Art review: Corey Daniels shows the serious side of ceramics
The first summer exhibitions at Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells offer an intriguing and idiosyncratic mix of media, genres and styles that, in one way or another, are all part of a holistic vision. Two shows – “13 Ceramists” and “Jeff Kellar Painting and Sculptures”, both through August 6 – are of particular interest.
For years, Daniels has been fascinated by ceramics. While many ceramic shows can be an uneven mix ranging from round brown pottery to whimsical decorative shapes, from functional to non-functional work, what his latest exhibition of 13 ceramic artists exemplifies is a cohesive point of view that elevates the raw materiality of the medium, its flexibility and sculptural potential. In an adjacent gallery is an exhibition of Jeff Kellar’s sculptures, which were made a few years ago, but reworked for this exhibition. They are displayed alongside some of Kellar’s sublimely minimalist paintings.
You won’t find quaint teapots in the work of Sandra Byers, Lynn Duryea, Paul Heroux, Lauren Herzak-Bauman, Tom Hubbard, Abby Huntoon, Maria Kristofersson, Jonathan Mess, Boyan Moskov, Sharon Townsend, Melissa Turner, Jonathan White, or Don Williams. It’s impossible to talk about every artist here, but each of them has a singular vision and an incredible level of skill.
We have seen some of these artists before in other galleries, especially that of various prolific and beloved Maine ceramic artists such as Duryea, Heroux, Mess and Townsend. Overall, the majority of the work shares certain characteristics: a general preference for architectural and industrial forms, and mostly works that are unglazed or bisque-fired or simply washed in matt engobe.
These latest finishes reinforce the medium’s sense of materiality with highly tactile surfaces that beg you to touch and manipulate them. Their organic presence feels approachable rather than precious, though some, particularly Byers’ tiny bisque pieces or Turner’s alluring, wavy shapes, can simultaneously feel incredibly delicate and refined.
But even glazed pieces eschew finesse or beauty. This happens in a variety of ways – through sculpting, mixing glazed and matte areas, layering colors and textures to create depth, etc.
Duryea’s enamels, quite simply, are masterful. The multiple color applications bead very slightly on firing, revealing the many undercoats. Textually, they look like oxidized Cor-ten steel that has been weathered in shades of dizzy blues and greens. The association with metal is appropriate in the sense that many of its forms refer to abandoned industrial structures in the desert or to tools and utensils. They can allude to architectural struts, chimneys or clamps. The enamels are so exquisite and telegraph such depth that they alone deserve hours of contemplation.
Tom Hubbard’s forms have a great affinity with those of Duryea (his workshop, in fact, is in a steelworks), as do his enamels, although he, like Héroux, uses metals that emit a soft luster. In Héroux’s case, bronze and rust tones alternate with unglazed surface areas, so the overall effect is understated and subtle rather than flashy.
The work of Bulgarian artist Boyan Moskov is considerably varied. Some pots are glazed in brighter yellows and oranges, or whites and blacks. Yet they also avoid being downright shiny because Moskov obsessively etched patterns into the surface so that the glazes would adhere to the underside surface, leaving the raised areas raw and unglazed. Other jars are calligraphic, sporting scribbled and splashed glaze patterns on matte bodies.
Or they can be decorated with colorful, childlike designs on large, thin-collared shapes that look both Asian-inspired and mid-century. Daniels has created an installation of his work on the floor bordering a gallery wall so that we can appreciate the multiplicity of Moskov’s approach to form, color and texture.
The industrial inspiration in the work of Duryea, Hubbard and also one of Moskov’s pots which looks like some kind of cog, is clear but subtle. Abby Huntoon’s shapes, which are meant to be hung on the wall but look just as interesting laid on a horizontal surface, may allude to primitive implements and implements. One looks like a club covered in spikes (although it could also be a stylized plant) and long spikes or nails. They are beautiful in both their simplicity and tactility.
Don Williams builds what look like strange machine or car parts, silos or locks. From a distance, they appear in metal and occupy the space in a very sculptural way, charging the environment around them with a harsh and mysterious coldness that only makes you want to understand them even more. Jonathan White’s forms are literal, but also fantastical in a way. They look like blast furnaces, cement works and other industrial structures, with tanks, shoots, ramps and pipes.
They are amazing pieces for their complexity, encompassing many techniques including wheel throwing, casting, slab forming, rolling, carving and god knows what else (“Blast Furnace, Mingo Junction, OH ” appears to be partially rolled up – built). “Bag House, Urbex Study, Weirton, WV” is a tour de force of techniques that is impossible to convey in a photograph. This is clearly an old factory building. Look through its windows and you will see tanks and all sorts of industrial works, around which White built the walls and the roof.
White delights in the textures of corrugated metal, standing seam roofing, rivets, metal funnels and other synthetic materials for mass production. At first, they recall the industrial photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher. (In fact, the Bechers photographed the same blast-furnace factory in Mingo Junction, Ohio.) Yet they’re so elaborate that they can also recall the DIY contraptions or mechanized creatures of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
This show is an embarrassment of riches. You could be here for hours whether you are particularly drawn to this medium or not. And that’s what makes it different from other ceramic exhibits you might come across. It transcends the medium while savoring it, becoming a craft-sculpture hybrid that appeals to both contemporary craft and art lovers alike.
The sculptures in Jeff Kellar’s exhibit were actually made in the 1990s, but the Falmouth-based artist reworked and refurbished them for this show. I didn’t know them, and they turned out to be a real illumination of his work for various reasons. First, they are like three-dimensional manifestations of what we see in many of his paintings. The angles, the intersections of planes and the depth of perspective, which on the flat surfaces of his paintings are essentially illusions, come to life here.
Their geometric forms are clean and orderly, and they have a way, if you walk quietly among them, of emanating a sense of their shape beyond their immediate form. Which is interesting compared to paintings, which have a much more confined energy field. The paintings definitely exude a sense of spatial openness, but it is one that pulls us deep into the canvases, while the sculptures are outwardly vibrational in a way that envelops us in their energetic vortices.
Another interesting feeling is that the synergy between the paintings and the sculptures creates an oasis of intimacy within the gallery that feels immersive. When you cross an invisible line in the common presence of all the works, it is as if you are entering into a private conversation inside a kind of sanctuary.
Finally, the sculptures also reveal an artist who, even when he sculpts, is essentially a painter. He builds the forms out of wood and concrete, but their surfaces are covered with the same materials of his paintings – pigment, clay and resin – and they exude the same sensuality of texture.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected]