All Fired Up

Richly colored glazes also adorn the wonderful thrown and altered vessels of James Robertson. But whereas Thomas favors a cratered surface, Robertson makes his glazes seamlessly even, probably with the use of an airbrush. In the oversized pitcher he's titled "Decorative Decanters Dispense Delicious Dribble," Robertson takes one part Fiesta ware and combines it with one part Woodman, resulting in an amusing and highly integrated style. The piece is made up of several separately thrown elements--the body, the neck, the spout--as well as coil-built components that include the twisted tall feet and the undulating strap handle.

It's not surprising to find potters using one of the classic forms of the vessel--a bowl, a bottle, a vase or a pot--as their shape of choice. Highlights in Colorado Clay include the nesting forms used by Deborah Dell for her vases, the loosely formed functional pieces by Barry Krzywicki and the small organic and baroque forms used by Annette Gates to create things like candlesticks. But more surprising--except for the fact that Woodman did the same thing--is the use of the thrown and altered vessel as a taking-off point for nonfunctional sculpture. This is another current showcased in Colorado Clay.

In his magnificent pair of monumental winged urns, Mark Dillon joins thrown pieces together with slab-built ones and then smooths the whole thing over into one form. Tim Zablocki takes the opposite approach, leaving the margins between his separately made elements unfinished; as a result, Zablocki's "Guardian" is a vase and a figural sculpture at the same time.

Two other artists in the exhibit have left the influence of the vessel behind entirely. Prominent Colorado sculptor John Balistreri earned first prize with his expert construction and exquisite glazing of full-sized barrels and anvils that are made to look cracked and corroded and are thoroughly nonfunctional. Wes Anderegg's disturbing polychromed busts, winners of the second-place award, are likewise a tour de force of both modeling and glazing.

Standing somewhere between the vessel makers and the sculptors is Kate Inskeep. In a piece like "Post Oak Vase," Inskeep has hand-built an animated and gestural form from white porcelain slabs. The vase has then been decorated with black porcelain slip, applied through a stencil with a design of oak leaves. Inskeep, who sometimes uses multiple firings, adds ashes to lend texture and depth to the slip decorations.

Even when supplemented by the Woodman show at the DAM, Colorado Clay only hints at the length and breadth of the banquet we call the Colorado ceramics scene. But with local museums, art galleries and alternative spaces rarely including the medium in exhibitions, we'll have to be satisfied with--and grateful for--the few crumbs that we get.

Betty Woodman: Evolution in Clay, 1958-1991, through April 7 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

Colorado Clay: 1996, through April 14 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 279-3922.

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