It's surely surprising -- if not shocking -- to find one of the best ceramics shows of the year being presented at the modest and remote Lakewood Cultural Center (470 South Allison Parkway, 303-987-7876). But that's exactly what's going on now with Place of Mind, a solo show dedicated to the work of D. Michael Coffee, on display in the diminutive North Gallery.

A recent transplant from Southern California, Coffee lives and works in Pagosa Springs, where he built his custom-designed Shy Rabbit Ceramic Studio. Designing a structure was easy for the artist, who was an architect for more than two decades. In the mid-'80s, he started painting, and soon after made prints. In 1996 he discovered ceramics, which quickly became his medium of choice.

Place of Mind highlights the range of work Coffee creates. There are his hieratic monotypes, which have a decidedly Asian flavor. Also Asian are his expressively thrown tea bowls, which are obviously based on classic Japanese pieces. However, unlike many clay artists, Coffee has not gotten stuck in the dead end of Hamada/ Leach brown and green pots. His marvelous clay sculptures take the form of vessel totems and brick installations.

The totems, some of which are called "Intuition Markers," such as "Vase With Blue Stem" (above), are the real standouts here. They're stunning, both in form and in color. Coffee piles up altered cylinders to form spikes, adding sculptural elements on top -- sometimes in the form of vegetal flourishes, sometimes as jagged clay rings that wrap around the cylinders. Each element is glazed a different color in a palette of compelling tones that Coffee produced in the kiln. There's a breathtaking yellow ash glaze -- which he just recently developed -- as well as a variety of gorgeous deep blues, a semi-lustrous gunmetal and a velvety terra-cotta red. Assembled together, these various hues and diverse surface effects are in perfect contrast to one another.

The spectacular Place of Mind at the Lakewood Cultural Center runs through next week, closing on Friday, September 24.


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