By Stacy Davies
For some reason, every year I walk in to review the Scripps annual ceramic show—and that is every year—I’m once again shocked that it’s not filled with boring old tableware and vases I find at every other ceramic public display. I should know by now that Scripps is different (and that I’m ill-equipped to judge what I consider “boring old ceramics”); nonetheless, whenever I read the “c” word, my brain ends up tangled in a loopy loop of teeeeapotttts. . . .
As per usual, Scripps has straightened out my noodle, regardless of the overly-scientific curatorial statement and title of the exhibit. Don’t let “De-natured Nature” at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery put you off, because it’s one heck of a show, and while the works by Jonathan McMillan and Priscilla Hollingsworth fit snuggly into curator Virginia Scotchie’s definition of “de-natured” (“the process by which proteins are altered”), obvious biological analogies basically end there. If a theme is necessary to tie them together, of course, then we should probably just settle on: exceptional.
Case in point: McMillan’s sluggy, dripping globulars of terra cotta and hand-built stoneware that hang like pod sacks from a wire stand or burble out of a ruby red shower head are equal parts earthly and inorganic. Studded with what appear to be metal plugs filled with seeds suspended in resin, the mossy-green One Drop and tangerine orange Postponed are nothing short of mesmerizing.
Likewise, Pricilla Hollingsworth’s series, Game Pieces, a dozen, roughly two-foot high thrown sculptures, make the corner of the room they inhabit feel like a garden on Mars. Brightly colored and abstracted, with tendrils and lumps derived from patterns of microscopic cell structures, these sometimes prickly creatures would make for one very interesting game of chess, indeed.
If “un-naturing” things is the aim, then warped visions of tradition can be found in Rebecca Manson’s series of what might be called “tea cups on acid.” Here, glazed and fired clay appear to be the dainty porcelain accoutrements we instinctively recognize belonged to our grandmothers, and yet each delicate vessel of etiquette appears to be in metamorphosis—building on new limbs or breaking down old barriers. Similarly, Kate Roberts plucks a page from the past in Scarlet and Melanie, two chicken-wired, hoop skirt frames overlaid with ceramic drops akin to protein deposits. Here, however, the Gone with the Wind ladies (or rather, their insanely restrictive apparel) are given their rightful sentimental places, with Melanie fully-conceived and dotted with ribbons, and Scarlet only partially completed, a mass of ugly wire making up the bulk of her bodice—just when you thought these fashion staples from a time forgotten couldn’t get any more uncomfortable looking.
Other fine works are also included from Frieda Dean, Alex Hibbit, Richard Hirsch and Adam Shiverdecker, with Bri Kinnard’s hanging bouquet of terra cotta and red terrra sigillata, Rings, a stand out, and Jeff Monogram’s minimalist, nicotine-stained wax globe on a bed of clay, Weight of Sound and Smoke, is a piece that will definitely make you consider sticking on “the patch” once again.
En masse, it adds up to nothing you (or I) have probably ever seen before, and proves once again that when it comes to redefining notions of an underappreciated art form, Scripps sits proudly atop the terra cotta heap.
Denatured Nature: Scripps College 69th Ceramic Annual, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, 251 E. 11th St., Claremont, (909) 621-8000; www.scrippscollege.edu/williamson-gallery/. Open Wed-Sun, 1PM-5PM. Thru April 7. Free.