Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bennett Bean

Hearing that Bennett Bean was going to be at the Temple Arts Festival this weekend set off some serious nostalgia. In the 80s he was the happening potter—I remember people in the crafts world saving their pennies to get their hands on one of his pots. As I recall, and I might have this history wrong, he was one of the first people to make pots that were flashy, all bright colors and paint, and especially the little squares of gold leaf on them. The prevailing aesthetics of ceramics had been restrained, earth-toned surfaces, descended from the orderly Japanese-inspired aesthetic of someone like Bernard Leach or the rough-hewn action-pots of Peter Voulkos. Bean’s pieces had real eye candy quality, which in retrospect was very ‘80s. Probably too 80s. I’m more drawn to rougher, more tactile surfaces, and to pieces where glazes and the reactions of surface materials provide texture and pattern directly.

For example, the favorite piece in my collection is by Charles Bound (an American based in Wales). It’s got an asymmetrical shape, red glaze the color of red clay dirt sticks in flakes to the outside, which is covered with heavy grains of what looks like melted salt. All of these elements produce a continuously shifting variety of color and texture on surface, and give it a strong appearance, although the pot is relatively small and the walls thin. But it also seems fragile, as if parts will fall off in flakes, like the baking powder on the surface of Rusty Johnston’s paintings or on Becky Wehmer’s glass pieces. But so far the piece has stayed intact, and I’ve had it a number of years.

If you are going to the Temple Arts Festival, and especially if you are thinking of spending some money, check out Susan Maakestad’s paintings. (Here’s a link to an essay I wrote for the catalogue of a show she had last year.) Her work is lovely and complex.

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