Earth, Wind and Fire

Tagliapietra tries out a different approach in his most recent vases, both of which feature all-over carving that flattens the sheen. The use of incising, carving and cutting is seen elsewhere in the show, but not to this extent. "Riflessivo di Luna," in which pink, blue and black canes are laid over green battuto, is in the form of a flattened, up-ended disc; Tagliapietra has pierced one side with a round hole. In "Riverstone," Tagliapietra uses the same shape, but this time without the hole.

Artists like Tagliapietra, who manage to use age-old methods to create contemporary art, are a rare treasure, and we're lucky that Sardella thought to bring his work to town. But there are other paths to artistic success. One can, for instance, simply reject tradition--as well-known Colorado ceramic artist Paul Soldner has done over the past several decades. A pioneer of ceramic abstract expressionism, Soldner served as the lone juror for Colorado Clay Exhibition 1998 at Golden's Foothills Art Center.

The show in Golden begins with one of Soldner's own pieces, a spectacular untitled sculpture that has been placed in the small front gallery and is a hard act to follow. Made of clay slabs laced with spatters of icy green, the sculpture is the result of reduction firing, a characteristic of the raku method. Despite Soldner's interest in abstract sculpture, most of the pieces from other artists that he chose for Colorado Clay are examples of functional pottery. Luckily, Colorado is fairly rich in clay artists, so the rest of the show offers many rewards.

Displayed on low stands across from Soldner's sculpture are a group of impressive lidded vessels by Jennifer Neff of Greeley. In the stoneware "Bronze Jar," Neff alters and distorts a thrown cylinder and tops it with a large sculptural lid with a heavy, slab-built handle. Such altered wheel-thrown vessels are seen throughout Colorado Clay. Some of the best, in addition to Neff's, are those by Englewood's Cheryl Crownover and Paul Rogers of Colorado Springs. Crownover gently forms her clay cylinders into sensuous shapes and finishes them with minimal staining, allowing the unadorned clay to show through. In "Figure Canister," a ceramic lidded jar takes the shape of a woman's torso. Rogers's raku vessels are more crisp and nearly architectural in feeling. In "Nazca Vessel," small squares of clay are mounted on the lid of the low bowl. Unlike Crownover, Rogers goes for a spectacular finish; in "Nazca Vessel," it's a delicious light-green reduction with black and beige at the bottom.

Soldner selected just one artist who works with traditional ceramic shapes unadorned by addition or alteration: Denver's Ted Fons, whose classical vases are seen at the entrance to Foothills' back gallery. In "Vessel," Fons creates an elegant and simply formed vase with a high waist and a broad collar. In contrast to the simple shape are the spectacular iridescent reduction effects he gets from the raku firing.

More expected from a juror like Soldner are the several artists working in abstract sculpture. These include some of the most familiar names in the show, including Maynard Tishler and Martha Daniels of Denver and Allen Bales of Lakewood.

The Tishler section is dominated by one of his classic truck sculptures, the wood-fired stoneware "Timberline Express," in which a green-glazed logging truck is being driven by a demon--pure Tishler. Daniels shows some of her newest work, a selection of gaudily toned sculptural vessels that reflect her interest in the modern city and robot imagery. These large, non-functional vessels of hand-built clay are heavily pierced and richly finished; some, like "Top of Africa," sport complicated painted decorations reminiscent of Renaissance-era Italian faience. Bales, meanwhile, is represented by both thrown raku vessels and slab-built raku wall reliefs. Both have astoundingly complicated finishes in which a white crackle is laid against various iridescent and metallic tones.

Though there's a world of difference--and a 45-minute drive--between Lino Tagliapietra at Pismo and Colorado Clay at Foothills, these exhibits have a lot in common. Each seeks to present craft as a form of art--and in that, each succeeds.

Lino Tagliapietra, through April 16 at Pismo Contemporary Art Glass, 235 Fillmore Street, 333-2879.

Colorado Clay Exhibition 1998, through May 10 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 279-3922.

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