Page 1

Lefebvre et Fils, Paris March 29 to May 21, 2016 32

Jay Kvapil Luna




From Earth to Moon Circling back to the beginnings of his career as a ceramic artist, it comes as no surprise, especially in view of his work of the last few years, that Jay Kvapil’s first experience with ceramic media— centering a ball of clay on a spinning potter’s wheel and opening and expanding it into a form—came during his sophomore year at university studying philosophy and literature. While the artist’s practice has both internalized tradition and engaged highly technical concerns as he has developed his craft over decades, his practice remains, as it began, fundamentally literal, liberal, and literary in its inclinations. In various ways during the span of his career, and most subtly yet clearly in his recent work, Kvapil has plumbed the status, capacities, and categorization of objects; explored the presence and properties of material and objecthood, and opened up the potential for objects to deliver narrative, allusion, or implication via imagery, style, symbolism, and what might best be described as a semiotics of material, surface, color, and form. Kvapil’s recent works flaunt their media and materiality, and embrace their basic categorization as objects. They are demonstrably and demonstratively earthen and ceramic, with each offering a case study in the transformation of earth via manipulation and heat, and with crater glazes that literally multiply the surface area available for examination and open up layers of material for our visual excavation. And Kvapil’s recent works are declaratively and unapologetically pottery. While their surfaces would mostly discourage actual functional use, there’s no mistaking that the forms descend from and in fact are the various kinds of objects they tempt us to call them by name: jars, cups, bowls, pots, vases, and platters. But while Kvapil’s earthenware pottery never defies or denies such categorization, it certainly refuses to settle into a simple niche. The work reaches out to and pulls within itself the influences of modernist design and craft that have surrounded Kvapil since his arrival in Southern California in the mid 1980s, most notably the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and the pottery of Otto and Gertrud Natzler, as well as Japanese Kyushu tea ware, which Kvapil studied as an apprentice to eleventhgeneration potter Takatori Seizan. But Kvapil’s works also suggest 2


the influence of the evolving lineage of “field” painting—particularly the work of Mark Rothko, Larry Poons, Jules Olitsky, and Helen Frankenthaler, the latter two of whom experimented in ceramic painting—as well as discourses on the specificity and theatricality of objects, of Minimalist attempts to produce objects that were between painting and sculpture or neither painting nor sculpture, of poststructuralism, and of postmodernism. Kvapil’s recent works propose the possibility of objects that simultaneously are pottery, painting, and sculpture all in one, with characteristics of each category conspiring with the others. Though his forms are quite varied, they mostly deal in wrapped and contoured planes, favoring broad expanses at the expense of breaks or facets, and though they sometimes are altered after being thrown, their wheel-derived roundness, generating looped, spherical, and hemispherical surfaces without beginning or end, are never deprived of their continuity. These wrapped planes become like perpetual canvases upon which Kvapil’s variegated glazes take on the presence of “field” or “allover” painting. Often given a gestural spin as the result of brushwork done in the glazing process while the works are turned on a wheel, this “painting” results in a sense of movement that both reinforces the objects’ status as wheel-thrown pottery and places them within the experiential terrain of sculpture—coaxing their viewers to orbit them and engage them peripatetically. It is via this intersection of pottery, painting, and sculpture that the play of implications in the works of a literarily and philosophically minded potter comes to light in an epoch in which the enfolding and mediation of natural phenomena within cultural expression and production have taken a new turn. To hold one of Kvapil’s pots in one’s hands is to want to turn it to get it to reveal its secrets, which perpetually turn away as others come into view. In examining some, I am reminded of the first stop-motion images of the seemingly spinning planet Jupiter assembled from photos taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979. And I am reminded as well that between a youth spent among the overt and ubiquitous geology and topography of Arizona, and time spent early in his career as an artist and teacher amid the volcanic land and seascapes of Hawaii, Kvapil’s key early years at university, 4


throwing pots while studying literature and philosophy, directly overlapped with the heights of the Apollo moon missions. I am reminded of the first view of the gibbous Planet Earth appearing like a giant upside-down bowl rising over the lunar horizon, photographed from the Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968, or Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the Sea of Tranquility in the summer of 1969—leaving a footprint that became the first ever act of forming the “earth” of the moon—just as Kvapil was readying to begin his university studies. I am reminded that in early 1971, as Kvapil was putting his hands on clay for the first time in a sophomore-year ceramics class, Apollo 14 astronauts were conducting the first materials science experiments on the lunar surface, and that over the next two years, as Kvapil’s fascination with clay grew and his investigation of it deepened, Apollo astronauts carried out geological investigations of the lunar surface, and the names of lunar features and locations became familiar among humans like the names of landmarks and towns on earth. And I am reminded that in December of 1972, as Kvapil was wrapping up his university days and looking ahead to apprenticing at a pottery on an island in Japan, the last of the Apollo missions that had drawn our eyes upward gave us a different view with a whole-earth photograph that came to be known as the Blue Marble. And I can’t help but think that such a convergence of experiences and imprints and views for a young artist coming of age now circle back in his work as a mature artist. Kvapil’s works are pots and paintings and sculptures and most fundamentally, they are pieces of clay spun on a wheel and baked in a fire, but they are also examples of the power of metaphor and suggestion. Christopher Miles Los Angeles, March 2016



previous pages JK #19, 2014 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 4.25˝ / 11 cm Unique JK #12, 2013 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 21˝ – Diameter: 15˝ / 53.5 × 38 cm Unique

JK #8, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 7.75˝ – Diameter: 6.25˝ / 19.5 × 16 cm Unique following pages JK #23, 2013 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 11.5˝ – Diameter: 27˝ / 29 × 68.5 cm Unique

JK #21, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 19˝– Diameter: 9˝ / 48 × 23 cm Unique JK #7, 2014 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 20˝ – Diameter: 13˝ / 51 × 33 cm Unique





JK #3, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 7˝ – Diameter: 7.5˝ / 18 × 19 cm Unique Following pages Detail of JK #3, 2015 JK #25, 2014 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 10˝– Diameter: 19˝ / 25.5 × 71 cm Unique





JK #6, 2013 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 19.5˝– Diameter: 15˝ / 49.5 × 38 cm Unique following pages JK #16, 2013 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 6˝ – Diameter: 10.5˝ / 15 × 26.5 cm Unique



JK #20, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 17.5˝– Diameter: 16.5˝ / 44.5 × 42 cm Unique



JK #22, 2011 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 11.5Ë? / 29 cm Unique



JK #17, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 18˝ – Diameter: 15˝ / 46 × 38 cm Unique following page JK #5, 2015 Ceramic, crater glaze Height: 12” – Diameter: 16” / 30.5 × 40.5 cm Unique

First edition of 1000 with 100 copies signed and numbered by the artist. Text by Christopher Miles. All works courtesy of the artist, Lefebvre et Fils & Marc Jancou Contemporary Photography: Jay Kvapil Layout: Hermann Hülsenberg Studio, Berlin Paper: Munken Print White, 90 g/m2, FSCTM  - certified Font: Bodoni Egyptienne by Nick Shinn, 1999 This exhibition and the publication are made in association with Marc Jancou Contemporary.





Jay Kvapil Catalogue  
Jay Kvapil Catalogue