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Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 03.23.06

Ceramic Riches

Multiple exhibits explore the ceramic arts.

BY SYLVIE PEDERSON

Ceramics is in the forefront of the exhibition scene in Eugene and Portland this month. The largest annual arts conference in the world, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, was held in Portland March 8-11, accompanied by countless related exhibits, studio tours and events including these presented in Eugene.

(Clockwise from left) Beaked Pitcher by Jeff Oestreich, Teapot, wood-fired sculpture by Mary Hindman, Teapot with Two Drinking Bowls by Pete Pinnell, Drepung Doorway, ceramic sculptural platter by Susanne Stephenson, Second Line (detail), ceramic condiment tray by Thomas Rohr, Teapot, high-fired stoneware by Katrina Chaytor

LCC hosted a pre-conference workshop, "The Ceramic Surface: 4 Approaches," which brought internationally known artists Katrina Chaytor, John Glick, Matthew Metz and Susanne Stephenson for two intense days of lectures, demonstrations and discussions. An Opus 6ix gallery exhibit through March 31 showcases these artists' works, as well as those of the event's organizer, Pleasant Hill potter and LCC instructor Thomas Rohr.

At the White Lotus gallery through April 4, ceramicist Dan Schmitt has curated an outstanding invitational exhibit on the theme of "Tea: Engaging the Senses – From Cuppa to Ceremony." Its 29 local and national participants include ceramicists with international reputations. Meanwhile, DIVA features "Clay Tones," a local group show, and Grace Sheese's ceramics through April 29, and UO emeritus professor George Kokis' "A Small Retrospective Plus," through March 31.

Such a rich display of ceramic works is an opportunity to examine the various practices of ceramic arts and some issues a ceramicist grapples with when making decisions, both broad and narrow, about her or his work.

Function is a crucial choice. A studio potter tends to create functional pieces, while a sculptor is not concerned with utilitarian function. But no simple dichotomy between the functional and non-functional exists. A sculptural approach may toy with functional forms, and a studio artist may push form to its very limit.

Likewise, the fundamental tension between surface and form inherent to all three-dimensional arts requires potters to emphasize surface decoration or sculptural form, each to a different degree.

A myriad of other factors come into play: cultural influences (Asian, European, Pre-Columbian …), motifs (abstract, figurative, narrative), personal styles and moods (spontaneous or controlled, formal or whimsical) and techniques (wheel-thrown, hand-built).

The aesthetic enjoyment of ceramics, art jewelry and architecture is a multisensory experience. The visual may draw our attention, but kinesthetics and touch are equally vital.

At Opus 6ix, John Glick works with a tremendous range of shapes, techniques and tools in a zestful, articulate spirit of ongoing investigation. Decoration is achieved both in the making of the object itself, which may involve a complex combination of wheel-thrown, extruded and hand-built parts, and through an elaborate, swift and spontaneous surface treatment. Glick's work may include variedly applied colored slips, several of the 60 glazes he keeps at hand, and marks created in a number of ways with one or more tools he creates and experiments with. The danger, perhaps, is an overloaded surface.

For Katrina Chaytor, both function and decoration are primary. Her exquisitely hand-built porcelain pieces constitute a 21st century makeover of traditional ladies' tea-ware, condiment sets and miscellaneous accessories. Her forms, while traditionally European in flavor, bear delicate patterns and motifs derived, deftly and discreetly, from computer iconography and circuitry.

With Matthew Metz, a few pleasing forms serve as a surface upon which to carve and draw decorative patterns, stylized faces and imagery derived from nature. Keeping his color scheme to a minimal contrast of light and dark allows him to cover the entire surface without clutter.

Susanne Stephenson uses basic forms in terra-cotta — thrown rims and manipulated slabs — and focuses attention on surfaces. Thick colored slips freely applied retain the gestural marks and scratches imprinted with sticks and coarse brooms. The surface becomes three-dimensional in Drepung Doorway, erasing the distinction between form and surface by turning into form itself. Her sculptural surfaces evoke the straining and tearing of geological formations, raw and tumultuous landscapes.

Thomas Rohr never manipulates the surface of his functional pots. To obtain a broad spectrum of earth colors – white, yellow, gold, honey, orange, salmon, red, rust, brown, black – he mixes different clays in various batches. Rohr's thrown-and-altered forms have an air of levity, the personality of a bon vivant. They invite use by appearing keen to participate in whatever entertainment is going on. "I'm very interested in the interaction between user and pot," Rohr said. "I believe the user's action completes the pot."

At White Lotus, Mary Hindman approaches the teapot purely as sculptural form, with wonderful results. For Suze Lindsay, tea time is a pretext for lively, whimsical pieces. Ben Waterman's sculptural tea bowl is about form and weight and texture; it has the craggy solidity of rock carved by the elements. Some of the most attractive pieces possess an architectural quality, with an emphasis on planes, angles and arcs (Jeff Oestreich, Sequoia Miller, Christa Assad, Paul Eshelman).

Though thoroughly dedicated to function and ease of use, Dan Schmitt's work is pure spare meticulous form. His gleaming white porcelain is lightly accented with trimming — or finger-marks, or with an unexpected spot of colored glaze. Schmitt's love of Japanese ceramics comes as no surprise but his pieces reach beyond any vernacular influence and attain a classicism of their own.

Pete Pinnel's craftsmanship is simply impeccable. His attention to detail is extraordinary but subtle. Perhaps no other work here resolves the tension between form and surface in such a balanced way, with decorative function equally distributed between them. Pinnel's pots are exquisitely proportioned, with a strong sense of architectural design as well as contour line. His surfaces are all about texture, which he approaches in an understated but most satisfying manner both to the eye and the finger.

A number of works successfully strive for balance between a painterly surface and simple but well-wrought forms (Michael Connelly, Josh DeWeese, Mark Hewitt, Mark Shapiro). Amy Wood achieves delicacy both in her treatment of celadon glaze and in her forms. Kathy Lee's pots are distinguished by their small-scale, lovely proportions and simple surfaces. Some artists treat simple traditional country forms as a drawing surface (Ayumi Horie, Mary Briggs), while others are inspired by more ornate European forms and highly decorated surfaces (Kathryn Finnerty).

At DIVA, Local Color provides a highly diverse sample of clay objects produced in our region. Gil Harrison's and Kenneth Standhardt's works stand out for superb craftsmanship and elegance and Karen Washburn's for charm and whimsicality. Grace Sheese's ceramics, to which a whole room is devoted, are crafted with beautiful attention to detail, both in the structure of her forms inspired by Asian architecture and in her decoration with precise abstract motifs.

George Kokis places a heavy emphasis on the creative process out of which form emerges, which he views as concomitant with one of self-discovery and growth. Classical mythology has been a lifelong influence.

Radicalizing his proclivity for processes that preclude complete control (such as salt, wood and smoke firings), Kokis recently turned to new forms, which he calls meltdowns, sculptures three-to-five-feet high. Kokis covers them with colored slips and then, rather than firing them, sets outside to be eroded by the elements. "I watch the slips bleed, and the form disintegrate under the rain," he said. "I consider the beauty of them falling back into earth."