A piece from the exhibit More Than Skin Deep

La Capretta took a field trip last Tuesday: Nancy, Lynsi, Joy Bridy and Lynsi’s visiting friend from college Jenna. Baltimore Clay Works. Kid in candy store? Yes. Unlike the many other times I have overdosed on vitrified narcotics, however, I walked away feeling lighter– not only for a lack of literature and that my purchases would be mailed to me, but also for the knowledge that I was more than an aspiring artist. What exactly is it that I have aspired to and accomplished? Hold your enthusiastic curiosity–artist statement to follow.

One of the many staircases that felt haunted

The brick building that houses Baltimore Clayworks is far from plumb, with crooked stairs and halls that wind you in and out of rooms with all but the haunting ghosts of former residents. Each turned corner held a strange, new gift. The Member Artists’ Gallery was full of pieces that ranged from affordable to outrageous. The hook was Yoshi Fujii’s carved celadon pieces. Predictably I touched them first– heavier than expected. The love affair, surprisingly, was with miniature jewelry boxes from an artist unremembered–everything from curly-cue feet to pea-pod handles. I tore myself away from the store, only because I was jealous that my friends were off to see even more clay.

When I walked into Matthew Hyleck’s exhibit, the transportation to my past was complete. The reduction gas fired tea bowls and field platters were a monument to all I craved as a student. The surprise pool of crackled green in the bottom of an unassuming shino. The white slip striations made infinitely deep by the cast of ash. The shadows of Japan at once heavy and light. To my surprise I walked away after buying only two of his tea bowls. Christmas comes when Fed-Ex brings them to my door.

Venus by Jason Briggs

Next was the exhibit “More than Skin Deep” curated by Mary K. Cloonan. At times the pull to see everything was like the tense determination to make it through a really scary movie– especially with Jason Brigg’s work. So sucked into his masterfully crafted porcelain flesh pillows with enough of the uncanny to make me slightly nauseated, Lynsi had to drag me to the next piece. Thankfully Eric Seritella’s birch bark tea pot reminded me obsessive realism could still be wholesome.

Birch Bark Teapot (?) by Eric Seritella

In the past I would have hung on for an hour or two deeply sighing in between sessions of furious note taking on techniques and artists. By the grace of maturity I have put my days of art history in the trash, content to take away pleasant memories rather than a calloused middle-finger and a heaving heart. My romp through the exhibit culminated with Leigh Taylor Mickelson’s conversation pieces, and Jenny Mendes’ psychologically strained stories on clay tablets. Mickelson had ten to fifteen pairs of part alien, part plant life pods hanging in balance with one another. Each pairing felt like an intimate tete a tete between friends, lovers or even animals with their food.

Untitled (?) by Leigh Taylor Mickelson

Mendes’ work was much more erie. In essence they are a nod to Ancient Greek black and white figure ware. In a sparse landscape of obscure symbols, one or two figures engage in inexplicable activities and interactions. The muscular calves, miniscule ankles and dancing feet are what particularly remind me of Greek vase paintings. I confess that my interest in her was made more acute by a sneak peak at the works in progress next door at the workshop that Mendes was conducting.

Untitled (?), by Jenny Mendes

And now the artist statement. As I payed for my Hylek teabowls, the assistant behind the counter asked, “So what do you work in?” I was surprised to hear myself say, “Oh, I’m not a clay artist. I’m a painter and writer.” What!? For years I have been telling people that I am a painter and a potter, and not just for the alliterative way it rolls off my tongue. After my casual comment I walked through the rest of the field trip in a cathartic identity crisis. Was I abandoning my clay in the overwhelming guest studios of Baltimore Clayworks, cluttered with tools, unfinished pieces and some works that would never sell? I felt claustrophobic at the thought of my future in clay. To ease the constriction I congratulated myself for making strange drawings of bunnies. At least these could easily slip into a slim black portfolio when my narcissistic hubris wears off, and I realize no one really looks at this crap (except for you, Alan–thanks!).

Although I felt lighter as I walked to lunch, the sense that I was no longer a clay artist gnawed at my insides– almost like walking away from a lover. The next morning when I yet again pondered what the heck I was going to do with all the bisque-ware pre-fabs from my majolica days, it occurred to me. I loved Mendes and Mickelson because they made stories and conversations in clay. What do I love about my bunnies, other strange drawings and poems of late? They are all conversations that I want to have with people. When I sit down to write a poem or draw bunny, it often starts with, “Now what would I say to so and so if they owned a pair of ears, or I had a pair of balls.” Then Lynsi’s recent suggestion floated up to consciousness– “Why not paint the bunnies on these pots.” And so this week it started.

Armed with my thermos of decaf coffee splashed & sweetened with goat milk & turbinado sugar, and a timid euphoria, I dragged down some pots and my jars of underglazes. My close friends will laugh at the clouds, and cutsey flowers, but I plan to make things edgier this time– don’t you worry.

I can’t wait to see Bunny’s ambivalent face and impossible eyes on the sickening sweet backdrop of close-to-kitch painted teapots. How better to tell someone, “… and the Horse you rode in on.“, than to give them kitchenware that will haunt them everyday.

So, not really an artist’s statment… At least the depression with which only closet art supply hoarders like myself are often paralyzed is gone for now. I will report back soon with progress. Til then, look at my bunnies, dammit!

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