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ISSUE 120 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/23/2007

Flaten features ceramic art

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Friday, February 23, 2007

Whether you're an experienced ceramist or your only familiarity with the material comes from the cafeteria dishware, the wide variety of artwork in “Ceramics Today: Local, regional and national talent,” currently in Flaten Art Museum, is not to be missed. The exhibit features a multitude of pieces by 31 artists that range from the functional to the experimental.

One of the most intriguing aspects of ceramics is the way in which artists can make the medium look like vastly different material. One such piece, perhaps the most immediately noticeable one in the exhibit, is a large hot-pink rabbit head by Billy Mayer titled “Oh Happy Day.” A gold heart, inscribed with “Victory Death” in intertwining red letters, balances on the rabbit's forehead. The rabbit head does look fragile, but appears fuzzy to the touch, like a stuffed animal won at a county fair.

Another illusory sculpture is “Perch” by Mika Negishi Laidlaw. Small off-white pillows of earthenware and porcelain stack on top of one another, forming a tower that holds at its top a handful of abstract shapes. Laidlaw, who works as an assistant professor of ceramics in the Department of Art at Minnesota State University - Mankato,

successfully gives the ceramic the look of fabric with multiple textures, complete with wrinkles, seams and stitches.

The two works by Paul Dresand, “Another Case for Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “Black Bag,” however, are the uncontested winners for illusion and two of the most impressive pieces in the show. “Another Case” looks convincingly like a real suitcase and gun, while Dresand’s “Black Bag” alone makes a trip to the exhibit worthwhile. His remarkable attention to detail on the piece includes wrinkles, folds, creases and wear, and even inches from the ceramic, you might think it was genuine leather.

Other pieces include Minneapolis-resident Theresa Puffer’s “Migration” and “Colony-Colonies-Colonize-Colonization” serving sets and corresponding acrylic paintings. Each piece is decorated with a busy but pleasing circle and dot design, influenced by formalism and expressionism, and what Puffer calls “flat” colors. “With either ceramic materials or paint,” she says in her artist’s statement, “I create patterns which give order to and further understandings of the behavioral, physical or emotional concepts and phenomena.”

Compared with Puffer’s work, the bowls and vase by Bob Jewett show just how different pieces of the same material and form can be. Jewett’s simple, porcelain vessels reflect images from his childhood growing up on Martha’s Vineyard and his experience as a sailor. Each work is elegant and earthy, but the standout piece is the larger “Martha’s Vineyard Serving Bowl” with its traces of pink flowers.

Don't miss the four earthenware works by Chris Holmquist ’70. His glassy blue, tan and red “Clown Riding Horse,” “Clown Holding Dog,” “Clown” and “Clown Riding Blue Elephant” are friendly and whimsical, and a nursery or child’s room would welcome them individually or as companion pieces. Holmquist graduated with an art degree from St. Olaf and studied in Koishiwara, Japan with master potter Kumao Ota after college. He currently teaches art at Northfield High School.

Most of the pieces in “Ceramics Today” are for sale, with prices ranging from $24 to $6,000. Many of the works, such as platters, bowls, jars, boxes and vases, are both usable and ornamental, while others, like the abstract masks by guest curator and Associate Professor of Art Ron Gallas, are purely decorative. Visit the exhibit before it closes on Feb. 25.

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