Alessandro Gallo Crystal Morey Lindsay Pichaske Adriel Tong Russell Wrankle September 22 â€“ Â November 5, 2017 Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota Curator and Essayist: Kelly Connole Editor: Elizabeth Coleman
Foreword Sarah Millfelt, Executive Director
© 2017 Northern Clay Center. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, write to: Northern Clay Center 2424 Franklin Avenue East Minneapolis, MN 55406
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from Wells Fargo.
http://www.northernclaycenter.org Manufactured in the United States First edition, 2017 International Standard Book Number 978-1-932706-44-5 Unless otherwise noted, all dimensions: height precedes width precedes depth.
Additional funding for Tempered Beasts comes from Continental Clay Company, Prospect Creek Foundation, and the Windgate Charitable Foundation.
Northern Clay Center’s exhibition program has long been a means through which ceramic artists at seemingly all stops along the vast ceramic spectrum can challenge us to see the world differently. Sometimes this “world” is defined through our own singular and micro lens and our observations are centric to the material, as in we didn’t really know that a spout could be crafted in this way or that way, or we never even considered adding a nonceramic element to a sculpture made of clay, or we never liked yunomis until we saw this artist’s interpretation, and the list goes on. Occasionally, this “world” is defined through a larger, more macro lens and we see a piece of ceramic art that gives us pause. While we see the object and note its surface or process or materiality, we are also seeing ourselves in that work, and our relationship to the larger world, or with a particular idea or a moment in time. The 2017 autumn Tempered Beasts exhibition at Northern Clay Center continued our track record of mounting aesthetically outstanding and thought-provoking exhibitions. The show was the brainchild of Kelly Connole, ceramic artist, educator, writer, curator, and member of NCC’s exhibitions committee. Connole worked in collaboration with NCC’s exhibitions team to identify and secure artists whose work explored expressions of the human condition through the use of animal imagery. Animals permeate the ceramic lexicon in both contemporary practice and throughout history — from cave paintings to garden protectors, visceral sculptures to playful vessels. Our relationship with animal beings is complicated, as their role in our collective experience shifts from food source to family member, wild creature to domesticated friend. Humans determine the value placed on life — whether of our planet or its inhabitants — while often discounting our own animal instincts. The artists included in Tempered Beasts wrestled with questions of consumption, commodification, and identification by creating animal forms that capture the very essence of what makes us human — and animal.
This exhibition deftly joined artists Alessandro Gallo, Crystal Morey, Lindsay Pichaske, Adriel Tong, and Russell Wrankle. In conjunction with the exhibition, Tong visited the Center for a one-week residency intensive, during which time he made work for the exhibition and snuck in a quick visit with students at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where Connole is Associate Professor of Art. Additionally, Gallo and Wrankle traveled to Minneapolis in conjunction with the exhibition reception, and presented an artist talk to the general public and served as guest presenters as part of NCC’s art educator weekend. Many of the participating artists shared new work with our audience, made explicitly for this exhibition. We thank them all for their participation. And, we thank Traver Gallery in Seattle and Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City for the loan of Alessandro Gallo’s work for the exhibition. The exhibition was underwritten by generous financial supporters, including Continental Clay Company, Prospect Creek Foundation, and the Windgate Charitable Foundation. Additionally, this activity was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from Wells Fargo. It should also be noted that none of our roster of special exhibitions would be possible without the talent of Northern Clay Center’s exhibitions committee — Heather Nameth Bren, Kelly Connole, Ursula Hargens, Mark Pharis, and Robert Silberman. Thank you to this contingent and special thanks to Connole for her vision, interpretation, and patience during the exhibition planning. Thank you as well to NCC’s exhibitions team for a superb and flawless installation: Tippy Maurant, Director of Galleries and Events; Emily Romens, Galleries Coordinator; and Brady McLearen, our now former Exhibitions Associate, whose last installation at NCC was Tempered Beasts. And, thank you, finally, to Elizabeth Coleman for her editing prowess.
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Tempered Beasts by Kelly Connole
“And the wild beast rose up within him and screamed, as it had screamed in the jungle from the dawn of time.” — Upton Sinclair
1. See Gallo’s full artist statement at https://www.artupon.com/alessandro-gallo/.
The complicated relationship between humans and animals has permeated the ceramic lexicon since the beginning of recorded time. Historically, the depiction of animals, as hunting partners and competitors, companions and enemies, food sources and predators, reveals the most primal qualities of humankind. For more than 30,000 years, renditions of animals serve as pure visual delight, metaphor for the human condition, and an avenue to convey a spirit beyond that of our own species. Emotion, gesture, and instinctual animal qualities are captured by the receptivity of clay when combined with the skilled hand of a maker — transcending time, geography, and culture. While the same can be said for the use of the human form in ceramic art, often historians, curators, makers, and collectors divide ceramic human figures and ceramic animal figures into two distinct categories and separate conversations. This division creates a fissure in the rich relationship between humans and animals and negates the fact that humans are, in fact, part of the animal kingdom. Many historic and contemporary ceramists capitalize on the tension between human and beast, creating a menagerie of hybrids, fragmentations, and exploitations of the hierarchy of species. By capturing the very essence of what makes us both human and animal, the five contemporary artists included in Tempered Beasts wrestle with questions of identity and our profound need to co-exist on a rapidly changing planet. A quick walk through the vast history of ceramics reveals a plethora of objects that place animals in prominent roles. PreColumbian vessels in the form of pot-bellied dogs, often hybridized with turtles and other creatures, provide a glimpse into a 2000 year-long comradeship between human and canine — an animal claimed to lead the soul
into eternity. Egyptian hippopotamuses, in stunning turquoise blue, capture an animal much feared for its destructive power and revered as a symbol of regeneration due to its ability to disappear into and re-emerge from water. Representing the very best of this material world, tomb figures in the shape of camels and horses, created during China’s Tang dynasty, provide beasts of burden into the afterlife. Mythical creatures, such as dragons wrapped in the celadon trappings of Korea’s Koryo Period and the magical insects, fishes, and mammals depicted on the pottery of the Mimbres, make us consider a world that rises above our own existence. The 18thth to 20th centuries in Western ceramics are especially littered with creatures, both as surface design and form. Sheep and deer, typically prey animals, appear tranquil as they frolic through Staffordshire’s Pearlware, and Dutch cow creamers give visual representation to the source of rich dairy products. Dogs continue to be man’s best friend and horses provide sturdy companions to porcelain figurines throughout ceramic work produced in European factories. With the boom of American potteries during the years around WWII, animals dominated the gift realm with what now might be considered kitsch objects. Imagine brightly colored salt and pepper shakers shaped as flamingos and every other bird species, Red Wing Pottery’s rooster casseroles, and TV lamps in the shape of nearly all animals on Earth. Themes of fertility and abundance, expressions of power and loyalty, and celebrations of natural beauty and contrived domesticity — all dominate our interactions with clay. Upon entering Gallery M at Northern Clay Center, one is immediately under the watchful eye of dozens of animal figures. Most of the works in Tempered Beasts face the gallery entrance. This choice of placement is both intimidating and alluring — drawing the viewer into a world that is not entirely familiar. Each of the artists featured in the exhibition approaches their use of animals in unique ways, though similarities do emerge with close study.
Human/animal hybrids dominate the work of Alessandro Gallo and Crystal Morey. Gallo’s sculptures pair the heads of a variety of animals with the bodies of ordinary people performing the most ordinary of acts. He writes of his work, “I combine the animal head and the meanings they evoke with the silent language of our body and the cultural codes of fashion in order to portray some individuals, the larger subcultures they belong to, and the habitat we share.”1 Sitting Duck — a delightful play on words — waits patiently, hands clasped and shoulders relaxed, though the title suggests a doomed future. A rooster father comforts a chick-headed child in Gallo’s The Road. Are they waiting to cross the proverbial road or perhaps waiting for the hen to complete her journey to join them? While all of Gallo’s works are ambitious, Chris, a bison-headed obese man adorned with an Elvis t-shirt is particularly striking. Chris’s left hand mundanely holds his travel coffee cup while his right hand is clenched in a quiet yet forceful reference to power. He wears a t-shirt depicting Elvis, “the King,” on his chest and the former king of the prairie as his head. Habitat loss due to agricultural practices and overhunting to meet the demand for hides certainly played a part in the devastation of the bison, while a far more sinister plan was present. The species was nearly wiped off the earth in an effort to destroy the main food source of native peoples. Chris wears the weight of this history while maintaining the familiar relaxed, and somewhat melancholy, gesture found in Gallo’s other works. Crystal Morey’s incredibly detailed porcelain figurines elicit a much different energy. Using references to classical sculpture, Morey seduces her viewer with the beauty of highly idealized female forms historically intended for the male gaze. The human figures are elegant, enticing, and playfully passive — except for the fact that they possess the heads of ferocious wolves and provocative deer. The combination of two disparate forces, married by impeccable craft, creates a profound tension in the work. Entangled
Wonder: Diana with Doe makes clear the fact that the viewer — not the unfettered doe she sits atop — is the prey of the wolf/ woman. These two species, at once enemies, are united in their vulnerability within an ever-changing climate and a planet facing devastating times. Morey writes of her work, “As a species, we sit at a pivotal moment, faced with monumental questions leading to difficult, uncertain answers. My figures exist on this frontier, absorbed in their own feelings of stress, anxiety, and ambivalence.”2 Rebirth and regrowth does occur in the magical world Morey creates. New Symbiosis: Reclining Mule Deer with New Mollusk Growth and New Symbiosis: Pronghorn welcome the viewer into a realm where sea life and animals of the earth become one in an oddly peaceful encounter. Like Morey and Gallo, Russell Wrankle calls on the human form to play a dominating, or at least equally significant, role in his work. The balance between human and animal shifts, however, as the three pieces by the artist in Tempered Beasts make explicit humankind’s devastating effect on animals. Subtly is found in Wrankle’s surfaces and remarkable tenderness is caught in the careful rendering of stretched animal hide, but his message is clearly communicated by the fragmented animals contained in the work. A disembodied hand tortures a buzzard and shark in Conjuring the Buzzard and Apex Apex, respectively. The dismembered animals are clearly dead in both of these works but the act of a hand gratuitously distending their flesh is painful to witness. Frog Muzzle is the most unsettling of Wrankle’s work. At first glance, it appears that a dog has a frog in its mouth — a sight not terribly unusual to anyone who has spent any time around dogs and frogs. Closer inspection reveals that the frog is, in fact, tightly tied below the dog’s closed mouth. Both the dog and frog are resigned to their fate without struggle and without recoil — victims of a situation they did not cause and could not prevent. While human imagery is not present in this particular work, the human presence is overwhelming. Wrankle writes, “I wrestle with
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existential questions of life and death through the symbolism of the body and animals. My intensely saturated ceramic figures represent the decadence of worldly pleasures, a vibrant source of energy that is antithetical to death and dying. It is through embracing life and living that the pull of death and suffering is kept at a distance.”3 Created during a residency at Northern Clay Center, Adriel Tong’s Sparrows also explores death as a central theme. In this work, numerous dead sparrows, fashioned from earthenware and adorned with identification tags, speak to a natural history museum collection of an extinct species. The birds are thoughtfully arranged in a manner that creates a visual rhythm through their brilliant turquoise feet and lifeless bodies. In the exhibition, the piece exists without didactic material to guide the viewer into Tong’s imagination — leaving one to speculate on the significance of each name delicately scribed onto the dead birds’ tags. In a recent exchange, Tong states, “The names on the tags are what we call un-sung heroes. Some are more famous than others but they are people that are making an effort on a day-to-day basis to create a better community. There are 100 sparrows and in Chinese culture, a hundred is a symbol of complete or ‘whole.’ The painted feet are a representation of the ‘action,’ ‘contribution,’ or ‘mark’ of the sparrows. Only when the sparrows land, or walk or jump around, then you see where they might leave their footprints, but not when they fly.”4 Tong’s Diptych: Stability and Progress also refers to Chinese culture through his use of rooster imagery and text. In these works, one stylized rooster is split into two parts in an act that is neither gruesome nor violent. Revealed by this splitting, tiny red and blue wooden blocks reference the Chinese characters for stability and progress — opposing forces that make up contemporary China to Tong. The work is personal and provides yet another look at our quickly changing world. Lindsay Pichaske’s contributions to Tempered Beasts also embrace mixed media as she combines unconventional materials
with clay to provide surfaces that evoke a visceral reaction. Violet and Little Ginger, two relatively small works, command the viewer’s attention with the intensity of each animal’s stare and the softness of their surfaces. Confidently emerging from the wall, Little Ginger is covered with carefully placed fawn colored feathers that appear surprisingly like fur. In Violet, Pichaske provides another piece that contrasts the hardness of clay with the softness of another material — flocking — this time sparingly so, on just the very tips of the ears. Performing much like rogue taxidermy, Pichaske’s animals are of another world. They are recognizable and foreign simultaneously as they confront the viewer without hesitation. Pichaske says, “I create animals that blur species boundaries. They challenge the perceived order and comfortable classifications of life. These animals are tricksters; familiar but also alien, seductive but also scary, animal but also human, alive but also dead. In a world where sticks mimic fur and sequins become skin, even materials upset their expected roles. These creatures are not to be trusted, for as soon as we identify with them, we admit that perhaps the definitions they upturn are not so clearly defined as we would like to think.”5 Tempered Beasts provides rich material for introspection and delight while beautifully acknowledging the complexity that links this moment in time to the humans and animals who have come before us and those who will take our place in our absence. As we share the gallery space with monumental creatures, none larger than the size of a rooster, old systems of classification for animals are called into question through the power of visual language. We are also asked to question our own identities as hybridized creatures, for the sculptures in Tempered Beasts expose and reflect back our animal traits. We are at once beast and human. We are the tempered beasts.
2. See Morey’s complete artist statement at http://www.crystalmorey.com/statement.html. 3. See Wrankle’s full artist statement at http://www.russellwrankle.com/artist-statement. 4. Adriel Tong, email to author, Oct 1, 2017. 5. See Pichaske’s complete statement at http://www.lindsaypichaske.com/curriculum-vitae.
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Alessandro Gallo The Road 2016 Stoneware, mixed media 18" x 7" x 7" Courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Gallery
Alessandro Gallo Sitting Duck 2017 Clay, mixed media 12" x 8" x 7"
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right: Crystal Morey New Symbiosis: Reclinging Mule Deer with New Mollusk Growth 2017 Handbuilt porcelain, cone 6, glaze 12.5" x 13" x 7"
Crystal Morey New Symbiosis: Pronghorn 2017 Handbuilt porcelain, cone 6, glaze 10.5" x 6" x 4.5"
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Lindsay Pichaske Little Ginger 2017 Low-fire clay, paint, molted feathers, flocking 10" x 7" x 7"
Lindsay Pichaske Violet 2017 Low-fire clay, molted feathers, flocking, paint, steel, wood 16.5" x 10" x 10"
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right: Adriel Tong Stability, Progress (diptych) 國一制 2017 Earthenware, underglaze, wood blocks each 17" x 23" x 6"
Adriel Tong Sparrows (No) 百雀俑 2017 Terracotta, acryclic paint, paper tags 60" x 38" x 8"
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Russell Wrankle Apex Apex 2015 Clay, glaze 7" x 7" x 12"
Russell Wrankle Frog Muzzle 2015 Clay, glaze 13" x 12" x 14"
Italian born Alessandro Gallo pursued studies in both law and fine art at the University of Genoa, Italy, and Chelsea College of Art in London, respectively. He has traveled extensively in the past seven years in pursuit of residency opportunities at such venues as the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana; La Meridiana in Certaldo, Italy; Seto Ceramics and Glass Art Center in Japan; and the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon. Gallo’s work has been included in dozens of exhibitions, including recent shows at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York, New York; the Jill George Gallery in London; the Abmeyer + Wood Gallery in Seattle, Washington; and Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, Massachusetts.
Crystal Morey’s exposure as a youth to the natural landscape has most certainly shaped her perspective as a maker. No longer in a rural environment, Morey’s porcelain sculptures convey insight into humans’ interactions with the world around them. She says of her work, “Intentionally or unintentionally, we are rapidly affecting changes to the environment that would have taken natural processes millennia. Through these actions we are leaving many vulnerable species and habitats frantic, facing disruptions and uncertain outcomes. In my work I investigate these actions while also creating an evocative and mysterious narrative that shows our interdependence with the land and animals around us.”
Gallo’s sculptures are at once both animal and human, as they pair heads from the animal kingdom with the bodies of humans in familiar postures, exploring behavior, humor, and disposition. He says of his work, “I combine the animal head and the meanings they evoke with the silent language of our body and the cultural codes of fashion in order to portray some individuals, the larger subcultures they belong to, and the habitat we share.”
Morey grew up in rural Northern California, where she received her BFA from the California College of the Arts in Oakland, and her MFA from San Jose State University. A recent graduate, she’s pursued residency opportunities at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine; Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina; and the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon.
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“What separates human from animal? What borders exist between the real and the imagined, the beautiful and the repugnant, the living and the dying, the creator and the made?” asks Lindsay Pichaske.
Now the Ceramics and Wet Shop Technician for The New School-Parsons School Design in New York City, Adriel Tong is a recent MFA graduate from the ceramics department at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. In 2010, he received his BFA in spatial arts from San Jose State University in California. Tong is currently based in Brooklyn, where he creates his ceramic sculptures that investigate a myriad of social and political issues.
Russell Wrankle currently resides in Cedar City, Utah, near Southern Utah University, where he is the 3D Design Fundamentals/Sculpture Professor. He is currently Director at Large for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art (a 3-year appointment). A distinguished maker and teacher, Wrankle has instructed, lectured, and presented at such venues as Arrowmont Craft Center, as part of their Pentaculum working artist invitational in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; at the Fire symposium and panel discussion at Kansas University in Lawrence; and the Emerging Artist exhibition at the 2004 NCECA in Indianapolis, Indiana, among others. He has exhibited work across the US in states such as Utah, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Colorado, Oregon, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
With a plethora of teaching experiences under her belt, Pichaske has inspired dozens of ceramic students at such venues as the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore; the College of Southern Maryland at La Plata; the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C., among others. She herself was a student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (BFA) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (MFA). Pichaske was the Taunt Fellow at the Archie Bray Foundation from 2011 – 2012 and she is represented by Duane Reed Gallery. Pichaske’s creatures are simultaneously bizarre and beautiful, with their skins adorned in fur, sequins, seeds, and other items one wouldn’t necessarily consider an obvious “fit” for clay. Material and process are clearly paramount in her animal sculptures. She says, “I spend endless hours stroking hair onto their backs, arranging the fur on their heads, looking into their eyes to make sure they are just right. My process is a labor of love, as I give impossibly slow birth to each one, and they, in turn, develop lives of their own.”
“My works magnify and conceal truth. They are questions, comments, or answers to the phenomenon of our relationships and present day issues in society. I provide opportunities to be engaged with our cultural hearths,” he says. Tong’s portfolio includes functional, installation, and sculptural ceramics; Tempered Beasts featured life-sized avian sculptures that employed media, in addition to clay, such as acrylic paint, paper, and wood.
Memory, experience, the formal qualities of an object — these all fuel and inspire Wrankle’s making. He observes, “I sculpt gravity and within this gravitational framework I fold fetish, animals, membrane, eroticism, and sex into the subject matter. I begin with a formal concern; that is, can I reproduce an existing object out of clay?”
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Northern Clay Centerâ€™s mission is the advancement of the ceramic arts. Its goals are to promote excellence in the work of clay artists, to provide educational opportunities for artists and the community, and to encourage the publicâ€™s appreciation and understanding of the ceramic arts. Staff Sarah Millfelt, Executive Director Tippy Maurant, Director of Galleries and Events Brady McLearen, Exhibitions Assistant Emily Romens, Galleries Coordinator Board of Directors Craig Bishop, Chair Mary K Baumann, Vice-Chair Brad Meier, Treasurer Heather Nameth Bren, Secretary Bryan Anderson Nan Arundel Lann Briel Robert Briscoe Philip Burke Linda Coffey Sydney Crowder Nancy Hanily-Dolan Bonita Hill, M.D. Christopher Jozwiak Patrick Kennedy Alan Naylor Rick Scott Paul Vahle Honorary Directors Kay Erickson Warren MacKenzie Legacy Directors Andy Boss Joan Mondale Director Emerita Emily Galusha Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Peter Lee. Design by Joseph D.R. OLeary, VetoDesign.com.
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