A Salute to Marie EvB Gibbons, and Two Surveys

Miniature installation in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons at Plinth Gallery.EXPAND
Miniature installation in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons at Plinth Gallery.
Robert Delaney
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Marie EvB Gibbons passed on September 15, very unexpectedly. A well-known artist whose ceramics were widely exhibited, she was also an influential ceramics teacher, and a cadre of her artist friends, including sculptor Craig Robb, photographer Jimmy Sellars and ceramic artist Bebe Alexander, along with Gibbons’s children and others, decided to mount a memorial exhibit in her honor. Jonathan Kaplan volunteered the use of his Plinth Gallery, which specializes in ceramics and had, in fact, exhibited Gibbons’s work in a 2016 solo.

The result of their combined efforts is the densely packed Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons, now on view at Plinth.

The show, which fills the intimate space to overflowing, includes many pieces done in the months before the artist died that have never been exhibited before, as well as older pieces that represent various phases in her 25-year-long career in ceramics. Although Gibbons was essentially self-taught, she did take ceramic classes at the Arvada Center, and her first pieces were done when she studied with Alexander, who introduced her to the medium. But she quickly made clay her own. Instead of focusing on wheel-thrown functional vessels, she worked with both hand-building and slip-casting methods to create her distinctive, non-functional sculptures.

Installation view of a ceramic sculpture and wall reliefs in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons.EXPAND
Installation view of a ceramic sculpture and wall reliefs in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons.
Robert Delaney

For Gibbons, the distinction between sculpture and vessels led to a key technical decision. Her earliest ceramics from the mid-1990s were done with the  somewhat unpredictable raku process, in which pieces are pulled from the kiln and then rapidly cooled, so that chance has a big role in the visual effects. Gibbons wanted to gain greater control over the surfaces of her work, and since she recognized that no one was going to drink coffee out of one of her sculptures, she didn’t need to make them safe to use.

“I finish my clay work in post-fired finishes, meaning I do not work in a traditional manner with clay, using fired glazes," she wrote. "Instead, I use a variety of mediums applied after the work is fired, in order to achieve the completed look that I have in my mind’s eye.” Gibbons replaced the usual kiln-based finishes with cold finishes, typically acrylic paint, but also with a range of materials including washes, inks, waxes, resins and more that she applied after the pieces were bisque-fired. Back in those days, this was a radical move, derided by many, but it was the beginning of a trend that would appear increasingly in serious ceramics.

Goth-style baby doll wall sculptures in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons.EXPAND
Goth-style baby doll wall sculptures in Touched/Marie EvB Gibbons.
Robert Delaney

Developing her own aesthetic, characterized by a decidedly goth attitude along with more than a little haunted- house surrealism, Gibbons's work suggests a world that’s located somewhere between the mood of the carnival and enigmatic dreams. This is especially true of her creepy, armless baby-doll figures, which she often employed and sometimes used to populate tiny narrative groupings, or create related busts. Gibbons also made what look like reliquaries in which figural sculptures — the baby dolls, plants, hands and other recognizable things — are inside glass enclosures made of mixed materials. “My work tells stories,” wrote Gibbons. “It discusses the trials, tribulations, joys and frustrations in life, my own — and those that I witness.”

Though Plinth is pretty small, so are the Gibbons pieces, and the show is actually very big, crammed with scores of works and as many ideas. Gibbons's artistic voice will be missed in the community of ceramics artists, as well as the greater community of her fans.

Another small art venue crammed with material is Spark Gallery, which is hosting a wide-ranging group exhibit, Annual Member Show. Spark is the city’s oldest artist co-operative, having celebrated its fortieth anniversary last fall. As is typical of these mashups of the different sensibilities of various members, the show winds up being more like a sampler than a coherent group effort, though it does reveal the strength of Spark's current membership.

The east gallery of the Annual Member Show at Spark Gallery.EXPAND
The east gallery of the Annual Member Show at Spark Gallery.
Robert Delaney

A lot of things are great, works by both veteran Sparkers and some brand-new members. The corner installation by Annalee Schorr, in painted lines on clear plastic acrylic sheets, reminded me that she's been interested in pattern-painting for decades. Schorr is just one of the members who's a prominent and well-established abstract painter. The show also includes a science-based abstraction by Sue Simon, and Mark Brasuell is represented by one of his recent graffiti-marked compositions. Madeline Dodge heightens atmospheric effects by distressing the surfaces of a triptych. Bill Ballas shows a cubic jigsaw puzzle of colors.

There are also some fine works on paper, notably Janice McDonald’s post-minimal stripped collage and the neo-pop monotype by Michaele Keyes. Keith Howard contributes two drawings made up of frenetic scribbles, à la Cy Twombly. Sculptor Leo Franco is riffing on classic modernism, too, but in this case, it's constructivism that's targeted by his planar wall relief in plastic, wood and hardware. Mary Mackey is also working in 3-D with her elegant raku totem.

This show holds so many worthwhile pieces that I can’t plug everything, but I want to give a special shout-out to the marvelous digitally manipulated photo depicting a little house on the prairie floating above the ground. It’s by a newish member, Diego Dominguez.

Adjacent to Spark is one of the city’s newest co-ops, D’art Gallery, which occupies Core's former home. D’art was founded last year by artist Kat Payge, who also bought the building that houses the galleries. As often happens when a co-op first comes together, D’art has had some growing pains, with founding members leaving and new ones coming in, which is why it makes sense to host a member show, Many Voices, One Message, just a few months after the last one.

Ceramic sculptures by Vicky Smith at D'art Gallery.EXPAND
Ceramic sculptures by Vicky Smith at D'art Gallery.
Robert Delaney

Just beyond the doorway that connects to Spark are ceramics by Vicky Smith. I was unfamiliar with this artist and knocked out by her work, organic abstractions made by stacking components that suggest alien plant forms. Around the corner is another ceramics artist, Jean Smith, whose piece is an assemblage of separate, tile-like wall hangings.

As at Spark, there are many abstract artists among the D’art members, and the standouts in this show include Susan M. Gibbons, whose pieces are simultaneously linear and soft-focused. The encaustic and silkscreen prints on paper by Ashton Lacy Jones, which have a whiff of Rauschenberg, are also outstanding. And there's more.....

The art world is just getting back to business after the holidays, and impressive shows like these at Plinth, Spark and D’art help fill the gap until the exhibition calendar is is again booked up. But the loss of Marie EvB Gibbons will continue to leave a major void.

Marie EvB Gibbons/Touched, through January 25, Plinth Gallery, 3520 Brighton Boulevard, 303-295-0717, plinthgallery.com.

Annual Member Show, through January 19, Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200, sparkgallery.com

Many Voices, One Message, through January 26, D’art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-486-7735, dartgallery.org.

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