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The 24 artists showcased in Oklahoma Contemporary’s ArtNow exhibition offer hundreds of different stories. OU professor Jonathan Hils etches with lasers and crafts sculpture from 3-D printers. Tulsan Laurie Spencer’s organic ceramic sculptures can be activated with a breath, a flow of water, a flame. The giant water lilies grown at Bill Hawk’s Oklahoma City home serve as molds for his delicate glass works.

From ceramics to CGI, painting to photography, fine metals to light-emitting diodes, every single story, artist and artwork originates in Oklahoma and spans the gamut of media, attitude, traditions and technology. And they’ll be used to keep art accessible to the Oklahoma community.

Now entering its fifth year, Oklahoma Contemporary’s ArtNow 2016 exhibit and fundraiser, featuring more than 125 works from two dozen of Oklahoma’s established and rising artists, help keep exhibitions at Oklahoma Contemporary free year-round. The exhibit opened Monday, Jan. 11, at Oklahoma Contemporary’s gallery (3000 General Pershing Blvd.) and will close Friday, Jan. 22, with an exclusive party during which attendees can literally purchase the art off the walls. Among those whose work will be on display, one artist tells a compelling story of motivation, inspiration and process.

‘Every single little quirk’

Amy Sanders is a ceramicist working out of Norman. Originally from the rural setting of Kellyville, Okla., Sanders has exhibited throughout the metro since 2012 and graduated from OU with a fine arts degree in 2015.

Amy Sanders
Amy Sanders, ceramicist

At 12 years old, Sanders was diagnosed with Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects her hearing and is slowly causing her to lose eyesight. The onset of symptoms led Sanders to try ceramics as her medium of choice, because throwing clay on a wheel depends largely on the sense of feel.

To improve her technique and prepare for the worsening of her sight, Sanders said she decided to create her pieces for ArtNow 2016 while blindfolded.

“When you’re throwing, centering the clay is extremely important, and I was kind of amazed at how often my brain would just prioritize my visual intake of information over my sensory intake with my hands,” she said. “It would look centered, so I would start making the pot, but later on I would realize it wasn’t centered. When you’re blindfolded, you feel every single little quirk, and you can tell when it’s off-center just a tiny little bit. It really forced me to be more sensitive to that part of the process.”

To further integrate vision loss into her pieces, Sanders began incorporating phrases and words, such as “fear,” “anger” and “a calm outlook,” written in Braille directly onto the surface of her vessels. Known as Invisible Words, the pieces reflect her ongoing acceptance of the inevitable.

“Because I had known about the eye disease for a while, I had kind of decided I would be more optimistic about it and just take on an attitude of acceptance,” Sanders said. “So I never really let myself be upset about it or be angry. But it wasn’t really until 2015 when I realized I needed to let myself experience those negative emotions. So I wanted to make the pieces blindfolded to see what that was like.

“So basically I just put any angry thoughts I had about it on the cups, or sad thoughts,” she said. “I expressed those emotions in that way.”

Ceramics by Amy Sanders
Norman-based ceramicist Amy Sanders made all of her submissions for the ArtNow exhibit while blindfolded. (Photo provided)

Norman-based ceramicist Amy Sanders made all of her submissions for the ArtNow exhibit while blindfolded.

“Last year was when it started changing the most,” Sanders said of her vision. “I had to stop driving, and I just had more difficulty getting around than I used to in the past.”

Sanders said she is honored to be featured in the prestigious show, and challenging herself with the blindfold had surprising ceramic results.

“They were much better quality than the pieces I was making with my vision, which kind of fascinated me,” she said.

Tickets still available

To see Sanders’ work while also enabling Oklahoma Contemporary to continue exhibiting art year-round at no cost to the public, you can purchase tickets for ArtNow’s Jan. 22 closing reception here. Tickets for the 6:30 p.m. VIP reception are already sold out, but general admission tickets for the 8 p.m. viewing are still available. All attendees must be 21 or older.