Sculpting Metal, With Corrina Sephora
Corrina Sephora is more than a celebrated metal sculptor, she is a connector. Her art connects the cosmos to the ocean, the concept of transformation with permanence, and even her own energy with that of her now deceased mother. Listen to this episode of The Cultured Podcast as Corrina connects the dots from a childhood living off the land with her father to a thriving career in art.
Michelle Khouri 0:00
At one point in time, our guest today was one of only 50 woman metalworkers in the United States of America. What does it take? What kind of tools do you use to bend metal to your will in order to make massive sculptures that resemble sailboats and the cosmos? On this episode of The Cultured Podcast, we’re talking to metalworker Corrina Sephora who takes us on a hot journey through metalsmithing.
Michelle Khouri 0:39
Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together, we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.
Michelle Khouri 0:48
Hello, my babies! Congratulations, you are now woke, as in woken up, not “awakened,” you know? I haven’t just, like, bestowed upon you enlightenment through my obnoxious singing, you know? I wish that worked…like an opposite Ursula…Little Mermaid, okay? My producer is giving me weird looks. So I’m going to move on. Hi guys, welcome to this episode. I just love that we’re talking regularly again, because this is like filling my life with such joy and I hope that it is doing the same for you. That’s the whole point of this, right? This week, we’re talking to Corrina Sephora, as you already know, because you know we teased it up at the beginning of the episode.
But before we get into that, I just wanted to talk about self-assuredness. That is what is inspiring me. Especially when it comes to women, self-assuredness can be a hard attained quality. We are told a lot of the time in society, no matter what gender or non-binary identity that you have, you are told how to be. Your parents tell you how to be according to whatever societal or cultural norms there are. Then your work tells you how to be whether it’s through dress or your actions or personality traits. We’re told how to be way too damn much because you know who we should be exactly whoever the heck we are. Mmmhmm. Okay? So what I love is that we have, through this show, explored these different art forms that are the results of people who are doing them…doing exactly who they are, no matter what people have told them in the past. Look at FRKO who is in an earlier episode, he expresses himself with Crayola markers on printer paper and has made a booming career out of doing that doing exactly what comes naturally to him. He plays with the psyche of his audience, because they’re expecting him to be a certain way. And then he throws curveballs.
And then we have somebody like Molly Brodak, who broke into the cookie industry story with a completely different style. And everyone told her this isn’t the way that this is done. Or, you know, you need to have a specific curated look across your Instagram channel. And she was like, you know what “Eff y’all – I don’t need to do that I need to do me, I need to do exactly what feels naturally to me,” there is a courage and there is a power in doing that. And honoring yourself and honoring your truth and knowing exactly who you are and how you want to express that person. And you know, what we’re many people were many traits were many versions of ourselves. So there’s something about embracing all of the different versions of yourself and allowing them to flow freely out of you. That gives you a sense of power and gives you a sense of individuality. And some of the most successful people I’ve ever met who are living on purpose are the people who exercise that consistently and constantly and unabashedly. Mm hmm.
Do you feel fired up? Do you just want to like, go express yourself super freely right now? And do you want to be like self assured? Do you because I do. Yeah, let’s do it. Okay, y’all go fly your little freak flags. Let’s be ourselves. You got me, I got your back. I am totally validating you. Go do it don’t hurt anyone. It’s the time and place where you kind of have to have that caveat, right? Don’t hurt people. Love you guys.
Okay, let’s get into our interview. This is a really fabulous one. And it’s one that aligns very nicely with “doing you” and being exactly who you are and having that power and shouting out loud. Without further ado, it’s Corrina.
Michelle Khouri 4:40
Corrina Sephora 4:43
Michelle Khouri 4:44
You are a metal artist. But you’re a lot more than that. You’re pretty much a hyper creative. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist? What is it that you do? All the different mediums and art forms?
Corrina Sephora 4:56
I work as a multimedia artist. My concentration is with metal.
Michelle Khouri 5:00
When did you first get into metal working?
Corrina Sephora 5:03
Age five. My dad was very much into this philosophy of living off the land. Pretty much, I didn’t let my dad out of my sight. Right? If he went out to the garden, I went out to the garden. If he went to the shop, you know, like I still remember the smell of the earth. My dad also like to have vintage cars and work on them. Like he’s real. Like I don’t say do-it-yourselfer because that doesn’t really even encompass it. But if a couple days went and he never had to leave, you know, our property, he was very happy. Right?
Michelle Khouri 5:33
And there was so much metal around you.
Corrina Sephora 5:35
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Michelle Khouri 5:37
So much fun to work with in all different ways.
Corrina Sephora 5:40
Yeah. Which I mean, it’s kind of adorable. When I think about it. I called it the electric lightning, I had my own little mask. And I’m not gonna say I was creating any art or anything when I was five, although I was drawing a lot of that time and always encouraged, you know, “you’re going to be an artist, if you want to be an artist, you can be an artist if you want to work with metal…” and I loved being there, you know, the sparks, the smells, and sounds. It was a little bit scary. But it was also fun.
Michelle Khouri 6:03
What was that thought process like when it transformed from being a chore to an art form?
Corrina Sephora 6:06
I can remember. I can remember the moment actually. So there I am. I’m in high school. And I mean, Mr. Marcets jewelry silversmithing class. And I’ve done this little drawing… these sort of wavy pieces of metal that all kind of lined up. And I had this black snowflake obsidian stone. And I soldered all these pieces together. You know, I bent them, and then I hammered them. And then I soldered them. And there was something about using the torch. And it was really in the moments of creating this bracelet actually, that I was just like, I love this, you know? Like I would make things out of coil for ceramics and I make these beautiful pots and have it on a shelf and my frickin cat would knock it off the shelf and would smash, you know? And it was not fun. I’d be like I put so much work into that thing and it’s broken on the floor, you know? If it wasn’t the cat I’d drop it, you know? But I liked building things. And if I, you know, think back to being with my dad in the garage, and you know, building saw mills out of, you know, powered from engines of cars, you know?
Michelle Khouri 6:11
As one does…
Corrina Sephora 6:15
As one does at age five, you know? (laughs) And so there I am, I’m in high school and I’m making these pieces. And I was just like, I love this.
Michelle Khouri 7:17
What is it that, you know, that moment of creating the bracelet and falling in love with the art form? And with the physicality of working with metal? What was it about working with metal that really clicked for you?
Corrina Sephora 7:31
It was somewhere between like taking those little pieces of silver and hammering them and watching the metal move. The way I hammered it. Right? I Néeled it, which later I learned is altering the molecular structure when you heat up metal, right?
Michelle Khouri 7:43
Yeah. Well, and there’s there’s there’s got to be this powerful feeling that comes with moving metal, something that we’re told is so strong and powerful, and then being the force behind molding it.
Corrina Sephora 7:57
Yeah. Yeah, there was something that I felt like a permanence. And I felt this sort of endless possibility, right? And I knew the bracelet was fine. It was pretty, you know what I mean? And there was something long lasting about it. But I knew at that time that I wanted to build sculpture. I wanted to build pieces that were my size and larger. I really knew I wanted to work with like old metal, like, recycled metal. And I wanted to learn all that I possibly could about metal. Like I remember that being like a philosophy for myself. Mr. Marcet set was very encouraging. And he would send my work to…we had the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards. And he would be like, “Okay, fill this out, you know, we’re going to take a picture of your work going to send it,” and so I started winning awards for my drawings, for my prints, you know, and I remember that feeling. And I think he might have sent some of the jewelry pieces too.
Michelle Khouri 8:45
So you had this structure of support and also validation that really, you know, shot you into your career with metalworking, it sounds like…which obviously has come a long way.
Corrina Sephora 8:57
I went to college at Massachussets College of Art in Boston. And there I was a metalsmithing and sculpture dual major. And that was in 1990. So in 1991, uhh yeah, so…loved it, I was 18.
Michelle Khouri 9:14
So your entire career has been as a working artist, metal artist. That’s an incredible accomplishment. And I think it’s a testament to if you love something and you’re passionate about it, and you’re smart about it, and you see it as a business you can thrive.
Corrina Sephora 9:30
So I really was raised with the philosophy and the, you know, the idea Corrina, you can be an artist, you know, you can do whatever you want, you just put your mind to it. And that’s a lot of what I impart upon teaching, I teach here at my studio and I’m also an adjunct professor at Spelman. And I have a real soft spot for…I’ll just say…empowering women to, you know, work with their hands…work with tools, you know? And I love teaching men as well, you know, it’s not always as accessible, I think to women. Right? Historically.
Corrina Sephora 10:01
And that has changed drastically in my lifetime. When I first opened my studio, they did this study, there was a TV show that did a program on me, and they did this like intricate study, and they said, “do you know there’s 50 women in America that are doing basically what you’re doing?” I mean, and that’s to a number of like, maybe 2,000 men, right? So it’s not that, you know, it’s a minority inside of a minority, if you want to, you know, look at it that way.
Michelle Khouri 10:23
So what is it like to work with metal? What are the kinds of tools that you use?
Corrina Sephora 10:29
There was an art opening last night where I was describing to some people about what it’s like to work with tools and hot metal. And I said, you know, it’s like, when you work with clay, or you paint or draw, or you sew, or anything, you’ve got your hands, you got your fingers, you can manipulate the material. But when you work with metal, especially hot metal, your tools really have to become like your fingertips. You have to be that in tune with your working relationship with the tools that you’re working with. And then I said, it’s kind of like Edward Scissorhands. Because I realize I’m like talking with my hands, you know, and I was like, I mean, it’s not like that, but it is kind of like that, right?
Michelle Khouri 11:01
Kinda, yeah. It’s like an extension.
Corrina Sephora 11:02
Yeah, yeah. No… (laughter)
Michelle Khouri 11:04
Actually, it would be even more convenient if it was…
Corrina Sephora 11:08
For somethings… (laughter) Yeah.
Michelle Khouri 11:09
Only for metalworking.
Corrina Sephora 11:10
Right? Exactly. Exactly.
Michelle Khouri 11:11
You have been at it with metalworking for a very long time. And now you focus on themes surrounding oceans, water in different ways. When did you first start focusing on nautical themes?
Corrina Sephora 11:27
I had just had my first solo/duo show at Eyedrum, the old Eyedrum on MLK [Martin Luther King Jr Drive in Atlanta], and I built this sculpture that was a walking boat.
Michelle Khouri 11:36
That was really the first but you hadn’t really done nautical theme…
Corrina Sephora 11:39
Yeah. And that was like in the early 2000s. Now, a little backtrack…my step-dad was a boat builder. And his father was a sea captain for the Dutch royalty, and was in the Royal Sea Navy. Yeah. Navy.
Michelle Khouri 11:52
Okay, so there were some…
Corrina Sephora 11:53
There was some…
Michelle Khouri 11:54
…subliminal messages going on there.
Corrina Sephora 11:56
Yeah. So I grew up being, you know, with my dad, he was building houses, and he was building sawmills and gardens and stuff. And with my step-dad…In my artist statement, I just say, “my father” and I kind of merge both of the attributes that I got from both of these men into one. Because it’s complicated to say, “Well, I learned this from my stepfather. And I learned that from my dad.” So I say my father and I talked about the breadth of what I gained from a father, which was really two people. So I had a lot of influences around boats, boat building, and being on the water. After I built that walking boat, I had a challenge from one of my professors, and he said, “Corrina, why don’t you stick with the boat form?” So you asked how long have I been working with these nautical themes? And that must have been about 2002. Right? And so I did, I took that as a point of departure, right? And for a little over a decade, I worked with boats and water and those themes. And I centered work in a wide variety. You know, my thesis was about family memory and personal history and immigration. So there’s a lot of boot imagery that was, you know, no pun intended, stitched into that. One was cloth and one was metal. And then a row of portholes. One thing that’s important to me, especially with work that’s in the public, and especially outdoors is that there’s something about that work that has people pause.
Michelle Khouri 13:19
Corrina Sephora 13:20
Now, if I really tell the truth, the work that’s in a gallery is also one of my intentions for people to have that space to pause. Right? Where we’re so busy all the time and we go at such a fast pace is in life. And I can remember actually very early on sort of maybe between high school and college, and one of my intentions was to be able to create work that actually made people stop. For many years, I worked predominantly, you know, just with metal. And the last couple years, I’ve been focusing on my painting and drawing a lot. And specifically this last year.
Michelle Khouri 13:53
Why focusing on painting and drawing now?
Corrina Sephora 13:56
A little over a year ago, I just, I radically shifted my studio practice. And as an artist, a lot of the work that I was doing was commissions. And I would stay very busy. And you know, lucky to have the commissions I had, but I wanted to create some time and space to have an idea and let that idea lead to the next idea and the next idea and really build a body of work. I was also going through a period of time where, for lack of better words, like I just felt like I wanted to be more in my feminine space and like a softer space, and, you know, working with metal and fire and tools, you know, that really demands like another aspect of self, which is very mechanical and planned out and thought out and structured. And I would say much more masculine, you know? Part of the reason that I was in this space that I was just feeling a lot softer, was it was certainly after my mom passed away. And it was really like the catalyst for me shifting the focus in my life. She was a Sufi, which like the poet Rumi, you know, he’s sort of like someone who we know very well. He was also Sufi. And there’s a lot of philosophies about death that’s not necessarily like a final or an ending or completion, but more so like a transition. And really, her passing was like the catalyst for a lot of shift and change. And I really allowed myself some space of mourning, you know, in that sense of waking up in the middle of night and crying. And what I found myself doing was painting, and there was something about the soft materials and…my intention was really to create a space of like communication and receptivity to her energy.
Michelle Khouri 15:38
In this latest show that you’ve done, you combine the concepts of the vastness of the ocean and the vastness of our known universe, which, you know, I think, is always this stunning comparison. And there are so many similarities between our ocean here on this planet and the vastness of universe. So, what compelled you to combine those concepts?
Corrina Sephora 16:04
This year, I was invited to be a visiting artist in Pensacola, Florida. And I was invited by one of my students from about 15 years ago, who’s now the director of the sculpture program there.
Michelle Khouri 16:14
Corrina Sephora 16:14
It was a weekend class. He was my student. And evidently, inside of our conversation, I told him, I said, “Jimmy, you’re a really great artist. You’re great at doing this metal work, you should stick with it.” Now, he’s always been sort of like the back of the class, you know, that kind of thing. And for him, he was like, “hey, this person that I totally respect…” so as a thank you for the path that he went down in his life, right his career, he invited me to come and be a visiting artist.
Michelle Khouri 16:39
Oh my god, Corrina. That’s incredibly powerful.
Corrina Sephora 16:42
I mean, it was been like a turning point for me, you know?
Michelle Khouri 16:44
Corrina Sephora 16:45
It was such an honor. And they had me do a visiting artist series of lectures and presentations. And along with an exhibition. And so I thought, well, I mean, what do I love more than anything? I love the ocean, I love just being at the edge of the water looking out over that water, that endless horizon. So I booked an extra two days. And I was sort of like the featured artist inside the gallery exhibition. And it was great with the glass artists, right too? Three other glass artists that were women. So we did presentations at the college and then also at this art center over a couple of days.
Michelle Khouri 17:18
Did you already know that you wanted to combine the concepts of the universe and the ocean going into that?
Corrina Sephora 17:23
Nope, that’s this is the this is the catalyst moment that happened. And so there it is, it’s my birthday, right? And I get this beautiful hotel right on the water. So I had this like space to just be. And I’ve been very busy with the students and very busy with, you know, the faculty and very busy with the public and the exhibition and the talks and all that. And so it was nice to just be still and be meditative and be quiet. And look at the sunset on the on the water. It’s on the West Coast. I mean, it was just like, endlessly gorgeous. And in that space, in that vastness of looking out over the water…my artwork leading up to that, right, the paintings especially had this space where they had started to feel like the universe, you know? And somewhat intentional, right? There’s the “Ethereal” which is a ladder that just goes up into space, in a corner, and it has these flowers on the wall. And the flowers are intended to feel almost like how stars would or sort of like falling petals. And I started that piece actually, before my mom passed, that was all metal. And that was a piece where I was imagining this journey, right? Like the Vikings would send their dead to the next world through this boat, right? But I started to think about what would this journey be, you know? My mom really knows that she’s on this space of transitioning to something new, right? And I mentioned in the Sufi tradition, it’s like a marriage or a birth, it’s a new beginning, more so than it’s a final and an ending, or it’s a part of this cycle. And so I thought she’s this amazing gardener and she’s going to be picking flowers. And I didn’t know I was just playing, right? And I was, like, trying to get into that concept. And so I started to get to this peaceful space when my work started to really feel like the universe. The piece that’s pictured on the invitation, it’s called “Celestial Bodies.” And so I was really in this space of feeling peace with the cosmos. And it took a while. It took almost a year to get there, right.
Michelle Khouri 19:32
Of feeling at peace with the cosmos…
Corrina Sephora 19:33
And doing the work. And when I say doing the work, it’s like, the studio practice for me really changed. It really shifted and became a new priority, right? And there was something that happened for me in creating that “Celestial Bodies” piece, where I really felt that I was going into this vastness of the universe…inside that piece of work, right? Inside, when I’d look at the painting, I finally felt that feeling of the mystery and the beauty and the vastness of that unknown space. And that perhaps that was the domain, right, where my mom is. So I had this very, like, specific connection. And then there I am, I’m at the ocean and I’m watching the night sky. And I look out over that horizon that’s endless. And there was something for me about that plane of the vastness of the water. And that vastness of the universe, and like, you can’t really see where they meet. And I started to think about that poem from Rumi, you know, where he says there’s a field and I’ll meet you there. And somehow that was sort of it for me. It was the space.
Michelle Khouri 20:45
That is so beautiful. Thank you so much Corrina. This has been so inspiring and the fact that we were able to do it in your studio…I have got to get some pictures because, it’s just, it’s just a merging of metal and paint and symbolism and color and the, you know, the universe and the ocean and your creativity. It’s stunning. So thank you so much for being on The Cultured Podcast.
Corrina Sephora 21:17
Oh, you’re welcome. It’s been my pleasure.
Michelle Khouri 21:22
I mean, is Corrina not just like molten lava? Okay, I need a lot more dad jokes about metalsmithing. So if you have any dad jokes about metalworking, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is of the utmost importance. Okay? Anyway, you can find Corrina online on the socials as Corrina Sephora Metal Artist. And you can see some of her incredible work all across the socials and on the website, but of course go to CulturedPodcast.com to get those links. And in the meantime, we’re going to go to work on our next episode for you. It’s gonna be a tasty one. So much fun! Keep it classy. Keep it curious. Keep it Cultured.
Michelle Khouri 22:17
Visit CulturedPodcast.com for show notes and subscription links. The Cultured Podcast is a production of my podcast production company FRQNCY Media. I’m the host Michelle Khouri. Enna Garkusha is our fabulous producer. Becca Godwin is our wonderful associate producer. Our sound engineers are Cooper Skinner and DonTae Hodge and we’re recording at ListenUp Audio in Atlanta, Georgia.