Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Large As Life" at American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) continues through August 31


(American Museum of Ceramic
Art [AMoCA], Pomona) Mud. It’s the
time-digested and sopping residue of
mountains, trees, bodies, roads and cities
all ground into dust. Artists working
in clay touch that transformed history.
Some even sculpt and shape it in ways
that encourage us to remember parts
of it. The three sculptors in “Large
as Life” make figures out of clay that
have a kind of abiding reverence for
organic nature not only of the muddy
material but also for the lives and history
composted within it.
There is a sense of protective pathos
in Lisa Reinertson’s impressive
naturalistic sculptures of human and
animal interrelatedness. “Neptune’s
Daughter” is a six-foot high figure
of a windblown, chalky white young
woman gently cradling a large pelican
in her arms. Both the front of the girl’s
dress and the entire bird are drenched
with a vivid, wet looking stain of
brick-colored glaze that reads both
as muck and drying blood. The figure
looks away, as if gazing into a distance
that we cannot see, with an expression
of absolute calm that is both alarming
and hopeful. As a meditation on human
responsibility for the natural world’s
oceans and what we’ve done to them,
it’s a potent piece.
Reinertson pushes the inter-dependency
between human and animal in
several ways. Mutual vulnerability is a
key theme in pieces like “Woman with
Lemur,” where the lovely seven foot
high naked woman determinedly balancing
on one foot tries to partly cover
her breasts while grasping reflexively
at the dangling tail of the small endangered
animal sitting on her shoulder. In
other pieces the artist inverts accepted
notions of the natural order by undermining
our expectations. “Sleep of
Reason” places a seated mother gorilla
holding her furry baby atop a pedestal
shaped from the burnished backs of
several intertwined human bodies. We
are accustomed to decorative tropes
that support the idealized human form.
on the backs of rampant plants or wild
beasts. By switching the hierarchy we
begin to see the mindset that underlies
that tradition.
The idealized animals in Betty Davenport
Ford’s stoneware sculptures are
refined abstractions that speak of the
dynamic animation to be found in carefully
observing a creature’s motion and
form. There is an unpretentious grace
and relaxed strength to the way Ford
draws postures, poses or anatomy. It
renders her animals at once completely
natural, but also transformed — as if in
turning the animal into clay the artist
has found its inner dancer. “Hooded
Gibbon” is a wonderfully smooth and
angular seated ape stretching out a
long, massive arm to reach for a fruit.
Its body is glazed a café latte brown,
flecked with nutmeg specks. The gently
worried face is a small chocolate
flame of expression framed by a tan
mountain of sloping shoulders. In the
beast’s simple, refined countenance,
the clay feels amazingly alive.
A simple gesture also animates the
three reddish swimmers turning as they
dive for fish in tall green reeds in the
stoneware piece “Otter Fountain”. The
artist gives us the vibrancy of moving
water in this work, making the undulating
forms of the playful creatures
and surrounding vegetation embody
the transparent liquid that submerges
them. Stretching out, twisting, bending
and turning to sniff at each other they
have a naturalness that feels entirely
authentic and modern even as it recalls
to us the close observational accuracy
found in ancient cave drawings of
wild animals.
Elaine Katzer’s naturalistic ceramic
animal and human head or bust
sculptures exude an air of compressed,
condensed life. It’s as if the artist regarded
the expression “clay body” to
be something more than just a description
of the medium. Forms are tight
and compact, as if still wedded to the
lump clay that started them. We feel
that most strongly in sculptures like
the beautifully curved “Mute Swan,”
the rampant “Young Elephant” peeling
away from its back support and the
muscular “Cougar Totem” seemingly
fused to the abstracted tree it is sleeping
in. These and her other rounded
sculptures turn a lump of solid clay
into unfolding or tightening balls of
compressed energy intimately tied to
the medium’s unadorned earthy color.
Suvan Geer