The two traditional craftsmen depicted on the massive sign outside Scripps College's Williamson Gallery are hard at work, sculpting ceramic masterpieces that promise to look a lot like what we usually imagine such masterpieces to look like: formally pristine vessels that share an aesthetic sensibility with Brancusi.
For 65 years, Scripps College has honored ceramic art and this year's annual exhibition confronts the medium's stigmas head-on, suggesting that its baggage only adds to its potential.
Curated by Adam Davis, the 65th Ceramics Annual marries a marginal medium to conversations about marginality. The exhibition's subtitle, Wearing it On Your Sleeve: Sympathizers, Empathizers, and Provocateurs, gets at the solidarity that the work evokes. All of the artists featured seem as committed to their medium's physical allure as to their conceptual bent. Political ceramics, it turns out, is as formally pristine and seductive as the stigmatized ceramics of yore. It's just a lot more irreverent
Charles Krafft's Spone Sentry Series, hung regally on the gallery's right wall, is a clever dig-the seven shovels with bronze pinecones decorating each handle evoke commemorative plaques, but they are obviously acerbic. Even if you don't know that the heads of the shovels were made from the cremated remains of human bones (the remains would have been, literally, thrown out if Krafft hadn't stepped in to salvage them from a Seattle funeral home), you immediately understand that a reversal of sorts is happening; these objects of manual labor are being used ritualistically and inventively, but rituals and inventiveness aren't supposed to go hand-in-hand.
Jeff Irwin's earthenware animal busts similarly embrace and reject traditional tropes. White with tree-like limbs protruding from their bodies, the busts look like they could come to life as cartoon characters, yet they are displayed with utmost severity, mounted to the wall or set atop earthenware pedestals.
Io Palmer's Combs, brushes and hairballs joins bodily quirkiness with rigid patterning, using ceramic combs that look like something out of a Tim Burton film; Katherine Ross uses the properties of porcelain plates to simultaneously erase and reveal history; and Anders Ruhwald's big, orange, nose-like body merges kitsch and refinement so flawlessly that you could easily mistake the piece's sauciness for sincerity.
In short, the Scripps 65th Ceramics Annual allows art to do what it does best: speak out through its physicality.
(All images courtesy Scripps College's Williamson Gallery and the artists)