Archive for January 2013
Another artist I’m happy to be featuring in Frank’s International House of Ceramics, Part Three, is the Japanese artist Satoru Hoshino. Born in the Niigata prefecture in 1945, he graduated from Ritsumeikan University in 1971. Although he had already been working in ceramics for 15 years, Hoshino experienced a turning point in his artistic practice when a landslide destroyed his studio in 1986. Witnessing the devastating power of nature led to a change in the artist’s approach to his medium.
Hoshino describes his process as a collaboration between himself and his materials. He does not consider clay to be a passive recipient of his actions, instead conceiving of his work as a dialogue between equal partners. Rather than imposing his own desires on earth and clay materials, Hoshino strives to bring out the inner life of the clay. In an essay for Ceramics: Art and Perception in 2000, he writes that his work “is the result of a joint effort, like that of two people in a three-legged race, between myself and the medium of clay.” His towering coils are imprinted with the mark of his thumb and forefinger, leaving a direct record of his engagement with the material.
Hoshino’s body of work includes large-scale installations that can fill entire rooms as well as more intimate objects that can be held in one’s hands. Leah Ollman wrote in her Los Angeles Times review of Satoru Hoshino’s 2008 solo exhibition that his sculptures have an “air of immediacy, of raw organic matter worked by a reverent hand, of primal forces in concert.” Honoring both the physical properties of the clay and the process by which the material is transformed, Hoshino seeks to reexamine human beings’ relationship with matter and nature. We’ll have three of his stunning works from the Spring Snow series on display in our upcoming show, opening on February 9th.
About a year ago, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion about the change in status of contemporary ceramics. The position and ranking of ceramics in the world of contemporary art has been shifting for over 60 years. Great artists have made the biggest difference in overcoming prejudices, and have been quite blunt about their assessment of how the art world perceives their work. Ken Price, for instance, succinctly noted that in the middle 1950s, the material hierarchy was established, saying that, “In those days, clay as an art medium was dead and buried.”[i]
The first task for the panel, I thought, would be to enumerate the ways that such a lowly ranking was overcome. In the current environment, a viewer can see contemporary ceramics in major museums and hundreds of galleries. How and why has this happened, and what were the forces for this change? I believe there are some clear reasons:
First, the lack of material hierarchy in the work of young artists made it clear that a new attitude about media exists (this is especially evident in curated exhibitions such as the award-winning show at the Hammer titled “Thing”, or the traveling show from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia titled “Dirt on Delight”). This seems to be coming from two sources: university and art school-trained artists who are the product of interdisciplinary programs; and the popular culture at large. Younger artists have adopted the contemporary music world’s sampling techniques—piecing together disparate parts and re-mixing them. Old school ideas of purity and media specificity just don’t apply anymore.
Second, critical acceptance has accelerated profoundly. These days, art journals and newspapers have major critics such as Roberta Smith, Christopher Knight, Dave Hickey, Christopher Miles, Leah Ollman and Peter Schjeldahl championing both ceramics shows and individual ceramic artists. Dozens more reviews are being published in mainstream art journals, rather than being segregated into craft-specific publications.
A third reason for the new standing of ceramics in the public’s eye is a burgeoning maturity of curatorial vision and the building of significant collections (both regional and in major encyclopedic museums). This also involves recognition of the rich traditions of other countries. The organization of group exhibitions and acquisitions by major museums including the Met and LACMA are also indications of ceramic art’s rising status.
Fourth, of course, is the fact that the use of ceramic materials continues to grow. Major artists since Picasso have worked seriously in clay, but now it’s nearly ubiquitous, as artists from contemporary art—even Jeff Koons and Ai Wei-Wei—use the medium.
Finally, there has been shift in the historical and curatorial perception of some major artists and their respected position in the overall canon. Just consider the Betty Woodman retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the recent LACMA retrospective of the late Ken Price, which travels nationally to the Nasher and then the Metropolitan, with each venue designed by the great architect Frank Gehry.
We are now in an era when a major critic (Roberta Smith) in the New York Times writes about a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in these terms:
“The show’s determination to integrate ceramics into the art mainstream is nothing new. But its refusal to do so simply by slipping some universally agreed-upon ceramic exceptions into a show of painting, sculpture and so forth is close to groundbreaking. “Dirt on Delight” argues for ceramics as a more than worthy subject. It reminds us that the art form incorporates quite a bit of painting and sculpture, thank you, and has one of the richest histories of any medium on the planet. Ceramics also plays well with all kinds of artistic ideas and needs no propping up by supposedly serious fine art or, incidentally, by much in the way of explanatory labels.” [ii]
[i] Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, A Life in Clay (interview with Ken Price), Artnet online magazine, http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp10-22-08.asp
[ii] Roberta Smith, Dirt on Delight, New York Times, May 19, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/arts/design/20dirt.html/
Although they have produced distinctly different bodies of work, the artists Richard Shaw and Adrian Saxe do share something: they are both virtuosos with ceramic glazes. Shaw’s trompe l’oeil technique is the result of years of research into ways of simulating reality. He discovered (and developed) a method of making over-glaze transfer decals, which allows him to realize lifelike objects in his still life sculptures. It’s an adaptation of commercial printing, using a process that is very much related to silk-screen printing. He’s able to transfer images (made out of over-glazes) directly onto the mold-made objects, and fire the colors onto the surface.
Saxe, on the other hand, has spent decades working with glaze chemistry, and includes an astonishing array of glaze effects on the surface of his work. The sources are from ancient Chinese dynasties, or from luxurious lines of royal porcelains made for French kings—but also from the artist’s experimentation in his amazingly scientific laboratory (studio) in Highland Park. Saxe is able to tell a visitor the ways that a glaze will vary, according to the percentage of one mineral element, or with the slightest change in duration or temperature of the firing. He knows exactly how to position every pot in the kiln, and how to get, for instance, the copper to transfer into the kiln atmosphere at the final stages of a firing—producing a rosy red blush on an adjoining piece.
Both of these wizards of glaze effects will be talking about ceramics (and most likely lots of other things, like contemporary culture) at the gallery on the morning of February 9th at 10:30 a.m. This program, a continued effort to provide our clients and the community with free arts education, is sponsored by the gallery and open to the public. It’s a rare and amazing opportunity to hear two University of California professors of art in conversation—without having to pay a cent of tuition!
Getting behind the scenes and into an artist’s studio is always exciting, and can help you get a fuller sense of who the artist is as a person. This video, produced by KQED public television for their arts education program Spark, takes viewers into the studio of Richard Shaw. Richard has lived and worked in the Bay Area for years, and this video segment really captures his laid-back attitude and sense of humor.
Another artist I’m happy to be featuring in Frank’s International House of Ceramics, Part Three, is Richard Shaw. Born in Hollywood in 1941, Shaw has spent most of his life in the Bay Area, where he has lived, worked and taught since the 1960s. The last time we showed his work at the gallery was for his 2009 exhibition Still Life, so it’s exciting to have new examples of his signature trompe-l’oeil arrangements.
Shaw renders the detritus of everyday life, including books, art supplies, cigars, playing cards and half-eaten apples in porcelain with overglaze decals, achieving a stunning level of realism. Leah Ollman, of the Los Angeles Times, describes his work in cinematic terms, writing that “Under Shaw’s direction, clay is the consummate actor, channeling identities with such conviction that we forget, momentarily, what’s real and what’s a different kind of real.” The works challenge the viewer to examine objects closely. Shaw intends for his art to inspire this kind of diligent looking, saying in a 2006 interview with Richard Whittaker that his work “makes you look at things. It makes you have a new experience rather than the same old experience.”
There’s something enchantingly counterintuitive in Shaw’s determination to reproduce real and often ephemeral objects in the demanding medium of porcelain. His still lifes have a haphazard quality, as though the objects have been set down momentarily and are awaiting the return of their owner. Maria Porges of Art in America addresses this in her review of Shaw’s 2000 exhibition at Braunstein/Quay Gallery:
“There’s a casual immediacy about Shaw’s compositions that belies the incredibly labor intensive nature of their making. What appears to be improvised is created through careful orchestration and painstaking labor in several stages. Ironically, many of his subjects are relatively ephemeral in nature and would never, under normal circumstances, last as long as their clay simulacra.”
Shaw skillfully combines the stuff of daily life into whimsical still lifes that appropriate mass culture while also drawing on personal experiences and memories. Michael Schwager gets to the heart of Shaw’s body of work, writing in his essay for the Richard Shaw: Four Decades of Ceramics catalogue that “it honors modesty and humility and embodies an almost Zen-like state of mindfulness, in which the artist sees beauty, simplicity, and honesty in the familiar—and often invisible—things that surround us in our everyday lives.”
For over thirty years, Richard DeVore (1933-2006) created, fired, and edited his work, reducing his final artistic output to a limited number of vessels that best expressed his emotional states and artistic intentions. Through a limited vocabulary of vessel and bowl forms, in combination with skin and earth tones, DeVore shaped a body of work that Janet Koplos, senior writer at Art in America, described as ”recognizable as a species but amazing in their variety.”
The heart of Richard DeVore’s mature career centered on his continual investigation into the expressive capabilities of the vessel. While his reliance on a few basic forms might suggest a certain conservatism, DeVore pushed those shapes to their very limits, incorporating slits, dimples and rim irregularities as well as double floors and concealed interior shelves and membranes. His works expand viewers’ conception of what a vessel is, and how it functions in the world.
The shapes of his works and their surface treatments were meticulously planned, and then executed. If a piece did not meet the artist’s high standards of beauty and expression, it was destroyed. In an interview with Katherine Wunderlich of the Cranbrook Magazine in 1972, Devore explained that each piece is either “a living idea and the essence of the feeling or it is not. There are no excuses.”
Whether DeVore’s work brings to mind worn, weathered skin or the roughened surface of a crater or hillside, it is the sensation or feeling evoked that is so significant. The objects DeVore references are starting points, the essence of which he captures through reductive and carefully chosen physical qualities. Barry Schwabsky, writing for American Craft, beautifully described the experience of contemplating the artist’s work, noting that:
“The abyss into which Richard DeVore draws my gaze does not trap me, nor is it meant to; it elicits a critical consciousness of the seduction to which I assent, and in that consciousness is the release which sends me back to the safe distance from which I enjoy these beautifully restrained forms: no longer enigmatic and troubling but once again, for the moment, severe, balanced, harmonious.”
Our upcoming show at the gallery, Frank’s International House of Ceramics, Part Three, will include several examples of Richard DeVore’s evocative work. I hope you’ll have the chance to come and see it in person when it opens on February 9th, 2013.
The Frank Lloyd Gallery maintains a Vimeo channel, where we post videos of events held in the gallery. These videos document exhibition walk-throughs or conversations with artists, and allow friends of the gallery who were not able to attend the event in person to experience it nonetheless. So far we have produced five examples.
The first of these videos is an exhibition walk-through of our Pacific Standard Time show, Larry Bell: Early Works. We followed that up with an interview of Larry Bell by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, where he shared the story of his discovery of the thin-film evaporation process.
The gallery’s next video production documented another of our PST shows – Peter Voulkos in L.A.: Time Capsule. Both Larry and Ollie Bell spoke about Peter Voulkos’ historical significance within the Los Angeles art scene, and offered commentary on the show, which presented work from the artist’s personal collection.
Our most recent videos document two shows that we exhibited over the summer. In one, I interviewed Scot Heywood regarding his show Polarities. Scot was great, speaking insightfully about his artistic development. In the other, Larry Bell returned to lead an exhibition walk-through of our Ken Price show. His close personal and professional relationship with Ken really came through as he shared stories about the artist and his work.
If you haven’t seen all of the videos we’ve produced, I encourage you to take a look at them on the Frank Lloyd Gallery Vimeo channel. We’re working on producing more of these, so stay tuned!