Local artist and yoga teacher May Britton is exhibiting one of her sculptures in the 15th annual juried Outdoor Sculpture exhibition at Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center’s courtyard on view through Oct. 11, 2021. Visitors are invited to vote for their favorite sculpture in the People’s Choice Awards. Let’s meet May and learn more about her and her art.
TW: Why is art important today?
MB: Art has always been important and always will be. It can be defined and expressed in many complex intellectual ways, but at its essence, it is our soul. It is who we are as human beings.
TW: Tell us about your background.
MB: I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States. My dad joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1955. A few years later, my brother was born in the Philippines, and then I was born in Honolulu in 1962. When I was in the second grade, my dad was assigned to the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., where he worked for 13 years; we lived in nearby Arlington.
I come from a family of makers. My dad trained at The Culinary Institute of America (where Anthony Bourdain and other celebrity chefs trained) and managed the executive dining room of the Secretary of Transportation, where presidents and international dignitaries were entertained. There, he would made impressive culinary displays, some with ice carvings, flowers, and fruits and vegetables. My mom was a highly sought-after hairstylist and salon owner. The best hairstylists are artists. She could also knit, sew, and arrange flowers. My brother is a nationally known, award-winning model maker. Some of his models are in the employee lounge area of the Smithsonian Institution.
Growing up in Arlington, I spent many hours at a hobby shop where I practiced ceramics. Because of my dad’s early struggles when his village was invaded by Japanese troops during WWII, he was a pragmatist and encouraged me to get a business degree. Only after working as a marketing director for a Virginia Beach contractor did I return to art. After office hours and on weekends, I took sculpture classes—some at the Corcoran in D.C., and most at ODU, where I eventually completed a BFA in sculpture and where I taught a few classes in sculpture and 3-D. At ODU, my friend and mentor Rita Marlier taught figure sculpture using clay as the medium. My passion grew. Unlike painting and drawing, making figures out of clay was more direct. Since those earlier days, my work has included clay, metal, natural materials, shadows, water. My genre continues to evolve using figures—completely abstract and abstract/figures that have symbolic meaning. Unlike traditional object making, lately I’ve also been thinking about ways to participate in improving the lives of others, especially the underserved.
TW: You say on your website: “The art that I create expresses visually what cannot be explicitly said.” What messages does your art convey?
MB: These are words from the poet Stephane Mallarme. The art of words also applies to visual art. Suggestive art encourages the viewers to participate in the creative process by requiring them to collaborate as the perception is completed in their imaginations. My art intentionally employs visual balance or imbalance. There is beauty during the fall time when leaves are dying and in spring when things are new. It is an emotional visual sense that cannot be exactly described by words.
TW: As a yoga teacher, do you see any parallels between yoga and art, your art in particular?
MB: Yes, I do! As an artist-yogini, the physical postures are beautiful in their grace as well as their intellectual meaning. Yoga includes the physical exercise that we normally think of as yoga, but just as importantly are the writings and philosophy. Practicing yoga is an artful process that is intrinsically spiritual, emotional, and philosophical.
TW: What advice do you have for artists and people who are considering pursuing art?
MB: “Make what you love” was the best advice from my friend/mentor, Professor Rita Marlier. The passion of creating art should be the driving force, not in “succeeding” monetarily or through recognition. That can be hard because it is natural to want approval.