the type I’m interested in making. In the absence of nature, I make art. I make my sculptures to live with them and to be surrounded by a strange jungle, my jungle. I create a lush world so that in the midst of a pavement-colored urban existence, I can come into my studio and be sitting in a Zen garden, surrounded by the jubilant, balanced imperfection of nature. It is my feeling that art has its own evolution, and is in a way replicating what is already in existence.

2. Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration for me comes from curiosity and questioning what’s around me, both concrete and abstract. Whether it be an intentional investigation or an intuitive exploration, my work method is based largely on experimentation. Much like nature’s process of evolution and mutation, I try something, see how it works, and either abandon the idea or investigate it further. The material itself has a lot of influence on what I make. In fact, my initial inspiration for making the undulating edges of my sculptures was derived from the sensation of porcelain between my wet fingers. I was absentmindedly sliding the edge of a bowl between my fingers while teaching a demonstration. I kept moving my fingers to the side every time the clay got too thin; and when I finally looked down, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The rippling edges of the clay looked alive, like a new species of creature. The experience spurred a deluge of new questions about the universe. For example, I became curious about evolution and looking at how different organisms have adapted to thrive in this world.

The first question I looked into was how it is possible to survive while being both delicate and strong — soft and sensual, while simultaneously cutting and fierce. I researched flowers, poisonous frogs, camouflaging octopuses, herd animals; any solution that I knew of in nature. In my sculptures, I experimented with all the different defense mechanisms I had studied, imagining that my creatures were living in an alternate universe fighting to thrive. My interest was then sparked by interactions: what happens when two beings interact, e.g. when one is rigid and another is flexible. I began to explore this using multiple types of clay bodies. For instance, because porcelain has a homogeneous particle size, the clay is more rigid during the drying and firing process than a dark clay body. When these two clays meet, the dark clay which is more flexible, due to its multiple particle sizes, bends and morphs while the porcelain, being rigid, is forced to give way. That release of tension and pressure shows up as brutal, yet beautiful cracks. In my work, this is a metaphor for the meeting of two cultures or two individual people. For the different attributes of each entity to mesh, there must be a degree of flexibility; otherwise, one side will break under the pressure. Most recently, I have become fascinated by how similar patterns are found across various forms, living and non-living. Think of cracks in the pavement, tree bark, and stretch marks on the skin—all exactly the same pattern. Why do mushrooms and jellyfish have the same shape? How is it that a tree which grows against gravity, and a river that flows with gravity, exhibit the same branching formation, just like our lungs? My inspirations are often not fully formed thoughts so I end up following a pulse only I can see. I’ve spent most of this year running around pointing at patterns of dirt on the ground and saying to mostly incredulous audiences, “Look! Doesn’t that look like zebra stripes?” Thankfully for the sake of my sanity, I became aware of Construction Theory and Sensitive Chaos, both of which explain how these sorts of universal patterns emerge. I made a video beginning to explore these patterns for the Helms Design Center. You can watch it here… https://www.kaylasweetnewhouse.com/textures-cast

3. Can you please share photos of your artwork?

Inside, 2019
Porcelain, ceramic glaze
18”h x 37”w x 11”d
Wall-mounted or freestanding


Dive Anyway, 2018
Whiteware, ceramic glaze
11”h x 19.5”w x 17.5”d
Wall-mounted or freestanding


BlueRust, 2019
Porcelain, glaze
3.5″ x 3.5″
Wall-mounted or freestanding


New Life, 2019
Porcelain, ceramic glaze
18”d x 9”d x 9”d


Who’s Supporting Who?, 2019
Porcelain, ceramic glaze
20”h x 18”w x 7”d


Supple, 2019
Porcelain, ceramic glaze
19”h x 17”w x 4”d


Nacre, 2019
Porcelain, glaze
7″h x 8″w x 6″d
Wall-mounted or freestanding


Garden Wall, 2019
Porcelain, glaze
14″h x 16″w x 4″d


Garden Wall, 2019
Porcelain, glaze
14″h x 16″w x 4″d


CharcoalCream, 2019
Stoneware, glaze
5″ x 5″
Wall-mounted or freestanding


Animal Print, 2019
Porcelain, glaze
3″ x 6″
Wall-mounted or freestanding


Heart of the Flame, 2019
Porcelain, ceramic glaze
20”h x 15”w x 17”d

Ceramic Photomontages
Photographs by their nature are a slice of time frozen in a flat 2d form; they have a story but no shape. The sculptures, on the other hand, take up a definite 3d space in the world, but lack a place and time to belong. Combined, the photomontages create a dialogue between space and time.

Cactus Canyon, 2019, porcelain, glaze, archival print on paper, mounted on board,16”h x 20”w x 4”d

Disguise, 2019, porcelain, glaze, archival print on paper, mounted on board, 13”h x 17”w x 5”d

Fertile Rock, 2019, porcelain, glaze, photo and acyclic on canvas, 16”h x 20”w x 5”d

Installation in a living wall at the Virginia Robinson Gardens Tour 2019

Installation of the Creature Forest in the fountain at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. The reflection of the water added another dimension to the installation. The creatures feel like they are growing out of the water.

Installation of my solo show Interactions at the Helms Design Center

Creature Forest, in Interactions, Helms Design Center 2019

4. What is the book that inspires you the most?

Here’s a list of authors I enjoy:

Anais Nin
Barbara Natterson-Horowitz
Douglas Hofstadter
Friedrich Nietzsche
Henry Miller
James Baldwin
James Joyce
Kurt Vonnegut
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Sean Carroll
Sylvia Plath
William Carlos Williams

5. By which artist (living or not living) would you like your portrait to be painted?

Growing up around artists, I’ve had the opportunity to sit for many wonderful painters. Recently, Don Bachardy and I had a couple of marathon sessions. There is an incredible intensity to being painted, to having someone focus every ounce of their concentration to looking at you without reprieve for two hours. It’s this bizarre feeling, as if you are the juicy living center of the universe while simultaneously being the shell of an object void of the human experience. I think it is similar to how I feel when I work with clay. It’s like holding this lifeless mound of possibility. When I work with it, my eyes lose focus and my hands guide me, feeling not the physical form, but instead, the sensations and emotions within the clay and myself. The once inert clay takes on a living essence, much like paintings have life breathed into them not by the exactness of the craft, but by the subtlety of emotions that the painter feels and imbues in his works.

Contact information:
Website: www.kaylasweetnewhouse.com
Instagram: @kaylasweetnewhouse
Email: [email protected]
Phone : +1 908 505 5116

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