American Design Hot List 2021
San Antonio, sunshinethacker.com
After studying architecture and then spending a decade running a commercial real estate development firm, Sunshine Thacker opted out of her soul-sucking corporate life and pivoted to her true love: ceramics. Looking at her lamps, planters, and side tables, you can kind of tell — they’re chunky, colorful, and unabashedly happy.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
Exuberant, risk taking, boundary pushing. It has a tenacious “if you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it” attitude. It’s irreverent. It asks a lot, especially of materiality. American design is curious. Why not elevate humble material? Why not ask clay to perform in tension rather than compression? There’s a lot of daydreaming and noodling that goes into the creative process of design.
What’s exciting is the ingenuity that comes from all the question-asking. There’s a great collection of people making work that’s heartfelt and genuine and original. People who are open to ideas and looking for answers — they’re problem solvers and dreamers. That gives me hope. That’s something that’s bigger than each of us individually. There’s a sort of collective power in asking “what is American design.” It’s the heart of our ethos as a nation. It’s going to be different for everyone. It’s full of the complicated backgrounds, conflicts, joys, pains, and human conditions we bring to our work. It’s not homogenous. True American design is crackling with verve.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
I’m usually trying new things and working into new styles. I tend to problem solve in a hands-on way rather than sketching. Right now, things are messy in the studio, as I’m getting through experiments with porcelain lighting — executing it at a large scale while also keeping it thin enough for light to glow through it. It’s been slow going and presents many technical challenges, as the porcelain lacks the structural integrity of stoneware and behaves differently when firing. It often collapses. It’s a long process that requires patience.
I’m also working with a looser, less rigid way of making — more coils and less-structured architecturally than previous work. This style is coming together to form a body of work I’m calling “Birth of Medusa.” It’s more organic and figurative than controlled. Making it has been an exercise in slowing down and being more conscious of where I put my energy and how I choose to grow as an artist and designer. I’m working toward putting together a solo show of this new body of work which is a bit more “arty” than “designy.”
What inspires or informs your work in general?
The relentless pursuit of the possible 100% informs my work. I don’t tend toward any one style. Rather, I like to ask of myself, of my work, and of the materiality of clay, what if? Or I wonder? I wonder if I can suspend a seat of clay in tension so it won’t collapse when it’s fired? I wonder just exactly how big I can make this porcelain lampshade while still retaining its translucent properties and not collapsing? I’m also asking myself, what do I want? What feels authentic? How am I growing? The things, people, places, and ideas that inspire my work are in perpetual flux. Often, they seem incongruous. Sometimes what inspires the work are simple architectural forms. Other times it’s ideas of power, or the corruption of it. Sometimes one piece will inform another because I see a shape from one and think, “Oh, I wonder if I could turn that into a…”