Malleability of Clay: Ceramics at the McClure Gallery

By Sophia Kamps

Currently showing at the McClure Gallery at the Visual Arts Center is 573°, the third installment in the Virginia McClure Ceramic Biennale. This year’s exhibit features the work of five ceramicists, Catherine De Abreu, Veronika Horlik, Julie Lavoie, Guy Simoneau, and Vera Vicente, all based in Quebec. The title, 573°, refers to the temperature at which clay is fired, and the exhibit’s focus is on “how these artists employ their remarkable craftsmanship and knowledge of traditional approaches to experiment in novel ways.” The variety of works on display is demonstrative of the malleability of ceramics as a medium.

In Vera Vicente’s work, the pottery takes smooth, rounded forms and becomes sculpture reminiscent of Henry Moore, though simpler, more abstracted, and infinitely more delicate. In some of her pieces, she joins the pottery with copper sculpted twigs and branches, reminding us of pottery’s more utilitarian role of holding nature that is put on display, but making the whole thing a sculpture in its own right.

Veronika Horlik, on the other hand, embraces ceramics’ history as utilitarian art form with a series of large dishes mounted on the wall. Each dish is scattered with ceramic candy or painted with exuberant word-art, all food related. A pink platter proclaims “Fondant” beside a black tray of jelly beans. In contrast with the other artists on display, Horlik’s work has the effect of reminding the viewer that ceramics were not always considered art, and through the pop-art feel of the works, the viewer recalls the history of ceramics as something to be bought and sold, often mass produced.

Guy Simoneau uses his pottery to display painting. A series of twelve disks hang in a closely packed rectangle on the wall, each painted with geometric blocks of color, separated by dotted white lines, and filled with subtle squiggling lines that seem to hint at a map on a globe. The lines connect between the disks, even when, by their nature as circles, the discs leave spaces gaping between them. Simoneau uses his ceramics to show us a painting, fractured.

Both Catherine De Abreu and Julie Lavoie show works that establish pottery’s ability to imitate other materials. De Abreu’s work is three telephones, of sorts. Two stand, facing one another, connected by a red line, while the third stands between the, speckled with white dots that suggest barnacles. Lavoie has created a series of works made of many tightly furled, extremely thin pieces of pottery that seem like they must be paper until upon closer inspection, you see their sharp edges. Both artists point to skill in ceramics as a way of fooling the viewer, by creating an object that looks to be one thing but is actually another.

Ceramics have a long history as functional, commercial objects, not often viewed as a serious art form. 573° shows the work of five Quebec-based ceramicists who manifest that ceramics is not just an art form- it’s many. Ceramics can be sculpture, it can be painting, it can be paper, it can be a telephone. In the skilled hands of these artists, it contains multitudes.

Using Format