The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Throughout September and October, The Clay Studio is getting wild with two shows that utilize the forms and representations of animals as their starting point. This Knight Arts grantee often assembles amazing work by many talented ceramic artists for its gallery shows as well as its store, but the current work on display is all but alive with its mimicry of recognizable organisms from dogs, to snakes, to a deceased United States President.
In his show “Collectibles,” Ryan Kelly takes a turn for the surreal by not only anthropomorphizing animals into human-like roles or likenesses, but also by creating freakish hybrids of creatures with human heads or other Island of Doctor Moreau-esque appearances. Granted, not all of Kelly's creations are like something out of Frankenstein. Some of his shelf-sized sculptures are truer to life, like a frolicking poodle (which just so happens to be pink), or a grimacing vulture peering down from its perch above the very foreboding image of a human skull. In “Faux Staffordshire,” Kelly uses very little detail to morph two dog-shaped blobs of white-glazed clay into a pair of pooches, relying on rather slight illustrative lines of reddish fur and black chains with collars to flesh out these animals.
With sculptures such as “Grandpa Snake,” this artist's surreal undercurrent really takes control. Here, the vine-like body of a green snake winds up a tree like a sliding board. In some ways, its length also resembles a caterpillar, but when one reaches the top, they are confronted by the leering head of a bald old man with a bushy gray mustache. Elsewhere, a faun-like piece called “Goat Buddy” imagines a goat resting in the grass, its horned, human head bleating at the sky. Why Kelly makes these bizarre mashups is not clear, but they certainly serve to confound and capture the imagination.
The show “Fauna: Adelaide Paul and Linda Cordell” in the neighboring gallery makes its animalistic intentions clear from the title. Inside, the grotesque action shots by Cordell frozen in three-dimensional form astound in their sheer quality. “Slap Dog” provides the image of a dog – likely being slapped – its jowls flailing and a stream of slobber spraying away in a globule as it stands atop a table coated in similarly viscous blue goop. Towards the gallery's windows, a bust of Abraham Lincoln drips down another table, the bottom apparently melting like wax while simultaneously being gnawed on by a rat. Cordell's other works emphasize liquid and body horror, while, with the exception of Lincoln, focus on animal subjects.
Adelaide Paul splices together bits of leather and taxidermist materials in stitched up assemblages which stay true to their wall-mounted roots. A horse head and a red creature with horn-like objects for ears stare eyeless from the walls, while a terracotta dog with a form fitting bag over its head sits obediently, yet equally as blind.
Mixing elements of mutation, muck and mannequins into a pair of shows that focus on our non-human animal counterparts (and Abraham Lincoln), these exhibits seem to note our own mortality through reminding us of our own place in the animal kingdom while emphasizing the artistry of contemporary ceramic artists. Both shows will be up through October 27.
The Clay Studio is located at 137-139 North Second St., Philadelphia; firstname.lastname@example.org; theclaystudio.org.