“Confrontations” A focus on the medium of clay as thought provoker

The choice of “Confrontations”, for the theme for New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists’ annual Celebration of Clay exhibition, shifts the paradigm to focus on the medium of clay as thought provoker and away from the paradigm of function.  The tradition of fired clay in human history is long and essential.   An easily accessed material, ubiquitous around the globe, is worked many ways and provides necessities such as pottery, building materials, and liquid containment.  The plastic quality of unfired clay promotes spontaneous expression.  When working small this is akin to playing with dolls.  Clay can convey gesture directly into the material and record it.   In some cases it can even record the intent of the gesture.   This spontaneity is the initial seduction of clay for most clay artists and invites a non-verbal release of ideas.

In our fast moving society there is little time for contemplation, a necessity for rational thinking and decision making.   Thought is often reduced to a quick reaction (fill in the correct bubble).  Images in the public realm are always accompanied by text telling us:   think this, or buy that, etc.   The maw of media reduces dialogue to oppositional sound bites; hammering away at rational thought process and clarity, pulverizing the possibility of real social dialogue and promotes stasis.   Monoculture thinking is not thinking.  It is no surprise we often find ourselves at a loss encountering an image with no text or title directing our thoughts.    When words fail to address essential issues, image presented with no text has wonderful potency because it engages different parts of our cognitive skills.    Asking difficult questions of the viewer, rather than solely presenting beautiful objects (I love beautiful objects, by the way) which sooth the viewer, is needed to stimulate thought and is needed for art to be meaningful and engaging.  Sometimes a jolt is required to enlarge dialogue.   This is what the theme “Confrontations” hopes to elicit.

Margit Morawietz
Margit Morawietz

Here are three entrees, types of cups, for consideration; each approach the theme differently.   Cup, a vessel of vital function, represents comfort and domesticity.  We may even go so far to say it is a symbol of culture, present and past.  The cups offered by Margit Morawietz present an immediate confrontation:  Does one want to drink from either of these cups whose throats’ dark interiors harbor mysteries and perhaps house creatures.   How can one drink from such a cup?  A straw could be used as a work-around.  These disfigured cups still hold liquid but have limited use and are the source of no comfort.  They communicate viscerally corruption, frustration and distrust.

Betsy Williams
Betsy Williams


The second set of cups are stoneware with a white slip by Betsy Williams.  The theme is explicit on the outside as a design, a form of signage.  The theme is offered at an intellectual remove.   The message is secondary to function in the same way of pictured tee-shirts.  The tee-shirts may be crass and the cups are elegant but the relation of function and use of message are the same.  Williams’ cups calmly reassure the observer of the continuum of culture.

Allen Gresham - Happy Accident
Allen Gresham – Happy Accident


The third example is a cup by Allen Gresham.  This well-formed cup has been savaged to the point of no function.  Although potters know this slicing is performed to check wall thickness and uniformity and the artist has labeled this as “Happy Accident”, the resulting image presented is contrary to the title.  This cup can hold no liquid; it can warm no heart.  Here is an example of clay’s ability to display intent.   Anger and a desire for retribution are communicated.   No cultural or domestic assurance is here.

All works exhibited in this exhibition are hand built and are unique.  This show is “artist choice”, by that we mean points of view may have teeth because they are unfettered by usual market considerations (that works required to be:  cute; within a certain price range; not able to offend anyone) are offered.

Juror on the theme of the show is Andrew L. Connors, Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum, with credentials thick in folk art history.

All opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of the juror or the Board.  Rebuttals in the form of an article gratefully accepted by the Slip Trail.

Submitted by Sara Lee D’Alessandro,    www.mudwaspstudio.com

See pictures of the works in the Celebration of Clay Show and vote for People’s Choice award starting September 1.

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One Reply to ““Confrontations” A focus on the medium of clay as thought provoker”

  1. jnelsonmoore

    Interesting thoughts, Sara. You certainly help me to look at pieces in the show with new insights. Personally, the concept of “confrontation” plays out as an inner dialogue about circumstances and events in my life and how I personally react to (confront) them. A piece of ceramics may bring me up short, causing me to pause in my usual daily routine and busyness, to consider some idea, emotion or circumstance outside the normal thinking. For example, the graceful curve of a jar by Frank Willett.

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