Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Notes on the Ruby Green Ceramics Show

Ruby Green’s current exhibit is a group show of ceramic sculpture selected by Rob McClurg and Dona Berotti. They did a similar show there a couple of years ago with artists working in glass, and there were several things where that stuck with me, especially Becky Wehmer’s application of baking soda to the hot surface of the glass which after it has cooled eats away at the glass, causing it to decay over time. It gives the glass surface a much more organic texture, and the decay process is interesting to contemplate because glass is fundamentally a very stable material. I’m familiar with some researchers at Catholic University in DC who have developed methods to encase nasty chemical waste products in glass because it is so stable and impermeable. Based on stuff like that last time, I was looking forward to what they would come up with in clay, which is Rob McClurg’s primary medium anyway. (BTW, this show closes on Nov. 24.)

First off, all of the piece here were sculptural, none were based on vessels, and that’s disappointing to me. I’m really attracted to ceramics that work with the traditional forms as well as traditional materials and play through and with those forms somehow. Nothing wrong with using the medium for sculpture, I’m just into different bits of business with vessels.

That being said, there were, not surprisingly, several things of interest in this show. Let me start with one of Delia Seigenthaler’s pieces, called “Fuhn.” It is an exploded human body, a Buddha head capping it, dismembered arms and legs placed in position like it was being reconstructed from fragments, and in place of the torso, the forms of organs—lungs, liver, intestine, and kidneys I think, in artificial colors. I liked this as a take on eastern medicine, which dwells on spiritual dimensions of body systems at the same time being very concrete about components of the body. There is something earthy about these particular organs—kidneys and liver which process and clean up digestion of what a creature ingest, and the lungs with its mass of bronchia and alveoli to process air. The organs in the sculpture are bright and colorful, an oblique reference to chakra systems or some other method of classifying and characterizing parts of the body. While the colors were cheerful, there is something startling about being confronted by these specific organs that conveys the sense of a human being endowed with beauty but not detached from the practical realities of organic functions. It is a being that is spiritual and extremely physical, but not without a conflict between these two. They are mutual characteristics in this image.

The show includes two of Seigenthaler’s doll-sculptures, and I’m not crazy about those. The subtly (or maybe it’s not subtle) sexualized features give the pieces their problem statement, but I’m not that engaged by them as images/objects. “Fuhn” registered more for me, maybe because it connected with some ideas that already hold interest for me. The more overt spiritual dimensions of it may give me a better entry for the other pieces.

One thread in the show was gross stuff depicted in clay. This thread jumped out in part because of placement of objects. Right inside the entrance were two but pieces by Roxanne Jackson, “Hyena,” which was a threatening, evil-looking canine crouching close to the ground, and a piece called “Self-Sabotage” which has a mashed up figure that was an image of mutilation of vivisection. Somehow this connected with a piece by Ken Rowe called “Bunny Talewhich shows a kid poking at the decaying corpse of a rabbit. There was also some cartoonish violence in John Donovan’s work, as well as bunnies. One shows this cartoon bunny with a hot pink hole going through its belly, a splat of hot pink on the wall behind; the bunny is awkwardly holding a revolver. But with John’s work you’ve gotten away from gross stuff to the colorful, happy patterns of cartoons, even if it involves a rabbit with its guts blasted clean out.

Bunnies are the theme of all of John’s work, including two Bunny Warriors which are Asian-style sculptures of stocky, spear-carrying warriors wearing armor but also each have a bunny sitting on their head, where you might expect to see a helmet or at least a predator’s head.

Ken Rowe’s bunny piece was placed next to a couple of Jason Briggs’ sculptures, which are composed of forms that are abstract but still disconcertingly biomorphic. Rowe’s pieces are very realistic in the manner of a traditional illustrator, but they bring back to mind a point I’ve made about Briggs before, which is that his work is also very realistic. The surfaces look like real skin and hair, some parts of the skin rough and dry, but other parts are moist and fleshy. He convincingly creates the trompe l’oeil impression of skin and flesh within compositions that have no connection to identifiable biological objects.

To my eye, the closest thing to vessels in this show was Rob McClurg’s assemblage “Did X Know Y Too.” It’s a whole mess of similar spermatozoa-shaped forms attached to a wall and piled up at its bottom. The sperm-forms could also be sea shells, and they all seem to have different variations of glazes and surface treatment. This piece shows the inventiveness of working with a single form and finding all the variations you can within certain parameters of color and pattern. It’s a key way potters indulge their inventiveness around the generation of vases or bowls. So in addition to the humor of this depiction of the sperm’s race to fertilize the egg, with failed entrants falling by the wayside, the piece also makes use of the creative sources inherent in ceramics as a medium and a practice distinct from sculpture.

4 Comments:

  • Hi....you don't know me. I found your page by accident looking for reviews of a friend's art show. I stumbled here and saw this....First, I have to say that, as a ceramicist, some vessels can be very interesting to look at, but not to make. some people find it relaxing, but I find it to be boring and not challenging enough. While many artists are experimenting with ways to reinvent the vessel, I was personally relieved there was no work like that at this show. Also, Rob McClurg's piece on the wall/mantle was vessel-esque in the way it was built. I'm surprised you didn't like it.
    My main comment is that we don't have much of a ceramics community here in Nashville, so you have to be excited to see any all ceramics exhibit. but if people don't get more involved and interested, ceramics just isn't going to blossom in our art community the way it should. With the contemporary art community here growing so rapidly, it'd be nice to see ceramicists along for the ride since so much is being done with contemporary sculpture today.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:57 AM  

  • I agree with your points about the status of the ceramics scene. I did like the show -- I was disappointed it didn't include vessels just because I like to look at them, and as you point out, it's rare to get a chance in Nashville to see interesting studio ceramics. But I understand the curatorial reason to stick with sculptural forms. Among other things, it focuses the show.

    And I did like Rob's piece.

    Your comment as a ceramicist about the pros and cons of vessel-making is interesting. I hadn't thought about that, not being a pot-maker myself, but it makes sense. There's a piece in the Frist's show of art students that plays with that repetitive aspect of making vessels (as does Rob at Ruby Green), and the potentially rote aspect of it.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I hope for both of our sakes we see more ceramics in Nashville.

    By Blogger David Maddox, at 7:41 AM  

  • You're right. I'm sorry. Another section bled into your paragraph about Rob's piece while I was reading it.

    But I did notice the piece at the Frist that you are speaking about, and I noticed the resemblance. I did not, however, catch the name of the artist.

    Well, Watkins will have several ceramicists graduating next year. So, you can expect to see quite a few all-ceramics senior shows I hope.

    Thanks for responding. And thanks for promoting the Nashville arts community. It is very much appreciated!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 AM  

  • i know this is really late, but i thought i woud give you new appreciation of Brigg's work. Rob is my teacher at school and he has explained to me that Jason actualy throws his forms on the wheel and then slowly and painstakingly alters them over the course of 5 to 8 months i believe. Some of the hair embedded in the pieces is actually his own as well. and if you ever see his pieces again and no one is around, put your finger inside one of the holes of the pieces, he rubberizes them afther they are fired. the one that i felt at the ruby green show was like the inside of you mouth. i love jason's work and admire his dedication to the process of creation. but they are traditional vessels before he gives them new life.
    just thought that might interest you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:15 PM  

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