Playing with Fire
By Stacy Davies
For 67 years, Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery has put on display some of the finest ceramic works from around the nation, and this year in particular, guest curator Tim Berg has filled the annual exhibit, “Making Fun,” with precisely that—frolicky merriments that both tickle your sensibilities and stimulate your pop culture consciousness.
From the get-go, we are sucked into a topsy-turvy world where anything goes: Serving as no-nonsense sentries to the exhibit are Matt Wedel’s enormous, poofy poodles—one so cotton-candy pink it might make even Zsa Zsa Gabor’s wig stand on end, and the other so eye-blindingly golden that it could easily generate some Old Testament condemnations of false idolatry. Wedell’s third piece, Flower Tree is equally towering, an orange rocky pile that peaks into a softly flowering blue-green desert plant – representing the perfect funky hybrid of nature’s penchant for life from lifelessness.
Continuing the grand-scale stream, Peter Morgan’s series of commercial snacks merged with historic and mythic storylines are also a hoot. In The Icecream-burrg Slurptastic Titanic Disaster of 2008, a blueberry Slurpee the size of a middle school student, is adorned with yummy ice cream sandwiches that have also unfortunately proven to be the downfall of a now-upright luxury ocean liner, and it does make you wonder if you should really be laughing (without remarking to any passersby that you’re suddenly craving some Dairy Queen). Morgan’s The Hypothetical Prehistoric Giant Wolvervine Battling a Polar Bear over a Dead Beluga Whale, on Top of a Glazed Huckleberry Jelly Doughnut clearly needs no further description, except to say that once again you may feel pangs of guilt while plotting a drive later on through a Krispy Kreme shop. Morgan’s The Nacho-mess Monster is utterly weird and thus incredibly entertaining as we spy a glazy dinosaurian swimming through a sea of cheese, jalapeños and tortilla chips the size of a Smart Car—or at least the next incarnation of one.
Moving into the figurative and whimsical are Pattie Chalmers’ brilliant storybook scenarios from her childhood. In Brownie meets Mudman (The Lonely Rock), a goofy little girl wearing the precursor to a Girl Scouts uniform gleefully stands by a roaring fire and wee tent holding hands with a drippy, faceless creature, a perfectly benign imaginary friend to star in little girl campfire tales. In 1972, we see more details from Chalmers’ life emerge; standing off to the side, the little girl now watches her square-looking, bespectacled father enjoy a picnic with a mustached rock (and paint its portrait). A Canadian Mounty stands at attention while a mischievous beaver gnaws away at a mailbox post, and we are left to wonder if this is a good memory or a bad one. Where, after all, is mother and why would dad paint a rock instead of his daughter? Of course, if mother is the rock, she just needs a good shave. As with the previous two pieces, When You’re Not Paying Attention is equally fraught with humorous and witty details: in this scenario, we find a woman and man having tea in a living room. Something is clearly afoot, however, since the phone receiver is off the hook, the man has just spilled tea on his jacket and, oh yes, there is a big, white ghost hovering behind the TV set. Whatever Chalmers’ issues are, we totally love them.
Other notable works include: Thomas Müller’s encased unfired elephants standing on rotting tomatoes, which are conclusively gross and fascinating (they’ll be even more moldy-fuzzy by the time you read this); Janice Jakielski’s gorgeous mixed media pieces of porcelain and silk headwear and cornfields (with fabric goggles); and Ayumi Horie and Sara Varon’s hilarious series of jars and plates illustrated with bunnies bathing, monkeys boxing, vampire dogs and rabbits and monkeys pursuing terrified chickens (Also don’t miss Gerit Grimm’s delightful Souvenir Booth, where you will find a host of porcelain girls in various states of swimming and fish-morphing).
Finally, we come to the only video installation, Barnaby Barford’s Damaged Goods, an incredibly touching stop-motion story of two porcelain figurines who long to bridge the gap between their class and, literally, their shelves-apart distance, all in the name of love. Filled with a darling troupe of carnies and creatures, if this one doesn’t make you tear up, you may want to check yourself for pulse. Fortunately, if you miss this exhibition, you can at least find this little gem on YouTube—and then you can ball your eyes out in private, you big softy.
“Making Fun: 67th Scripps Ceramic Annual” at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, 251 E. 11th St., Claremont, (909) 621-8000; www.scrippscollege.edu/williamson-gallery. Open Wed-Sun, 11AM-5PM. Free. Thru April 3.