By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Some thirty years ago, Foothills Art Center in Golden established Colorado Clay as an annual juried exhibit to highlight ceramics being done in the state. But Jenny Cook, the center's director, has decided to make the exhibit a biennial so she can open up the schedule for new programming. Colorado Clay 2006 is the first in the new format.
I have to say that even though this year's Colorado Clay is as good as any group ceramics show I've seen in a long time, it was still somewhat disappointing. First, I think celebrity juror Michel Conroy, from Texas, likes goofy ceramics more than I do and doesn't like functional pieces as much. I say this because she picked a lot of goofy things and only a few functional ones. Second, I think curator Michael Chavez made a mistake with the installation. Instead of creating mini-solos for each of the fifteen artists, he scattered their work around, which led to some awkward passages in the show. The Quaintance Gallery looks particularly bad, with so many small things cluttering it up that it resembles a church-sponsored white elephant sale -- an impression only enhanced by the fact that this particular room is the nave of an old church. In Chavez's defense, the Foothills galleries are pretty tough to use, so maybe he's still learning how.
Katie Caron's three abstract sculptures, which refer to organic objects such as pollen and microscopic life, are among the standouts in the show. Another top attraction is Paul Morris's work. Morris does abstractions based on organic shapes, too, but his riff is on the vessel tradition. He does large, blobby shapes and then attaches sinuous elements on each side to resemble the spout and handle of a teapot, as shown off in "Dusky Phenomenon Ewer." The surfaces are gorgeous and sometimes resemble the varied hues found in the patinas on ancient artifacts. Amy Chavez (curator Chavez's wife) and Christine Owen are others who do contemporary sculpture in clay. Chavez captures the look of found objects, propellers in particular, while Owen creates hand-built colanders, some of which are enormous.
Though April 8, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296- 0927
There are also several artists doing figural or animal-based sculptures, the best of which is Caroline Douglas, whose "Ceremony," a figure of a standing woman, has a breathtaking glazed surface. This piece is one of the best things in the entire show, even if it does fall into the "goofy" category. Other artists who did takes on the figure include Julie McNair and MaryLynn Schumacher, and Valerie and Jonathan Nicklow.
Though sculpture dominates the show, there are a handful of participants who work in vessel forms. Kazu Oba's pieces are contemporary versions of traditional Japanese ceramics, which isn't surprising considering his heritage. Carla Kappa creates hand-built vessels with sculptural handles that are very nice. Jim Klingman does classic wheel-turned pieces based on the American studio tradition. Bebe Alexander's lidded bottles in architectonic shapes are spectacular. Rounding out this group of vessel makers are David Beumée, Peggy Crago and Joyce Bickel.
Problems with Conroy's choices and Chavez's installation notwithstanding, Colorado Clay 2006 at Foothills is well worth catching. And with a month left in its run, there's plenty of time to go out to Golden to see it.
Interestingly enough, it was in 2001's Colorado Clay that I first saw and wrote about the work of Tsehai Johnson, whose interesting solo, Sampling, is now on display in the central space at + Gallery.
Since then, there's been steady stylistic development on Johnson's part, though there are certain things that have remained the same. She invariably works in the ceramics medium and uses it to create post-modern installations. These creations explore notions about domestic life with a feminist political content. Her multi-part pieces, most often displayed hanging on the walls as opposed to mounted on pedestals, also refer to decoration and industrial design. Finally, from a technical standpoint, the slip-cast elements of her installations reveal her high standards in the craft.
The + show includes a half-dozen pieces, with the title Sampling referring to wallpaper sample books, in particular a compendium of nineteenth-century designs assembled by London's Victoria and Albert Museum. For each, Johnson defined the piece by painting a rectangular shape onto the wall. The color of these rectangles is only slightly darker than the white walls. On top of these painted areas, Johnson arranged porcelain elements, both linear and organic, into all-over patterns. The arrangements are most often symmetrical, such as in "Sample #4," though a piece such as "Sample #3," which is otherwise closely related, is asymmetrical.
The most fully realized -- and hands-down best -- of the Johnsons is "Field #4," which wraps around three sides of a moveable room divider. This lends the piece an added three-dimensionality. By covering different surfaces of the wall simultaneously, Johnson makes the wallpaper reference sing. The individual elements of "Field #4" recall toilet brushes with long curling handles on one end and rows of plastic bristles on the other. The pale celadon green is gorgeous and is set off nicely by the white bristles.
Johnson, who has the demeanor of a typical downtown Denver art intellectual, was born in Ethiopia, where her American parents were working with the Peace Corps. If that isn't enough of a biographical fluke, she grew up in Turkey. "I spoke Turkish before I spoke English," says Johnson, without any trace of an accent.