John Marris Bio

“Finding an experience of ourselves that feels real, with the help of this responsive and magical
material, clay…”
I am a community artist based in Peterborough, Ontario. My work is deeply influenced by
the social and physical environment in which I live, and I am committed to a practice that
engages with fellow artists and community members in projects that use the arts in
community development and social change. A significant part of my professional art
practice over the past three years has been developing programs that facilitate collaborative
art making with street-involved youth, mental health patients and people living in poverty.
My own work ranges from photography, both digital and film, to creating and documenting
green-wood sculptures, print making, poetry, collage, mosaics, and more recently hand-
building with clay. Our relationship to the natural environment and its ability to ground us,
has been a consistent theme in my work. Finding ways to record these experiences and
open them up to others continues to be central to my work.
Over the last year I have become increasingly interested in working with clay as a way to
explore the relationship between art and the functional objects of our lives, specifically how
this elemental material can record our responses to the natural environment and become a
form of meditative practice.

For the past two and half years I have worked with the YES Shelter for Youth and families to facilitate art making opportunities for youth staying at the shelter, living in YES’s transitional housing program and connected to their outreach team. This work started as a monthly art-drop in for youth and youth workers at the library, and then through the early months of COVID 19 it transformed into online and outdoors distanced art making. I am currently working two afternoons a week at an open drop in for the shelter residents, providing art opportunities that range from print making, collage, mosaic work and ceramics.  

Critically these gatherings are not a conventional art class with an expert instructor and students, but a mutual safe space of collaborative making that allows everyone to take risks and show their creative capacities. 

As part of this work with the YES shelter and other community organisations, I have seen the value in young people working with clay to create pots, bowls and art projects of various kinds. This most elemental material creates a sense of meditation in the making process and a great sense of achievement in the final fired product. As Paulus Berensohn points out, “It is the pot we are forming, yes. And it is ourselves as well.”  

Humans have always been mark-makers, we painted cave walls because we needed to. It is part of who we are. Somewhere the practice of art making got lost and became something for the experts, the professional artist or a luxury for the wealthy, rather than part of who we all are. These community art projects take us back to the fundamental need to express ourselves and explore ourselves in healthy and productive ways. They help us develop skills and confidence, and self-belief. They teach us how to be present, to find focus, and to know we have the right to express ourselves, to be the authors of our world.