Getting their hands dirty

With big changes afoot, 1078 hosts vibrant ceramic show

“Ol’ Tuck,” by Rickie Barnett.

“Ol’ Tuck,” by Rickie Barnett.

Photo courtesy of 1078 Gallery

Alma Mudder, on display through May 27 at 1078 Gallery.
1078 Gallery
820 Broadway

For the final exhibition at its 820 Broadway location, 1078 Gallery presents a solid variety show of ceramic art—appropriately titled Alma Mudder—produced by 11 artists who all, according to the gallery’s website, “studied at CSU Chico in the last decade, graduated, and moved on to higher education, artist residencies, employment or other opportunities.”

There’s an impressive range of viewpoints and styles that admirably showcases the medium of clay’s boundless potential for creative expression—a sentiment that also could be applied to the long-running gallery itself. For 36 years, the 1078’s modus operandi has been to push the envelope, providing a space for a wide range of contemporary and experimental works from all disciplines. Once the gallery’s recent eviction goes into effect at the end of May, and until a new location is found, there will be a heart-sized hole in Chico’s body of culture.

For now, we have one last exhibit, and its Cinco de Mayo reception drew a bustling multigenerational crowd of Chico art lovers to mingle with makers among the pedestals while the ambient, electronically enhanced guitar instrumentals of Mat Houghton, aka Cat Depot, gently echoed and looped in the background.

Near the entrance, Brian McNamara’s “The Desert Part 1” sits on the floor. Its bulbously conical construction is reminiscent of a rustic clay hut when viewed from the back, but from the front it reveals a rather demented-looking human face leering out from where one might expect the door and windows to be. A little girl, about 5 or 6 years old, who was standing nearby told me it was her favorite piece in the show.

On the wall above McNamara’s installation, Kelly Lynn Daniels’ “Dreaming of Spring”—a six-panel porcelain depiction of foliage and floral motifs etched and painted in autumnal tones of orange, blue-gray and black—conveys a Buddhistic acceptance of Earth’s ever-renewing cycle of seasons.

Also reflecting organic forms, but in a more abstract style, Meaghan Gates’ intricate ceramic, glaze and paint construction, “Open Up,” feels oceanic in inspiration. Its anemone-like turquoise-tentacled base, interconnected flesh-toned top and liverish interior petals looks like something one might discover while gazing into a psychedelic tide pool.

Rickie Barnett—the most heavily represented artist in the show, with six pieces on display—specializes in whimsical, somewhat melancholic depictions of human states of mind and interaction. In “Alone Again on the Weekend,” subtitled “Portrait of a young man trying to quit smoking,” a boyish figure dressed in a uniform shirt decorated with a shovel emblem, green short pants and brogan shoes sits on a wall-mounted shelf. There’s a cigarette dangling from his left hand, but in place of a head, the figure has a rustic cabin with a smokestack chimney pipe sticking out of a wall near the peaked roof. It conveys a mingled sense of dejection and humor.

Similar in feeling is Jacob Troester’s “Went to bed, bumped his head, got lost in the flood,” another wall-mounted piece. This one depicts a bespectacled older man slouched open-mouthed and shut-eyed in his recliner. Behind the chair, lightening bolts erupt and amorphous brown goop oozes from an old-fashioned TV embedded in a buttressed construction evoking a medieval hearth.

Overall, Alma Mudder presents a very rich sampling of ceramic styles and visions, all unearthed from the imaginations and craftsmanship of makers whose skills were developed in part right in Chico. One can only look forward in hope to the 1078 Gallery quickly finding a new home for presenting such vital exhibitions.