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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Katie Brown

Author’s Note: This month ceramic artist Katie Brown is showing her work at the DeWeese Gallery. Okay, so right off the bat, you probably don’t about the DeWeese Gallery. It’s an art gallery located inside the Bozeman High School. The shows there are curated by the school’s art teachers. Not all the shows are connected with MSU’s art graduate school, but the ones that do usually include a project completed in conjunction with the high school art students. It’s really a great idea: to bring the minds and hearts of the art department from the campus to Main Street. Isn’t that what we want? Unfortunately, it’s located (as I said) inside the high school, which means it’s only open when the high school is open. But it’s a start.

Clay. Soil. Earth. Mud. Moldable, foldable, reactionary. Clay is a medium most of us have held in our hands and pushed through the Play-Doh factory, making it familiar and borderline primal. Accessible, you might add. Katie Brown uses common shapes and images, but then ushers the viewer into the fray of agricultural politics.

Katie Brown’s show, g+m=o, brings together the art of ceramics and the ideology of farming. While not coming down on one side or the other, Brown’s work prods and focuses.

Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Brown learned young to plow a field and plant a crop. In this show it’s not tomatoes that are growing but a feeling of unease about farming in America.

Brown’s show falls into three sections: ceramic planters, bigger than life finished and painted seed packets, and raw clay feedbags.  Constructed to identify what and who feeds the industrialized world, reflecting on the methodology of agri-business, the genetically modified seeds and grains are juxtaposed against a society that romanticizes farming. Brown’s work scratches the itch. The individual farmer is a shrinking icon; Mr. Greenjeans may help kids understand how to grow a carrot but that is not the way of the world.

“It can’t be that way anymore,” Brown says. “Not everyone knows how to plant, nor do they have the money to be farmers, to have their crops wiped out by nature. Farming used to be something everyone did. Now there are too many people dependent on our current system. And people are used to getting fruits and vegetables from the supermarket regardless of the season.”

For me, the most exciting part of her show is the raw feedbags. Here she brings a feel for weight to the “burlap sacks” made from slabs of clay, slabs still frayed from the cutting. The appearance is “raw” because some of the bags aren’t even glazed.

“I really thought about whether to glaze them or not,” Brown says. “Traditionally, in ceramics, no matter what, a piece is glazed. Once it’s glazed, it’s finished. But I didn’t want to hide the clay in any way.”

Which is why she’s left the seams between the slabs tattery.

“For me the seams are where it all comes together,” she says. “The seams themselves allude to the imagery of fields, as seen from an aerial view.”

The lines of the rectangles mimic the acres of sown soil, the ragged cracks in the clay mirror the ditches and small streams that zag across the ground, heedless of boundary lines.

Her twenty-two hand-built planters seem to be an extension of utilitarian ceramic work, but upon closer inspection they have “drainage holes” that are too big or none at all. In this way they are iconic images of planters, but not actual planters. Think Magritte’s painting, “This is not a pipe."

“The process of constructing and manufacturing planters by hand allows me to be attentive and responsive to how agriculture is moving (from) less hand construction to more production and manufacturing,” Brown says.

Even the more finished, painted and glazed seed packets based on the beautiful and hand-made packets from the 1920s, places the imperfect against the idyllic.  The packets, voluptuous and lush, placed on pedestals so as to be eye-level, force the viewer to think of these seeds envelopes as pin-up posters, the Rita Hayworth of tomatoes.

Katie Brown's recent body of work prompts a few questions for us all: Have we been seduced to accept agri-business as our way of life? Is this paradigm a compromise we’ll accept in order to get our lettuce any time of year?  -TBM

Michele Corriel has been nudging southwest Montana's art community of late; check out last month's "Illustration—Hell Yes, It's Art."

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