Saturday, July 21, 2012

Setting an Alluring Table: "Pots with a Purpose" at Ohio Craft Museum

We've looked at a lot of art glass recently, so Starr Review closes out July with feet back on the earth, inspecting some ceramics on display at the Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus. Pots with a Purpose is a show of functional pottery of artistic design; stoneware, earthenware, and majolica that can lift even canned ravioli or sugar substitute to the heights of interest.

Shoko Teruyama,  Marshall, North Carolina
Oval Bowl, Earthenware.
In this crafts show, everything by thirty potters is for sale. The artists can be contacted and are undoubtedly willing to accommodate individuals interested in acquiring their work. Art for every-day use intrigues me, in spite of the constant  debate about whether crafts are "truly art" or "worthy" to be included with oil painting, etc. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about questions like this. The real question is whether or not it engages me, for how deeply and how long. Beyond that, why exclude anything? Craft, like any other art category, comes with some its own particular considerations and many in common with the others. 

Shoko Teruyama, Crow Woman with Pig. Earthenware.
How is it that functional potters can repeat a form or design without losing interest, so that every iteration is fresh and beautiful? We are culturally tied to uniqueness as central to the definition of art; clearly it's not. For artists working in craft, art's definition can include repetition and reengagement, both tied to some idea of consistency, perfectibility, or the challenges of securing a standard that lies in the execution of multiples.

Shoko Teruyama, Large Turtle
Shoko Teruyama's work is unified not by a production aesthetic, though, but by the utility of bringing beauty and intrigue to the ordinary. Her selection of five useful objects—the bowl, above,  a candleholder, plates, and a large vessel for individual floral stems—are free-standing works of art that can also serve curry soup and canap├ęs. Once you've eaten the cucumber sandwiches, you've revealed a dark fantasy, etched on a pastel bed of flowers, in which a crow maiden of beady-eyed determination stamps out a monstrous pig under gathering storm clouds. Wow! Next course, please!

Yet Teruyama's flower holder is the epitome of the pastoral, using the same French provincial decorative motives, abstracted from any drama, with only a birdie on the back of an chintz turtle. The bird sits like a pie bird and would appear to nest privately when a forest of tulips were planted around her. 

Ann Tubbs, Ottawa Lakes, Michigan. Pitcher.
I liked Ann Tubbs' majolica pieces. Majolica uses softer clay, is marked by its glossy white coat and, usually, by casual or whimsical design. Tubbs' lovely drawing both echoes traditional Mediterranean majolica designs that celebrate fruits and herbs while having its own individual, loose style. 

Tubbs carefully matches form and surface decoration. To the graceful, classic shape of the pitcher, she's attached a wavy, free-form sort of handle that allows the whole piece an organic feel. Then the handle, the wide band, and lip appear to have been drizzled or splashed with the colors she used in painting the body; these runny colors highlight the informality of the piece. They add warmth to its invitation for us to pick it up and splash out its cool contents.

Ann Tubbs, 4-Legged Dish. Majolica.
I particularly like the sense that the drawing that underlies the color was executed as easily as it would have been on a sheet of paper with a soft-graphite pencil loosely dangling between her fingers. She did not. She had to work around the curves and swells, in three dimensions, continuing that green vine above the midline either as the vessel was being turned or as she patiently moved herself. In either event, to create conviction of spontaneity would be (as so often it is) challenging. It is definitely value added to know that all the several kinds of lightness Tubbs has achieved with the pitcher are the result of experience and expertise. Her 4-Legged Dish, with its softly pleated handles and focus on the brilliant cherries, manifests the same charm on a smaller level; it's the hallmark of her work. 

Peter Karner, Hesperus, Colorado. Vase and Tureen. Stoneware.
Most remarkable to me, however, is the highly original, declarative work of Peter Karner. His designs are big and geometric. On his website, he explains his complex method for achieving such depth in his surfaces (he uses wax resists, and traps carbon in the glazes, for instance). The works that he brought to this show have an air of Orientalism about them. They are all shot with the coppery glint of some metallic glaze. The shapes he uses are reminiscent of Islamic art—both the scaled shapes in his decorations, and the ways he constructs slightly exotic shapes, like the tureen finial, the pitcher's swell above the midpoint of its height, the splayed-leg stance of a teapot and phenomenal serpentine box.

Peter Karner, Box and Vase
With the box and vase, Karner used similar glazing and decorative techniques. Even though the one shape is sensual in an oriental idiom, the other in its perfectly formed, classic simplicity. Though the two have different patterns, it's easy to overlook the fact, even to think of them as being similar. The colors relate them, but the scale of design and the boldness too relates them. We feel the impact of the designs as much as we see their details.

For that matter, I can imagine taking pleasure in a display of the fluted box between Karner's fish pitcher and  onion-domed casserole. I suspect that any work he produces would sit comfortably with anything else from his hand. The work of an artist with such an individual idiom is bound to demonstrate its coherence, whatever the look of any single item. I recommend the array of designs on his website: it will reinforce this point.

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