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Limitless, Beyond the Boundaries: CLAY by Lucie Smoker

(left) Matt Mitros, Tuscaloosa, AL, Trees and Lines, Ceramic, wood, plastic, 14” x 12” x 4” (center) Brad Blair, Tallahassee, FL, Aqua Hopper, Earthenware clay, polymer clay, hair, 7” x 7” x 9.5” (right) Lucien M. Koonce, Haydenville, MA, Guinomi with Bidoro, Hand carved and hollowed (kurinuki technique) stoneware clay, shino (oni) glaze, natural ash glaze; fired on sea shells; wood fired (C. Gustin anagama), 2” x 2.25” x 2.5”

“It’s about being human, living on this planet,” said Douglas Elder of CLAY, the juried exhibition opening September 13 at Firehouse Art Center in Norman. “With social media, we sometimes lose that connection, but we will never lose our visual iconic communication. People feel the need to express themselves from scratch, from the earth.”

“The passion for clay is a weird love affair,” said Asprey. “When I first walked into a ceramics class I had no idea about this muggy, human, expressionistic, gestural process. It’s controlled pyromania.” The art of working this earthy medium drew him in. “So reactive in the beginning,” he continued, “the clay then becomes a semi-hard bisque.”

1971, the center has over 100 clay works in its permanent collection, an ongoing resource for students and art lovers alike. The FAC has broadened and expanded its non-profit mission with instruction and experiences in sculpture, painting, drawing, jewelry construction, stone carving, and glasswork—as well as the highrisk process of ceramics.

Formed by sunlight baking rocks, rain washing away sediments, and wind carrying tiny particles across continents, clay is the earth’s reply to the passage of time. Without shape but inviting form, it seems to be saying, “What’s next?”

Through fluid but distinct stages of clay manipulation, the artist’s vision first spills forth like liquid into muddy slip, then coagulates into a semi-solid form. At each stage, ideas deepen as the clay slowly solidifies and rough forms develop minute details. The firing stage brings one last refinement, a delicate but rock-hard clarity of vision--with the threat of failure.

This exhibition is a return to its roots offering even more than its $1,500 in juried awards. To participants, CLAY is a chance for recognition, to build a name as an artist. Director of the FAC, Elder explained, “We believe in juried exhibitions as a first step to helping artists elevate their work.”

The Firehouse Art Center (FAC) challenged artists to answer that question with works of at least 75% clay which “look beyond the expected boundaries, transcend them, and express a strong personal vision,” said Stuart Asprey, guest juror and Assistant Professor of Ceramics at the University of Oklahoma. An awardwinning ceramic artist himself, Asprey looks at clay art as sculpture, with or without function. Ceramic arts stretch far beyond the clay pot. Most of us have seen prehistoric vessels for transporting items from point A to point B. We’ve marveled at clay idols while listening to the sacred myths of lost worlds. We’ve even eaten our suppers from ceramic plates--microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe. But the modern artist uses clay differently from all of these. With shape, context, humor, texture, he tries to say something about this life on this earth right now.

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Clay art has to stand up to fire in a kiln. There’s a certain architecture, an exact science, to the creation of objects that are born, not annihilated, at 2300 degrees. If a wall is structurally weak or a single piece of clay too rich in moisture, the heat of the kiln seizes on that weakness and kaboom, a single flaw blows weeks of work to smithereens. Only a certain type of artist takes on that risk. The same sort that can look at a lump of mud and envision an idea taken to its apex. Perhaps that is why Asprey says, “The one common thread that runs through the exhibit is the love and passion for clay.” The FAC understands that passion like no other venue. Founded by ceramic artists in

Partially funded by the Oklahoma Arts Council, The Norman Arts Council, and the City of Norman. The FAC will host Second Friday receptions for CLAY on September 13 and October 11 at 444 South Flood Avenue in Norman. You can visit the exhibit during regular hours until October 21. Call (405) 329-4523 or visit normanfirehouse.com for more information. Expect to connect with something beyond the boundaries. FAC director Elder says, “As we fire CLAY, the possibilities are limitless.” n As a suspense author, Lucie Smoker explores the way art shows us what we cannot see. Her first mystery, Distortion, features murder in reverse perspective. More at luciesmoker.wordpress.com.

Art Focus Oklahoma, September/October 2013  

September/October 2013 Art Focus Oklahoma is a bimonthly publication of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition dedicated to stimulating insight...

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