For the current show at the gallery, I have on display an outstanding piece called Pincushion Man, by Richard Shaw. Seated on a chair of stacked paper cups, his body is composed of sticks, tools, a mayonnaise jar and a miniature coffee cup. It’s his head that gives him his name – a strawberry red pincushion with button eyes. Because this is a work by Richard Shaw, all of these elements are painstakingly rendered in porcelain, in his signature trompe l’oeil style.
Shaw uses clay to recreate the objects of everyday life, gathering them together in still life compositions that speak to the presence of the person who ostensibly arranged them. The apparently casual nature of these pieces belie the considered relationships between items,and the layered references to pop culture, art history, and personal biography that exist within them.
The figurative works take the premise of the still lifes and extend it even further. Rather than simply referencing the presence of a person, the objects become people themselves. In a 2006 interview with Richard Whittaker, Shaw spoke about these works, saying that “taking the still life and making it into a person is like breathing life into it.” The artist taps into the expressive potential of ordinary items by anthropomorphizing them. The figures communicate with viewers through gesture and body language. As the personification of a still life, Pincushion Man returns the viewer’s gaze, peering back at them with his button eyes.
On July 12th, the gallery will open a new exhibition of works by Ralph Bacerra, Richard DeVore, and Richard Shaw. In anticipation of this, it feels like a good time to repost Richard Shaw’s online videos. Last February, Shaw participated in an artists’ conversation with Adrian Saxe. One of our most popular events, the two artists spoke at length about their respective practices, including their shared interest in juxtaposition and references to contemporary culture. I’m glad that we filmed their talk, and I’ve included the edited video below:
In 2005, Shaw was filmed in his studio by KQED for the arts education program Spark. This video really demonstrates the complexity of his artwork, revealing the enormous library of molds, glazes, decals, and transfers that he uses to achieve a stunning level of realism. The profile also captures Shaw in his element as Professor of Art at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught until his retirement in 2012.
I don’t know how many times I’ve made the drive from L.A. to the Bay Area. The number is well over 100, and spans a time period of over 50 years. Even as a child, I was irrationally obsessed with images of San Francisco, and begged my parents to take me there. My family traveled together on the train in August of 1960. We were tourists that first time, and I recorded the vacation in a short essay for my fourth grade class, with what was my very best effort at penmanship.
I’ve just returned from a road trip; this time it was part business and part pleasure. Stops in Oakland, Fairfax and Sebastopol were for gallery duties—picking up and dropping off artworks, and viewing a painting. During the long drive, I had a chance to reflect on my multiple trips, and my relationship to the oft-cited divide between the two regions of California. The divisions of geography, climate, politics, and culture are often the subjects of debate. The controversies and arguments can grow passionate—especially the rivalry between Dodger and Giant fans.
But what I was recalling—the people I know in the world of art—was a different story. It demonstrates how very much interrelated the lives of the artists and the two regions are. Let’s take, for example, the story of our artist Richard Shaw, who was born in Hollywood and lived in Newport Beach before becoming a resident of the quintessential Northern California town of Fairfax. Or consider the history of my friend, the late Henry Hopkins, a UCLA graduate who went on to become the Curator of Exhibitions and Publications at LACMA, before his tenure as Director at SFMOMA, and then his eventual return to the Hammer. Don’t forget about Richard Diebenkorn, whose first shows were in the Bay Area, but produced perhaps his most well-known series of paintings in a studio in Ocean Park, a neighborhood in Santa Monica. Peter Selz, who had a stay in Claremont before going to MOMA as the Chief Curator of Painting, eventually wound up in Berkeley. Peter Voulkos, a Montana native who attended California College of Arts and Crafts for his master’s degree, came to L.A. during the period of 1954 to 1959, then returned to Berkeley.
This list could go on, but the thought persists: Is there really such a division between the two Californias? I think not. Yes, the politics and culture may differ overall, but the people travel freely through some sort of permeable membrane. I have lived and worked in both the North and South, and so have many of my friends. Though I must be clear about one thing: I’m still a Dodger fan.
Lately I’ve been reflecting quite a bit. It’s something that’s probably due to age, but could also be related to my final review of an interview for the Archives of American Art (my interviewer was the marvelous Paul Karlstrom). One thing in that conversation really stands out: I have good reason for being passionate about arts education, verifiable research and educational publications. Those who follow this blog are well aware—maybe even weary—of those subjects.
Now, I think I’ve identified the sources: my mother and father. Back when I was growing up in South Pasadena, my father was the Publications Manager and Public Relations Director for California State University Los Angeles. It was in his office and in printing shops that I learned about editing, page layouts, typefaces and binding. He showed me how the annual college catalogue was produced, as well as how to write and distribute a press release.
My mother opened the door to another world, that of scientific research. She worked as a Research Librarian for the Stanford Research Institute, the world-class research organization (based in Menlo Park) with a branch in South Pasadena. I got to know scientists who were working on economic studies, agricultural experiments, and even (hush-hush) top-secret Defense Department-funded studies. I had special privileges, as my mother had great skills as a research librarian, but also phenomenal people skills.
My early exposure to the worlds of professional research and publication instilled high standards in me. I really believe in the importance of “setting the record straight,” because I’ve seen how easily incorrect information spreads across the internet and print media. It’s my responsibility as an arts professional to provide the public with well-researched and historically accurate materials that guide them to greater understanding of artists and their work.
I currently have on view an early drawing by Craig Kauffman that visitors are really responding to. From 1961, this drawing is one of a series of works on paper that Kauffman produced while he was traveling in Europe – to Copenhagen, Paris and Ibiza between 1959 and 1961. In Paris, Kauffman met the abstract artists Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, as well as Darthea Speyer, who later became his Paris dealer. The works that he developed during this period reveal his continuing interest in Abstract Expressionism, coupled with an awareness of Japanese Zen sumi ink painting.
This piece, along with several others from the same timeframe, was included in the 2008 exhibition Craig Kauffman: A Retrospective of Drawings, at the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena. Kauffman carried these drawings with him during his travels, in several large portfolios, so they required some conservation before they were ready to be shown. For this task, I hired the late Victoria Blyth Hill, retired Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Conservation Center, and longtime friend of the gallery. Her work on this project was everything I had hoped for, as she approached the pieces with sensitivity and expertise. With a “less is more” philosophy, the work was cleaned and stabilized, before being archivally framed to protect it against future damage.
Conservation is a major aspect of the Estate of Craig Kauffman’s responsibility to protect the legacy of the artist. Working with a team of selected conservators, we are trying to provide guidelines for the care and keeping of Kauffman’s work in all mediums. Given the diversity of his long career, this is a significant task, but one that is imperative if his work is to survive. The Estate of Craig Kauffman’s new website, www.craigkauffman.com, now has a conservation tab, where museums and private collectors can direct their conservation inquiries.
If you’re near Minneapolis, I hope you’ll have the chance to attend Adrian Saxe’s upcoming lecture in the Pillsbury Auditorium at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, on Saturday, June 21 at 2:00 pm. Adrian will deliver his talk as part of his participation in the Northern Clay Center’s Regis Master Series. His complementary solo exhibition at the Northern Clay Center will remain on view through June 29.
This lecture is one of many that Adrian has been invited to give over the years, and will be a good opportunity to hear from one of the most accomplished ceramic artists in the world. Recently, Adrian participated in a 2013 panel discussion hosted by the James Renwick Alliance as a Master of Medium honoree, and in 2012, Adrian spoke about his artistic practice and career at the Hammer Museum, a lecture which can be found online. Adrian also discussed his work, 1-900-Zeitgeist, in a lecture delivered in the Harold M. Williams auditorium at the Getty Center as part of the exhibition Departures: 11 Artists at the Getty in 2000.
The question of functionality is one that is raised frequently for artists who work with ceramic materials. The long tradition of vessel-making often leaves viewers with the expectation that ceramic objects will fulfill their implied purpose. The production of ceramic artworks that cannot be used, or can only be used with great risk, even when they meet the formal requirements of functional objects, is one strategy used by artists to examine the legacy of vessels in the field of ceramics.
Adrian Saxe has spent his career exploring the history of ceramic traditions and techniques. His fantastically ornate, often vessel-oriented works push viewers to imagine them in use. With impractical handles, delicate spouts, and decorative lids, many of his works maintain the vocabulary of functional objects but cannot be safely used.
Saxe’s series of Klein Bottles, mounted on raku bases, push the question of the ostensibly functional vessel even further. As a volumetric manifestation of the Mobius strip, the Klein bottle has only one surface. The exterior and interior of these forms are one and the same, as they turn in on themselves. Although a Klein bottle cannot truly exist in three dimensions, these works demonstrate the mathematical concept, while at the same time confounding viewers’ expectations about the purpose of a container.