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  16 October 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Spotlight
 
Contemporary Figurative Ceramic Show at the Jessie Wilber Gallery
 

“Too much of good thing is often wonderful.” - Mae West

Michael Sarich’s wall of ceramic faces uses these narrative icons, masks, and skulls to explore myths of a societal as well as a personal nature.

Sarich’s collection of eleven small, hand-sized skulls pull their inspiration from the Mexican Day of the Dead, celebrating the underworld by mocking our own. Take the bacon and egg skull: a piggish snouted face with a sunny-side up egg on its head whose blood-red tongue wags and wags.

Staggered on the wall the series ends with a hypnotic skull (shown above) covered in raised circles like brandings or a pox, scraped-through dashes for eyebrows, an oddly flesh-colored putty nose with its gear-like teeth gnashing. Next to it a green crackled mask hangs with its one drooping red lip adorning a set of broken dentures, it’s alien eyes revealing an introspective face, an illusion of readiness.

Sarich is one of nine outstanding ceramic artists featured in the Jessie Wilber Gallery this month in conjunction with the Archie Bray Foundation’s 60th Anniversary.

And what better way to celebrate than with the relentless, grotesque, and often beguiling faces that alternately stare and avoid.

The show continues, from the symbolic to the realistic, Tip Toland’s stoneware piece, “Deafening,” (shown below) is nothing less than brilliant. Stand close to this figure and listen to the laughter, joyous and triumphant rising from the depths of the open-mouthed bust through a few stalwart, if browning and crooked teeth. The figure, which feels like a woman over the age of modesty, is hairless, her skin dotted with liver spots, blue veins visible along her throat. Her eyes, squinting in ecstasy, accentuate her wrinkles—each one earned through life’s invaluable lessons.

Somehow Toland has created not only an exquisite bust, but she’s also opened a dialogue about aging, wisdom, and grace.



Throughout our civilization ceramic art has stood on two pillars—vessels and figurative art. The oldest ceramic rendition of the human figure, found in Eastern Europe, is a rough model of a woman dating back 27,000 years. During the Depression many sculptors turned to ceramics as a less expensive medium than bronze or marble. Around the 1960s the figurative movement in ceramics saw a revival—using the age-old medium to voice a different sense of the clay figure.

This show purposely examines that figurative side.

Curated by Ellen Ornitz at the Emerson Center for Culture and Art, Ornitz also curated the 50th Anniversary of the Bray at the Beall Art Center ten years ago. How fitting that she should revisit the Bray at the Jessie Wilber Gallery.

“I tend to like things that tell a story,” she says. “And that story doesn’t necessarily have to be linear, it could also be symbolic. With Tip Toland’s piece I was touched by her manner of talking about ageism and the way she portrayed the beauty of an older person.”

Some of the pieces touch her in a personal way and some, like Richard Notkin’s, show their dedication through a fiercely passionate work.

Notkin’s two-by-two inch terracotta squares (shown below) sit on three shallow ledges. His bas-relief tiles of war images at once repel and compel. These include: a squared-death skull sharing a tile with bombs flying; a single tile crowded with disengaged ears; flying sperm like torpedoes; the pierced feet of Jesus; a hooded figure made infamous by the obscenities at Abu Ghraib; the horse from Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece Guernica; a skull-and-bones scattered amidst rubble; veins and internal organs.

As Notkin wrote in his artist statement, “We have stumbled into the 21st Century with the technologies of ‘Star Wars’ and the emotional maturity of cavemen. The problems of human civilization are far too complex to be solved by means of explosive devices. And too many of our world’s nations are now in the hands of ideological thugs and fundamentalist tyrants who are fumbling the planet toward World War III.”


From there the show turns a bit more introspective with Missoulian artist Beth Lo’s amazing porcelain work that allows her to investigate her Asian-American culture and explore her family’s history through satire and commemoration.

In one of Lo’s pieces, “Washtub,” Lo’s larger-than-doll-sized but smaller-than-life figure of a child stands ankle-deep in a washtub. The “water” is a clear turquoise-aqua glaze that thickens at the bottom to give the illusion of puddled water. “Floating” on the surface is a paper boat. The child, clad in a strapped bathing cap and goggles has her hands outstretched and one can almost hear a small voice crying out, “Mommy, I’m done.”

Other artists in the show include Greg Jahn and Nancy Halter, Rosalie Wynkoop, Kensuke Yamada, Monica Van Den Dool, and Trey Hill.

The show will be up at the Jessie Wilber Gallery until August 31st. -BM

 
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