In director Garth Johnson’s own words, although the “Clay Studio National” exhibit does include some more earthy works, “the show as a whole is a little bit pink, fluffy, goopy, colorful and funny.” As a show representing the Clay Studio’s 40th anniversary, the glut of challenging, funky and conceptual content in a predominantly ceramic-based medium provides an assortment that everyone from traditionalists to performers can appreciate. By pushing the limits of what clay can be or represent, the artists in this show keep an ancient art on track with the current moment.
Worlds collide in Marc Leuthold’s “5 Nara Pagodas” which, in their intricacy, look more like 3D printed objects than porcelain sculptures. These tiny structures directly reference the layered pagodas of Easy Asia, specifically Japan, but their color schemes tell another tale. Rendered with splotchy, multicolored patterns that more resemble tie-dye t-shirt than temple, these vibrant relics ring of the digital and counter-cultural as much as the archaic and historical.
Staring out over much of the gallery space is easily one of the most stunning images on display: a gigantic compound eye… of eyes. This piece by Ana England, entitled “See,” is a circular bulge of a relief sculpture composed of hexagonal facets. Each section contains an eye, many of which seem eerily realistic. Although their exact origins may be difficult to pinpoint, the eyes range from all over the animal kingdom, representing all manner of mammal, reptile, bird, and maybe even an insect or two.
A plain white plate in a gaudy, gilded frame seems slightly more conservative in its sensibilities. On the surface, a decal of two silhouetted men in baroque attire looks museum worthy, except that artist Jeremy Brooks slyly incorporates one of the hot button topics of our time. Upon further inspection, the piece is called “Coming Out” and one of the men is knelt down on one knee, apparently proposing to the other. So while on the surface this seems like something from an antique shop, it’s actually a gay pride plaque in disguise.
Richard Nickel celebrates the much anticipated coming of spring in an earthenware stack of faces/flowers that are as cute and colorful as anything in the show. Named “The Finger of Spring,” bright red buds appear ready to open while a stack of smiling faces mimics petals as well as kawaii versions of the pagodas found elsewhere in the exhibit. Similar humor and lightheartedness is found in the cartoonish face of “Bob” by Tony Natsoulas whose lopsided grin and five individual strands of hair in a cowlick are as comical as they come.
Combine all of this work with the more traditional pieces like Irene Lawson’s “Red and Black Mandala” plate or Clay Leonard’s contrapposto “Gesture Cup Pair,” and temper it with more conceptual approaches like the performance-based juggling acts of Joseph Kamm and the sloppy, bubblegum sculpture “Becoming” by Josh Clark, and it makes for one wily exhibition. There’s a little bit of everything at the Clay Studio, and the “Clay Studio National” does well to highlight some truly talented contemporary ceramics artists in one place. The show will be up until March 30.