Meet the Artist: Todd Barricklow Carves Bold Block-Style Drawings into Clay

For Todd Barricklow, his art is about evolution—humans as machines. Simple man-made objects, tools and human anatomy fascinate him. “Tools make us a better machine,” he says, “or lack of tools may make us a more frustrated machine.”

Barricklow is a Santa Rosa-based artist that creates 3-D glazed and kilned ceramic boxes with vivid black-and-white graphics that mimic wood-block prints. The designs he carves into the boxes range from human ears to barber shop scissors to vintage cameras.

“One thing I’ve been working on the past couple of years is the digestive system,” Barricklow says. “If I were asked to design a vessel to break down food, I don’t know if I would’ve come up with a stomach. Anatomy is supremely interesting to me.”

A California native, Barricklow grew up with creative parents who, among other things, made marionette puppets for the original Los Angeles Renaissance Faire. Encouraged to explore art, Barricklow got into ceramics during high school and went on to get a Bachelors in ceramics with a focus in print making from Sonoma State University. “Ceramics was my first vocabulary,” he says.

But, it wasn’t until experimenting with different glazes and clays a few years later that Barricklow started using a technique called sgaffito, which means creating designs by scratching off a surface layer to reveal another layer beneath. “The instant I did the black on white clay, it brought me back to the block printing,” he says. Since then Barricklow has honed his technique, which involves assembling five-sided hollow boxes with white clay, applying six layers of black clay, then drawing and carving out designs on every side. The boxes are fired, glazed and fired again. Some of the larger boxes, which are 16 x 24 x 10 inches, use multiple bags of clay and can weigh up to 40 pounds. The tiny boxes, which are 3-square-inches, can weigh as little as half a pound.

Besides the ceramic boxes, Barricklow also works with several other mediums with similar images, including metal light boxes with cutout drawings filled with LED light, block prints on paper and hand-carved wooden sculptures.

Currently, Barricklow’s work is in a group show in SOMArts gallery in San Francisco, which closes January 26. His art is also for sale—he can be contacted through his website. “If anyone is ever in Sonoma County,” he says. “I’m always happy to have them stop by and take a look.”

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