The Bearer of Badham News


Mia Badham

By Brett Levine//Photo by Edward Badham

It would be hard for artist Mia Badham to describe Birmingham as a “comeback town” given how passionate she is for a city where, in her words, “I was born downtown and I’ve lived here all my life.” That city is, in her eyes, one that is brimming with excitement, full of possibility, and welcoming for creative people like her. “I’ve felt almost nothing but opportunity living in Birmingham. Having spent some time driving across America, trying to find somewhere else to go, we have a new appreciation for just what we have here.”

Those things include recognition as the 2018 Emerging Artist at Magic City Art Connection, an honor Badham takes with characteristic humility. She will present a range of ceramic, paper, and combination works, including a range of paper sculptures that are the result of an ongoing exploration she began as an attempt to think about working in new ways. “I was in a drawing class,” she smiles, “and I wondered, ‘How can I draw without using a pencil?’” The end result was a series of pieces focusing on paper and shape-making. Long, cylindrical forms, often suggestive of pencils, emerged from strips of rolled paper made from strips cut from a variety of sources: newspapers, magazines, musical scores, and more.

Now, several years later, Badham approaches her materials in even more complex and unique ways: hand-dyeing, marking, and combining paper with a range of other objects. “It really is an organic process,” she remarks, standing in a well-organized studio displaying several large-scale paper sculptures. These large works all seem to suggest the human body. The emotions they elicit are almost primitive, and in some instances the perceptions are not misplaced: a hint of a lung here, a uvula there. Badham’s relief works bring our bodies into focus.

“I’m drawn to the visceral, so I’m also drawn to a lot of pale pinks and a lot of skin tones. But,” she pauses, “I am also really drawn to gilded books.” What is evident is that her works are grounded in the natural world, whether in an exploration of the human body or an examination of the earth beneath us. When Badham is not creating a beautiful unease in works filled with references just indiscernible enough to feel familiar but disturbing, she is creating ceramic and paper sculptures, and paper globes, that literally mirror the natural world.

Many of her pieces feel almost geological. “I don’t describe the objects I make as crystals,” she pauses, “but much of the inspiration I get for the works is drawn from objects like geodes.” This is evident in her tightly rolled, complexly colored elements attached to hand-formed ceramic bases, the bases alternating between smooth glazes and rough textures. Inside, the meticulously rolled paper tubes stand in for the intricacies of a geode’s crystalline structures. Badham understands instinctively that nature may be repetitive, but she is anything but monotonous, so her sculptures play with a language that is similar, but not identical. Each small sculpture is filled with delicate differences in paper size and shape, in color, in texture, and in depth. Each becomes an examination of a metaphorical, magical world.

As with many artists, Badham is almost apologetic when she remarks, “I find it hard to focus on just one thing” before revealing that a set of small ceramic hand sculptures are also hers, as are a series of pieces of wearable art—earrings and necklaces—that have been made from paper and ceramics respectively. Below these are a series of paper towers, protruding from beneath a rack, seeming to levitate in space. These are the foundational shapes for a series of sculptures Badham is completing downstairs, and as she works to combine them into larger compositions the challenges and possibilities this presents are not lost: “I like working on a smaller scale because of how labor intensive making this work is—and because I like creating a number of smaller things.”

Where her work truly shines is in its wry humor—fake fingernails adorn the tops of paper towers protruding from a work on the stairs; small, colorful beads, almost indistinguishable from beautifully rolled pieces of paper, do the same for a series of smaller works in her studio. It is these small moments that make Badham’s pieces truly engaging. Whether formed from clay or found in paper, Mia Badham is transforming these simple materials into objects that reflect upon nature and the body to be sly, subtle, humorous, and a little disturbing all at the same time. And this is precisely what a work of art should do. 

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