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NCECA was in my city this year! I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, and I am still processing everything I saw/learned/did.

The best part of the whole conference (for me at least) (and excluding seeing Carleton people) was HIDENSEEKAH, an independently organized event on Instagram. You follow @hidenseekah AND the 63 artists that account is following. During the conference 25 different artists posted cryptic picture clues to different locations around downtown Milwaukee. The first person to reach that spot found a piece of work by the artist who posted the picture and they got to keep it! Forever!

This was a really fun event for me. Even though I was born and raised here, and even though I work downtown every day, there were still clues that totally flummoxed me. Not all though! I was extremely lucky to find two pieces!

The first! I saw a clue posted by Joe Pintz (@joepintz). It went up at noon, and I realized immediately that it was the silly red phone booth outside John Hawkes Pub. I ran at a dead run from the convention center, literally gaving myself an asthma attack. But it was totally worth it because when I finally got there and saw something waiting in the booth, I basically lost my mind. From there I ran to Red Arrow Park where a piece by Crystal Morey had yet to be found. I didn’t find that one, but I was there when a girl did. It was so exciting!
Hidenseekah - Joe Pintz
The second! I saw the clue posted by Carole Epp (@musingaboutmud), and from there it was a mad dash to the lake front. I could tell by the stickers that it was at the Art Museum, and from the concrete wall that it’s on the old part of the building. [Side Note: The new section of the museum is the most recognizable. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava and is really beautiful and popular. Blah blah blah. The other half of the museum is still great though. It is beneath the War Memorial designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. It is a hulking modernist building overlooking the lake, all angles everywhere. It’s the art museum of my youth and I love it.] I came around a corner and saw the power box with a couple parcels stuffed around it. In the picture below I am sitting on the ground for two reasons: 1. I lost my mind and was so excited I couldn’t stand; and 2. my body said, “Hey pal, you are tired. Sit down. You live here now.”
Hidenseekah - Carole Epp

 

In both instances, I arrived at the spot the pieces were hidden literally seconds before other people. I think over the course of three days I probably walked/ran 20+ miles around Downtown Milwaukee. At least!

I am so incredibly grateful for this event. I am a public librarian, and I don’t have access to a clay studio. I don’t have a lot of money and I also don’t have work to trade anymore. This was an unparalleled opportunity for me to own extremely wonderful ceramic things that are usually out of my price range. It was also a great opportunity for the 63 participating artists to increase their presence. I’ve been out of clay for a few years now, but now I feel like I can jump back in because I know at least a little bit about what’s going on in the wider community.

If you go to the conference in Rhode Island next year, you MUST hidenseekah!

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This year NCECA’s annual conference was held in my hometown of Milwaukee! It happened last week/weekend and it was a total blast. The last time I was fortunate enough to attend was the 2010 conference in Philadelphia, PA. It was so incredible! This conference was just as fantastic. There were so many amazing shows all around town, including one at my library!

NCECA Milwaukee: Material World

This is a bit of the graphic design used for the conference. I like it quite a bit. Image via: NCECA.

I was really worried people wouldn’t like my town. Milwaukee can be rusty and weird. We’re so close to Chicago, which is clearly a bigger better city to go to. Milwaukee often gets bypassed. Who can blame people? I’m glad NCECA wasn’t fooled by Chicago’s mass transit, cultural icons, museums, etc. and decided to come to Milwaukee. We have a lot to offer! Judging by the conversations I had during the conference and all the great photos on Instagram, I think people really liked my city! As usual, my worry was unfounded. The theme of this year’s conference was Material World, which is very fitting for a city that was once a beacon of industry and is now… not. A lot of the downtown/third ward gallery space is former industrial space. Milwaukee is lousy with defunct warehouses and factories. Clay is such a long-lived medium, and a conference of very serious clay folk seems like a great place to talk about some of the bigger issues of clay. Cities are constantly in flux, and the world of clay is as well. I think a city like mine, which is a weird mix of old and new, is a perfect fit for a meeting of the clay community.

There will certainly be a post to follow about HIDENSEEKAH, which was so insanely fun. There were a few really good lectures I attended that I want to write about as well! Lots of fodder!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
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I was looking at a gift guide on Miss Moss (whom I lovelovelove. Not to be confused with Swiss Miss, whom I also lovelovelove) and she included this stripes cup from Rennes:

Rennes stripes cup

I was salivating instantly. Look at those stripes! Look at that exposed clay! Look at the speckles! It has so many lovely beautiful things I want/love. Their ceramics collection (pictured below) is beautiful and subtle: matte glazes, simple colors, clear forms. Even though the cups, mugs, and jars are minimal, there is a lot of complexity there too. On the mugs, the handles have squared edges, extending pretty far off the surface and connecting symetrically close to the top and bottom of the form. The speckled matte glazes are another beautiful touch. The speckles let you know that the glaze isn’t uniform, that it doesn’t behave the same way on every cup in every firing. I love the squared off edges of the handles because the glaze doesn’t sit evenly there. It makes a line, emphasizing the curve of that handle, letting a little more of the clay body show through. Boy howdy, do I ever like this collection.

Rennes ceramics

Rennes, I learned, is a design studio based in Boston. They are named for Rennes-le-Château, a chateau in southwestern France that is apparently the center of some conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail! They comically note that they “were into [it] way before the Da Vinci Code.” Their ethos is to make things, close to home, with beautiful details and excellent craftsmanship. Their (too small! Gimme more!) ceramics collection fits right into that. Rennes also means reindeer, and you know how I feel about antlers.

Note:
Photos from rennes – Ceramics.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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I know it’s been a while since I have posted about clay, but you forgive me, right?seletti_desktructure_warehouse_1_web_dr

I am obsessed with this: the Deskructure Desktop Organizer by designer Hector Serrano. It’s an industrial porcelain landscape for your desk junk! I love these kinds of buildings (’cause I’m a good Milwaukee girl) so I am totally smitten with this piece. There are more (a boat, a London-esque city), but the one that most appeals to me is the factory. Milwaukee was once part of the Manufacturing Belt, which has since deteriorated into the periperhy of the Rust Belt. Most of the factories have closed, but the city is still littered with incredible industrial buildings. They’ve been converted to apartments, shops, offices, etc. but they still have the look of severity and purpose that a factory or warehouse has.

I live quite close to the Milwaukee Forge (see below!), which celebrated its 100th birthday this past summer. It is such a delight to walk past and look in to see all that complex industrial machinery. It’s one of the few places that isn’t post-industrial but industrial-industrial. This ceramic organizer reminds me so much of all the component parts of the forge. If only the organizer lit up at night with big open windows in the summertime because then it would be perfect.

Milwaukee Forge

Via: Swiss Miss (whom I lovelovelove).

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
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I was in Northfield a couple weeks ago!  I visited expressly to see a few events that were very important to me when I was at Carleton: Empty Bowls, the senior art show, and the fifth-year show at the NAG.  This is the first of the posts about those wonderful events, a post about “Again, Again” and the fantastic work created by my friends and Carleton fifth-year interns Kristina Eldrenkamp and Emma Bentley.

Again, Again series by Joey Fleming; the rest of the exhibit in the background

Emma has a true gift with words (she even won the Huntington Poetry Prize at Carleton), and combines poetry and visual interest in such a way that could be overpowering would that the phrases weren’t so perfect.  My mother “didn’t get” the collected cigarette butts, but I think that’s maybe because she was trying to read more into it.  Knowing Emma, I don’t see some post-modern, post-everything piece about health and smoking or any of that art school too-overt stuff.  I mean, maybe it was, but like the titles say they’re For Tony not for you.  I see them as collections, arranged beautifully and masterfully inside precious fixed spaces.  The other piece of hers in the show was For Starters, a poem in the form of a list, in the form of silk screened words, arranged on blocks on the wall.  The phrases are at once delicate and commanding, filled with the nuance of experience and inexperience.  Some of my favorite phrases (which were extremely difficult to narrow down because I love every single word):

I want to be the kind of woman who you can just tell that she’s serious about her future.

I want to be in a railroad town in 1903, and I want that railroad town to be Las Vegas, Nevada.

I want to be in Texas in the early 90’s and I want to be raising children there, in Texas in the early 90’s.

I want music in my head all day long.

I want to love my body.

I want to hug people casually, without feeling uncomfortable.

I want to be hugged.

I want to be the kind of woman who accepts that she will be misunderstood, who maybe sometimes even wants that.

I want to believe that aging isn’t so bad.

I want to age gracefully.

I don’t want to age.

My mother saw the show before I did and she loved Kristina’s maps.  It’s hard for me to imagine works that could be better suited to my mother’s interests.

  1. She is extremely forgetful, so the houses Kristina created would be perfect for her.
  2. She works at the Department of City Development, so she deals with houses and maps and plans all the time.  She also used to be an appraiser and has an enormous appreciation for new and historical architecture alike.

It’s sort of like Kristina’s drawings were made for her.  Besides my mother’s endless admiration, her work is very thoughtful and combines her interests in a way that isn’t just interesting to her.  I too loved the house plans, but, being a print girl, her pieces Boden I, II, and III were beautiful and fascinating.  Color intaglio is difficult and weird, but she is the kind of woman who loves a clean print so I can really see her embracing the challenge.  The prints were subtle and intricate and layered and I think I could stare at them for hours without losing interest.  Emma and Kristina are two tremendously talented women and I am so pleased I got to see what they have been working on since our senior show.

The show also features the work of the St. Olaf fifth-year interns, Molly Baeverstad, Joey Fleming, Erica Naylor, Dylan Nelson, and Trygve Wastvedt.  I find that I never really come away from a group show being impressed with everyone, so I’m going to talk about he artists I really loved, Baeverstad, Fleming, and, to a lesser extent, Naylor.

Molly Baeverstad did a series of color monoprints, each with delightfully strange names that were almost close to words I recognized (so I really apologize if I wrote some down wrong) [Update: I figured out how I recognized some of them].  I love how the prints turned out, but I really want to ask her about her process.  How many layers, what kind of ink, what kind of plates.  The designs were abstract, colorful, layered, delicate.  Mostly I just wanted to talk to her more about them.  I loved them, but I’m confident I would love them more if I had more information.

Joey Fleming’s work was really a treat.  There was a wide range of material that it was hard not to be interested.  I liked the work he did with text, mostly I loved how beautifully the text was rendered onto the clay and the interaction with the glaze, but the text itself was sort of hit or miss.  I’m generally not a fan of spreading text out over a bunch of pots, but it’s usually at least a little interesting.  What really interested me about Fleming’s work was the faceted vases and cups.  Those pieces had such grace and motion without being “perfect” in the classic porcelain sense.  The glaze worked with the forms, giving a great variation of surface and color.  I am a huge fan of purposeful imperfection in clay.  Imperfection can often mean badly thrown, heavy, and accidentally glazed well.  Fleming’s pieces were imperfect, but in the beautiful, effortless way that comes from hard work, trial and error, talent and luck.  There was also a huge volume of his work in the show, which to me indicates so much hard work because for every piece you include there are probably two or three you left out.

There are more comments about specific pieces in the photo gallery, so I encourage clicking around to see and read more.  Unfortunately, you missed your shot to see Again, Again at the Northfield Arts Guild if you’re reading this now.  It was a really excellent show, and I am really pleased I got to see it when I visited.

Click through to see a gallery of images from the show.

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for something personal and fun to send someone?  Consider a postcup.  It’s a simple porcelain mug that comes with a special marker.  You write your message then bake the cup in a regular oven (no kiln needed) and then send it on its way, though I think it requires more than the $0.29 of a conventional postcard.  The message is permanent, but since it was only baked on in an oven (is there even a cone for that?) they suggest you wash it by hand and avoid abrasives.  I think it makes a really sweet message delivery system.

You can buy your own Postcup  from the really lovely site Bailey Doesn’t Bark.

Ayumi Horie is one of my favorite ceramic artists ever, and this video of her dry throwing (!!!) makes me love her so much more (as if that’s even possible).

 

At the end of the summer when I was finally moving back to Milwaukee from Northfield, it took forever to get everything packed and moved including tons of ceramics.  It was an incredibly stressful ordeal.  Fortunately some of the jars and baking dishes I made found their way into my parents’ farmhouse in northern Wisconsin.  They fit beautifully in the kitchen.

The house is heavenly, especially the kitchen.  It’s huge and open with lots of windows and really beautiful woodwork.  I am just really glad my stuff fit into such a beautiful space.

Gert Germeraad is a Swedish artist I quite like, who works mainly in ceramic sculptures.  I first encountered his work on access ceramics, which has images from his “Depicting Criminals” series.  The criminals in the series are actually people arrested by the gestapo during World War II, and their crimes (like “escape from work” and “illegal relations”) are part of the title of each piece.  What initially drew me into the work was Germeraad’s beautiful visual sensibility combined with the subtle approach to a challenging subject matter.  Much of his work focuses on portraiture and human expression.  From his website:

According to the American psychologist Paul Ekman, there are only a few ‘basic’ facial expressions which are worldwide the same, independent on culture.
These expressions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and, although less clear, contempt.

Germeraad explores the universality of expressions in his series “Portrait of a Man”.  The piece is a series of busts of one man, each with one of the basic human facial expressions.  It is odd and true that one can identify and identify with the expressions.

Portrait of a man, 2004 - 2006, ceramic and pigments (water color painted after firing at 1200° C)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a good series.  Germeraad really does a series well.  Repeated images are always really striking and add weight to the subject matter.  A single expressive portrait of a man could be interesting, beautiful, and moving.  But 9 portraits of the same man has a much greater effect.  You see progression, you see contrast.

Another series I love is based on physiognomy — the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face.  It was a popular school of thought in the middle ages, but was also revived in the 20th century.  Germeraad took physiognomic descriptions of different indicators and sculpted them into faces.  The expressions are blank, and the faces themselves are  normal yet somehow looking at them evokes an odd reaction in me.  The descriptions are pretty outlandish and it’s clear that you cannot infer the sum total of someone’s character by examining their face.  When I encounter these sculptures, I think about the absurdity of the descriptions but also the kinds of snap judgments I might make if I met these people.

For the junior art seminar (which I took as a senior), we had to create a blog on a theme.  My group’s theme was color, and Gert Germeraad was one of the artists I chose (the other was Misty Gamble).  Many ceramic artists look down on using non-ceramic, non-glaze methods of coloring pieces.  Ceramics can be sort of cultish, and using a non-ceramic process to color a piece is seen as sacrilegious in some circles.  Obviously Germeraad doesn’t subscribe to that.  After the piece is complete, he colors the work with watercolor.  I think this adds dimension and a tenderness to the pieces in a way that underglaze or glaze couldn’t.

For more information about Gert Germeraad and more images of his work, you can visit his website at www.gertgermeraad.eu.

My library locker is right next to the ceramics section, and while browsing recently I stumbled onto a book about Howard Kottler.  He was a ceramic artist working in the sixties and seventies on the west coast and was influenced by and worked with seminal west coast artists like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson.  Kottler uses mass produced ceramic plates instead of throwing his own.  He didn’t want to comment on the plate as an object, but focused on exploring social and political commentary through altered decals of famous images.

Colonial Rockettes (1967)

The title of this post refers to a quote by Patricia McDonnell in an essay on Marsden Hartley to describe how he simultaneously addressed and dodged his homosexuality in his paintings.  Kottler was not a child of the free love 1960s, he was a product of the great depression and World War II.  Like gay artists of that time (Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg), Kottler uses coded references to queer culture in his work.  His plates are whimsical and entirely palatable to a mainstream audience, but simultaneously subversive and loaded with meaning and symbolism.  In Colonial Rockettes every man essentially kick the man in front of him, a funny composite of a colonial image and a modern image but also a big gay orgy (of sorts).

Signals (1967-1972)

In Signals, he took a decal of The Last Supper and cut out only the hands of the figures and a circular border.  The phantom hands float on the plate and bring attention to a part of the painting you might not have noticed before.  Those hands also connote hand gestures that indicate sexual preferences within the gay community.  Like Signals, Sign Language Kottler repeats a hand, removing fingers to that only the outstretched pinkie is left — a gesture connoting effeminate men.  I love that  someone’s super conservative family could be eating their supper off these plates.  Outwardly they are visually captivating and there is a clear thematic idea, whether or not they know what it is.

Twins (c. 1970)

The series that I most like is based on two paintings: The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence.  Kottler repeats The Blue Boy, cuts him up, reassembles him in different order, changes his size.  In Twins he pairs Pinkie and Blue Boy, but both have Blue Boy’s head.  It’s beautiful and goofy, but also picture of effeminate gay men.

I like artists that explore identity and intersecting experiences, and I especially like that Kottler does that using images from art history.  I also like the idea of putting things that are super gay under the noses of people who don’t get it.  Not all of Howard Kottler’s places are subtle, but the ones I like best use finely tuned visual interest to stir up more interesting questions about sexuality and queer culture.

The book, called Look Alikes: The Decal Plates of Howard Kottler, was part of the Tacoma Art Museum‘s Northwest Perspectives series.  The other book referenced is Dictated by Life: Marsden Hartley’s German Paintings And Robert Indiana’s Hartley Elegies written by Patricia McDonnell.

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