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EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, & Nudes

EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, & Nudes

a survey of figural ceramic sculpture from 197O to the present, featuring works by 27 artists

© 2016 Ferrin Contemporary photos on front and back covers and pages14–17, 20–23, 31–33, 38–43, 49–51, 54–67, 69, 73–74 © John Polak photos on pages 26–27 © Sylvain Deleu photo on page 48 © Farrol Mertes photo on page 68 © Rob Vinnedge front & back cover images: “Pre-Columbian Man with George Ohr Pot” 1991, ceramic, glaze, 17 x 11”. Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak Published by Ferrin Contemporary 1315 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247 ISBN number TK

EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, & Nudes

AN INTRODUCTION by Mark Richard Leach FOR MILLENIA we have made pictures of ourselves or used malleable materials to fashion figurative resemblances. From raw earthen substances applied to cave walls or painting media of different kinds brushed onto wood panel or canvas, the human subject is perennial. Together with sculptural effigies and figurines made of ceramic, wood, or cast of molten metal, the epic dramas and commemorative trophies marking human moments evil and triumphant remain for us to learn of civilization’s evolution and our many storied journeys and tribulations.

Exposed: Heads, Busts and Nudes presents neither an exhaustive survey of artists

working in the genre nor an all-encompassing study of the ideas, themes, or personal meditations used by artists to explore the human body, its psychological terrain, and its foibles. The exhibition does bring together a varied group of artists working in clay and for whom the figure has been a rich and enduring motif. Each explores or expresses aspects of our human nature — its dark and horrific impact and its uplifting and proud accomplishments. While the exhibit features artists and works principally made from 1970 onward, there are later examples made by several seminal practitioners from the California Bay Area and the 1950s Funk movement. Among them is Robert Arneson, whose irreverent, tongue-in-cheek sculptures are made of clay. Contrast Arneson’s sarcastic wit with Stephen De Stabler’s reflective, figurative oeuvre in which clay fragments resembling bone are combined to project the essence of human physicality and impermanence. Bay Area artist Viola Frey’s prodigious body of heroic, expressive figurative sculpture must be counted as essential to the trajectory of this genre. Provocative as her figurative art has been, Seattle artist Patti Warashina’s dream-like sculptures have reflected her interest in politics and women’s issues, among other subjects. When we think of architectural proportions today, we may not think of the Roman designer Vitruvius. Nevertheless, he asserted that common increments were modular components of a whole. Leonardo da Vinci believed as much and spent his life searching for relationships between the human form and nature. In Arneson’s “A Question of Measure or Checkered Plate or Vitruvian Man” from 1978, the artist becomes the embodiment of scientific inquiry and mathematical precision epitomized by Vitruvius and da Vinci. Set against a circular platter embellished with a multi-colored grid, the artist as

nature becomes one with empirical thought and reason. The artist’s “Advanced Stage of Ceramophilia” amply illustrates his coy, humorous, and self-identifying ceramic proclivities. Arneson’s self-portrait, a genre for which he was well known, is riveting. The top of his pasty-white personage appears surgically removed to reveal not the undulating mass of brain tissue but rather a slightly textured sphere of earthen red clay. That the artist’s obsession with clay has yielded a prodigious and wide-ranging body of work is reason enough for him to humorously self-diagnose his preoccupation with things made of dirt. Meissen porcelains, especially figurative statuary, first inspired Jack Earl. His seemingly mundane ‘80s sculpture is redolent of a sense of rural simplicity, with the quiet meanderings of real people living their prosaic lives. Earl often refers to photographs for inspiration and as a creative catalyst for his figurative tableaux. In “Another Bush, Another Stick of Wood,” an elderly “Mr. Rogers-like” male stands with his hat in hand and his face askew, perhaps taking stock of his surroundings or reflecting upon a bedeviling happenstance. The elderly man’s hair and old-fashion clothing are gray and washed out, no longer possessing the vivid hues or vitality we might associate with youthful impetuousness or devil-may-care living. We’ve all found ourselves in these quiet moments, especially at the apex of life, and it is Earl’s innate gift for showing us our vulnerable, even vexing moments that transform this narrative’s ambiguity into an intriguing meditation on human nature. Stephen De Staebler creates majestic if humble sculptures of the human form. Some are quite large, requiring multiple pieces to be stacked one upon another. “Red Knee,” by contrast, might suggest a prehistoric relic or the skeletal remains of a human torso, from the waist down. De Staebler’s representation is anything but anatomically accurate. Instead, misshapen pieces of clay, some longer, others cylindrical, and still others more rectilinear and of longer and shorter proportion are joined together. Were it not for the toes and shape of a foot, we might see these as ceramic totems. The artist’s imaginative short hand approach invites speculation. The only foot is as much a vertical element, the tips of its toes resting on a ceramic plinth. The right leg is positioned slightly behind. The asymmetry used by De Staebler references the Italian term contrapposto, used in relation to the human figure. In such a pose, the shift in weight and rotation of the upper torso (only inferred here) enliven the form and create a feeling of anticipated movement. Also active in the ‘70s, Seattle artist Patti Warashina is represented by a provocative tour de force altar “Beating the Housewife Blues” from 1977. Surrounded by an

electrified atmosphere and caught in a wooden furniture rack, a masterfully represented nude woman looks out to the viewer, wide-eyed. Her arms transcend illusion and morph into three-dimensional form. Their careful anatomical handling is the equal of Warashina’s feminine portrait. With hands outstretched, clasping a crystal ball-like sphere that dissolves into a swirling atmosphere, the heroine projects a fierce sense of self determination in the face of such volatile circumstances. “Untitled Platter” from 1982 provides a glimpse into the protean imagination and expressive joy Californian Viola Frey bestows upon her vivid, expressionistic ceramic art works. The artist, who was an equally adept draftsman, used simple, bold contour lines made of gel-like clay slips that were applied to the ceramic surface to activate her subjects, whether they be adults and children or animal creatures situated in indeterminate spaces. The artist’s childlike caricature seen here is suggestive of a vivid memory, a jubilant moment of carnival. Taking a different tact, Seattle artist Doug Jeck’s “Figurine” is oddly misshapen, its legs and arms smaller in scale and deformed with hands and feet missing. The artist’s rendition isn’t cloying in its effort towards realism but rather an edgy, unsettling form suggesting the ravages of disease, age, and more. The almond-shaped eyes and downturned mouth resemble Mayan ceramic figures. The sitter’s bulbous head may suggest artificial cranial deformation, practices amongst Olmec people to symbolize various aspects of social status. Jeck’s contemporaneous figurative expression brings full circle curiosities and preoccupations we hold for peoples and cultural differences foreign to our own. In “Jekyll,” Jeck’s classical and rigid representation of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll (also known as Mr. Hyde) presents a stern, detached, and resolute facade. These characteristics represent the epitome of control. Quite to the contrary, Jekyll’s disheveled costume perhaps foretells the dark, malevolent personality of the evil Edward Hyde, lurking just beneath, said to be afflicted with split personality. Jeck brilliantly conjures the visual qualities necessary to metaphorically illustrate Jekyll’s psychological condition—enduring personalities that alternately exerted control over the literary character’s behavior and divergent moral proclivities. Sculptor Tip Toland strives to capture the essence of the human condition. Her figurative sculptures have been characterized as hyper-real. Perhaps not so much real as essential, Toland undermines our need for immediate closure, to understand that which is more elusive. In her 2002 “River of Patience,” the artist sculpts an aged woman performing an endless ritual, that of brushing her hair. The starkness of her anatomy

and the emptiness of her gaze provide a marked contrast to her unselfconscious posture and the way that she performs the maternal act of caretaker of her life’s memories intertwined within the strands of her long, flowing mane. These contradictory threads coalesce into a powerful and riveting expression of humanness and of the feminine. Akio Takamori riffs on his Japanese heritage, specifically the sexually explicit eroticism illustrated during Japan’s Edo period; such imagery, known as Spring Pictures or shunga, were made between the 17th and 19th centuries.1 Takamori’s sense of form and his penchant for the creative manipulation of anatomical elements to enliven his narrative approach is masterful. In “Hanging Couple” and “Lovers,” he is both a painter and draftsman, using the form’s contour and the contours of the couple’s anatomy to spark pictorial innovation. Subtle though the shading may be, he uses washes of glaze sparingly to create contrast, highlight volume, and to achieve figurative specificity. Front to back and in reverse, Takamori skillfully leads us with line and sculptural shape into the intimacy of this sexually provocative moment. In yet another feat of innovation, the sculptor Michael Lucero, represented here by two pieces from his “Dreamers Series,” illustrates his imaginative approach to form and narrative, creative areas for which the artist is well known. In “Untitled Head,” the entire surface of an elongated head laid sideways is carved and painted with glaze and oxides to symbolize a fluid dreamscape. Lucero confidently exploits the bust format for pictorial and narrative effect. This is seen in the upturned contour of the neck and jutting chin transformed from facial characteristics to topographical features or an ear that metamorphoses into a whirl of smoke puffing from a shack’s chimney or a nose camouflaged by an ocean’s churning, wavy patterns. In “North American Dreamer,” Lucero’s formidable pictorial powers conspire to collapse form in some places and in others, take advantage of sculptural shapes to hammer home his scenic ambitions. More strongly Surrealist in nature, the artist uses aerial perspective, disjunctive scenery, and an hallucinogenic fluidity to provoke intrigue and to inspire us to reconcile the human shape with landscapes primordial and alien. Lucero also abstracts the chin and neck, carefully sculpting stepped forms in descending dimension, referencing the elaborate temples and pyramids of Mayan architecture. Not quite a decade later, Lucero discovered his Sephardic heritage and began the “Pre-Columbus” series. This personal revelation roughly coincided with the quincentenary or 500th year anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Lucero’s Frank, Pricilla. “Contemporary Artists Are Reinterpreting 17th-Century Japanese Erotica: (New York, NY: The Huffington Post, 2016).


“Pre-Columbus” series is hand-built to purposefully signify pre-contact civilization and the primacy of the Mayan hand. The surfaces of the seated figure are swimming with imagery primordial and modern, commingling the heritage of peoples of the Americas with iconography of the European, post-contact “civilized” world and today’s global village. Painter Sonia Delaunay and the Biloxi potter George Ohr, for example, coexist along with a bicycle and the ever-ubiquitous UPC bar code to illustrate Lucero’s ideas about how art was being subsumed by today’s consumer culture. The artist’s lava-red glaze and the chocker-block overflow of multicultural iconography is the perfect metaphor for America’s melting pot. In a twist, Lucero’s strategy appears to be one of using visual friction to illustrate the tension between the retention or loss of identity and heritage. Can you imagine a cacophony of voices crowding your conscious thoughts or the troubling echoes of whispering souls in your dreams? Ideas such as these are among those that Estonian sculptor Sergei Isupov explores in his figurative sculpture. Whether intimately scaled or larger than life, the artist conflates realistically painted images or scenes with three-dimensional human forms. Autobiographical or stretching to tap a deeper level of the collective unconscious, his works are striking for their vivid surfaces, dense allusions, and meaning. In Isupov’s “Bolero,” 2016, the artist has sculpted graceful, curvilinear facial shapes that merge at the cheeks. Isupov uses the metaphor of the Spanish bolero dance and its triple-time rhythm to suggest the idea of accelerated experiences such as those he renders on the form’s surfaces. In doing so, he conjoins physical intimacy with emotionally turbulent, even acrobatic, narrative scenes. Gesticulating figures, some interrelating — embracing or fighting — visually bump against others who cleve unto themselves, perhaps in reflection, abject isolation, stubbornly resisting conversation, or quietly reading. In the congested, dream-like, and peopled landscapes of Isupov’s subject’s minds, there are equally powerful tensions derived from the tradition of horror vacui — a fear of empty spaces. How, for example, do we make sense of the confusion? The artist’s contrasting ideas of objectifying emotion and the elusive abstractions of thoughts and dreams, figure large. His mis en scène projections of accelerated reflective thought and outward behavior against the backdrop of a cozy moment between lovers invokes our human experience in colorful terms. Puerto Rican native Cristina Córdova’s mixed media tableau “De mi isla salvaje (From my wild island)” uses flora and fauna and a hyper-realistic rendering of an adolescent female, who stares blankly and without emotion at the viewer, to evoke a charged exoticism and ambiguous narrative. The child’s dark skin provides a strident

contrast to the white- and black-striped shorts, soiled with pink paint. Córdova’s powers of realism heighten the viewer’s sense of the child’s anatomy and musculature while the silhouette and caricature of the backdrop create a theatrical narrative of dualities: the hunter and the hunted; nature and culture; human and animal; or the civilized and the primitive. It’s our journey to determine who’s who in this evocative puzzle.

Exposed: Heads, Busts and Nudes dramatizes artists continuing fascination with the

human form. Whether investing their subjects with deeply personal narratives, humorous vignettes, cryptic tableaux, or rich, iconographically-layered surfaces that bespeak our collective history as much as an intimate and deeply personal identity, artists working in clay continue to stretch the conceptual and technical limits of the medium. No doubt as technology permeates the practice, new forms of expression will surface. Notwithstanding the use of new tools to manipulate ceramic into different expressive outcomes, it will be the visionary who sees beyond the machine to its creative and soulful potential. Mark Richard Leach, who has served as Executive Director of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem and was Founding Director and Chief Curator of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design writes about the visual arts and is an independent curator and consultant.

THE EXHIBITION at Ferrin Contemporary 2016 F E R R I N C O N T E M P O R A RY presented an exhibition, EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, and Nudes, at its gallery at 1315 MASS MoCA Way in North Adams, Massachusetts, during the summer of 2016. The exhibition of figural ceramic sculpture from 1970 to the present featured masterworks from estates and private collections alongside recent work from artist studios. The group of noted American and British sculptors explores themes that range from social realism to otherworldly surrealism to abstraction of form. The overview illustrates how early practitioners in California’s Bay Area during in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, and Stephen De Staebler, continue to inspire artists today. Known for their use of clay in combination with painted glaze surfaces, these artists challenge presumptions and their work defies easy categorization as sculpture, decorative arts, or studio craft. “We are focusing on the lineage between generations of contemporary artists who are working within the figural genre,” Leslie Ferrin, gallery director and curator of the exhibition explains. “The first generation of post WW I I artists inspired a second and now a third generation of contemporary artists exploring figural sculpture through their work, teaching, and the educational programs they established. Likewise, the first generation of collectors is actively feeding new and established collections through gifts and sales of masterworks collected during their lifetimes. “By exhibiting works from artist studios, estates, and private collections that together span five decades, we are creating a generational investigation that explores the work of contemporary artists who were educated in the programs founded by the master artists.” Responding to a renewed and growing public interest in realism, this show offered an opportunity to view important works by three generations and showcased masterworks made by living artists at mid-career. Provoked by their personal response to the times in which they live and their unique relationship with the medium, these artists are at a pivotal moment, exploring scale and the development of ideas.

THE EXHIBITION at Ferrin Contemporary 2016

Akio Takamori, “Lovers”. photo: John Polak

left to right: Beatice Wood, “Not Married” • Viola Frey, “Untitled (Horse, Bird, Monkey and Arms)” • Robert Arneson, “Advanced Stage of Ceramophilia”. photo: John Polak


left to right: Sergei Isupov, “Head On,” 2016, paint on Masonite, 100 x 96" (ear on wall). “Motivation,” 2016, porcelain, slip, glaze, 11.5 x 4 x 13". “Bolero,” 2016, porcelain, slip, glaze, 15.5 x 9 x 8". “Risen,” 2016, porcelain, slip, glaze, 8' (large standing piece). “Rise,” 2015, stoneware, slip, glaze, 19.5 x 8 x 5" (on windowsill). photo: John Polak

left to right: Akio Takamori, “Lovers” • Michael Lucero, “Untitled Head” • Beatice Wood, “Not Married” • Viola Frey, “Untitled (Horse, Bird, Monkey and Arms)” • Robert Arneson, “Advanced Stage of Ceramophilia” • Doug Jeck, “Jekyll” • Doug Jeck, “Figurine” • Christie Brown, “Ghost Portrait” photo: John Polak

left to right: Akio Takamori, “Hanging Couple” (on left wall) • Edward Eberle, “White Canyon” • Stephen Dixon, “Restoration: Carl Von Ossietsky” • Tip Toland, “River of Patience” • Cristina Córdova, “La Eva” (black wall left) • Cristina Córdova, “De mi isla salvaje (From my wild island)” (black wall right). Akio Takamori, “Lovers” • Gerit Grimm, “Female Head” • Beatice Wood, “Not Married” photo: John Polak








Beatrice WOOD







Christie BROWN


Michael LUCERO


Alessandro GALLO

Takahiro KONDO


Stephen DIXON

Viola FREY


Cristina CÓRDOVA




above: “A Question of Measure” or “Checkered Plate” or “Vitruvian Man” 1978, ceramic, luster glaze, 18.25". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak. right: “Advanced Stage of Ceramophilia” 1991, glazed ceramic, 16 x 11 x 11". © Estate of Robert Arneson/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. photo: John Polak


“Smiling Lady” 1979, glaze, ceramic, 21.5 x 19 x 13". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak


“Untitled Figure (Twig)” 2004, porcelain, glaze, 33 x 17". Private Collection.


above: “Black Rock Portrait” 2015, ceramic, 10 x 9 x 5". photo: Sylvain Deleu right: “Ghost Portrait” 2015, ceramic, 19 x 10 x 9". photo: Sylvain Deleu


above: “Kept – Variation in Smoke” 2016, resin infused refractory material, paint, rope, wooden base, 24 x 12 x 28". right: “Unrequited — Variation in Peach” 2015, resin infused refractory material, paint, 15 x 45 x 16".


above: “La Eva” 2016, clay, acid-free cardboard, 60 x 41.5". right: “De mi isla salvaje (From my wild island)” 2015, ceramic, resin, pigments, tiles 93 x 70", figure 53 x 25 x 17". photo: John Polak


“Mary Magdalene” 2013, porcelain, gold lustre, 22.5 x 6.5 x 4.5". photo: John Polak


above: “Red Knee” 1997, 26.25 x 9.25 x 10.25". Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery. right: “Figure Column XLII” 2005, fired clay, 72 x 14 x 14". Courtesy of Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.


above: “Restoration: Aung San Suu Kyi” 2011, glaze, earthenware, decals, 23.25 x 16". right: “Restoration: Carl Von Ossietsky” 2013, glaze, earthenware, decals, 25.5 x 18.5".


“Another Bush, Another Stick of Wood” 1983, glaze, white earthenware, oil paint, 24.5 x 12 x 14.5". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak


above left: “The Prince’s Retinue” 1996, porcelain, 8.25 x 6". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak above right: “The Bath” 1994, porcelain, thrown, brush painted, sgraffito, 6.25". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak right: “White Canyon (0821)” 2008, porcelain, wire, 21 x 13 x 13". photo: John Polak


above: “Untitled Platter” detail, 1982, earthenware, slip, glaze, 25". photo: John Polak right: “Untitled (Horse, Bird, Monkey and Arms)” 2001–2002, ceramic, glaze, 26 x 26 x 6". Viola Frey Art © Artists’ Legacy Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York. photo: John Polak


“Come Fly with Me” 2014, 10 x 24 x 19".


above: “Female Head” 2015, ceramic, 11 x 18 x 13". right: “Tree of Happpiness” 2015, stoneware, 21 x 54 x 21".


above: “Speechless” 1991, porcelain, 5.5 x 4 x 2.125"; 8.5 x 3 x 2". photo: Farrol Mertes right: “The Object Lesson” 1991, porcelain, 3.75 x 4 x 3.5”. photo: John Polak


above: “Wordless” 2014, porcelain, slip, glaze, 20.5 x 6.5". photo: John Polak right: “Bolero” 2016, porcelain, slip, glaze, 15.5 x 9 x 8". photo: John Polak


“Kamakura” 1993, earthenware, 12 x 15 x 15". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection.


above: “Figurine” 1998, earthenware, 25.5 x 11 x 11". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection. photo: John Polak right: “Jeckyll” 2013, ceramic, steel, 62 x 13 x 10". photo: John Polak


“Untitled” 2010, porcelain, 9.5 x 5.5 x 8". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection. photo: John Polak


above: “Untitled Head” 1983, painted terracotta, 19 x 7". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak right: “North American Dreamer” 1984, slip-glazed, earthenware, 21 x 25 x 2". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak


“Past in Present” (front and back views) 2015, porcelain, slip, glaze, 16.5 x 14.5 x 7". photo: John Polak


“Red Summer Tea Bowl” 1997, stoneware, 15.5 x 9 x 10". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection. photo: John Polak


left: “Hanging Couple” (front and back view), 2002, porcelain, 7 x 13.25 x 5". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection. photo: John Polak above and right: “Lovers” (front and back view) stoneware, 20 x 21 x 7". photo: John Polak


“River of Patience” 2002, ceramic, mixed media, 12 x 13 x 15". Doug and Dale Anderson Collection. photo: John Polak


above: “Scrutiny” 2011, underglaze, glaze, clay, mixed media, 55 x 82 x 85". photo: Rob Vinnedge right: “Beating the Housewife Blues” 1977, white earthenware, glaze, 24 x 16 x 13.75". Margaret Pennington Collection. photo: John Polak


above: “Fruit Story” 2013, china painted porcelain, 19 x 13 x 7". right: “Meridian” 2009, china painted porcelain, metal, 30 x 16".


“Not Married” 1965, ceramic, glaze, 16 x 17 x 13". Private Collection. photo: John Polak

Sergei Isupov “Hair On” 2006–2015, porcelain, slip, glaze, 36 x 17 x 11". photo: John Polak

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS with thanks from Leslie Ferrin This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of artist, philanthropist, and passionate collector, Candice B. Groot (1954–2015). Nearly every artist shown in this exhibition was represented in her collection and many became close friends through her interest in their work and her support of their creative process through the Virginia Groot Foundation. While Candice’s own artwork was not widely known, her collection became an artwork unto itself as she explored related themes linked by content, genre, image, and lineage. Her rebellious and provocative choices of both large and intimately scaled works re-vealed boldness that her shy personality kept hidden. An extremely private person, the collection was rarely seen and sadly, never exhibited publicly. The collection conveys what only those who knew her well had the opportunity to experience. She had a wicked sense of humor expressed through cards, gifts, and mischievous remarks. Surrounded by her beloved pets and her vast collection, she lived an eccentric life that I was privileged to be exposed to through regular travel to art fairs, conferences, and work that took me to Chicago. She supported all efforts to bring sculptural ceramics to the public both through donations, purchases and social events she hosted for artists and their dealers. In February 2015, as we finished the Smithsonain Archives oral history (just eight weeks before she passed) I knew for me and the large village of lives she touched that our world would never be the same, and it is not. We ended the day with a round of her favorite drink, Gin & Tonic, surrounded by her pets, her assistant Lauren Levato Coyne, and other artist friends sitting together surrounded by one of the most important collections of figural sculpture from the late 20th and early 21st century. Her legacy lives on in the works she collected and the lives she touched along the way. Production of this catalog was generously supported by collectors Doug and Dale Anderson, Margaret Pennington, Ted Rowland, and others. Photographs are by John Polak and others where noted. Special thanks to copy editor Alexandra Jelleberg and designer Lynn Zimmerman.


EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, and Nudes  

EXPOSED: Heads, Busts, and Nudes is a survey of figural ceramic sculpture from 197O to the present, featuring works by 27 artists. The exhib...

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