Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Okay, it took us a couple of months to catch up with the clay and glass show at the MAH, but, boy, is it worth seeing. Presented upstairs in the Solari Gallery, this selection of work from members of the Association of Clay and Glass Artists of California (ACGA) offers a compelling and inspirational assortment of pieces from both statewide and local artists. Work on view ranges from vessels and vases to totems and installations, with every conceivable kind of abstract, figurative, functional, and sculptural artwork in between.

Me, I'm drawn to the figurative, as you probably know by now if you read my posts on Zimbabwe sculpture and other recent art shows. Maybe it's the storyteller in me, but in 3D art as well as painting, I like threading my way through the implied narrative when figures take center stage. So pardon my bias, but the most exciting discovery for me at the ACGA show is Bay Area ceramicist Fred Yokel. His sly, whimsical sculptural vignette, "The Build," is the highlight of the show for both Art Boy and me. It was love at first sight; one look, and our eyes were bugging out of our heads like a Tex Avery cartoon.

In this piece, a monumental human form is being constructed out of stone blocks by four or five small worker drones; they're still bustling about the litter of blocks at its feet, trying to fill in the last couple of open spaces in the form. Are they constructing a man-shaped temple to their god? A ceremonial effigy? A Trojan Man? It's all in the perspective. I like to think of these little guys as a person's various inner selves, caught in the act of assembling the complete individual, the sum of all their parts. Or not. That's the cool thing about art, it's open to endless interpretations. Feel free to make up your own.

Evidently, Yokel is well known for a series he calls "Jestures," playful figures of monumental-seeming proportions, yet small format (the central character in "The Build" is only about two feet tall) in expressive poses. Yokel's other piece in the MAH show, the delightful "Woody: Ancient Artifact," captures this spirit, a breezy little character brilliantly textured and painted to resemble carved wood.

I've rhapsodized about local clay artists Coeleen Kiebert and Peggy Snider before; both of them have dynamic pieces in the show. So does Tom Wolver, whose "Contemplation" features a brooding "Thinker"-like character with a typically Wolverian, jackal-headed demon laughing over his shoulder.

Among other intriguing out-of-town artists I "discovered" at this show is Natasha Dikareva. I love her "Shell Dweller" (above) with its poignant little human face emerging from the organic cocoon of the shell. I was also drawn to Vicki Gunter's "The Reading Chair," an evocative ceramic representation of a stuffed, saggy old armchair covered in flowered chintz. The object itself is one thing, but the story that goes with it (written out in the artist's attached note), about memories of the old family chair she crawled into as a child to hear stories, completes the narrative in the most fitting way—with the written word. Another piece I found weirdly haunting was "Legerdemain," by Charlene Doiron Reinhart, which celebrates the idea of sleight-of-hand with four tiers of digits unfolding from each other like the petals of a rose. (Don't forget to peek around at the back of this piece for the punch line.)

This is just a teeny, tiny sampling of the work on view at the MAH show. (And by the way, I think it's great that the MAH now regularly features local artists in its exhibits, after so many years as mainly a venue for traveling art shows from elsewhere. Big kudos to Susan Hillhouse and her staff for finding ways to bring both local artwork and traveling shows to the party.) No matter what your personal bias, there's much to inspire you here. The ACGA show runs through March 13, so there's still plenty of time to go get the story.

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