Spontaneity in clay

Dayna Galletti’s quirky clay sculptures convey a sense of humor and naivety

I see the indentation of a fingernail and the imprint of a thumb in a finished, fired and glazed ceramic sculpture. It is a rust-colored dog, chubby and wrinkled, looking like he wants me to take him home.

This piece is one of at least 100 ceramic creations at River Gallery’s Mud ‘n Your Eye pottery show. Most of the pieces are what you might expect from ceramists—pots, platters and earthy-looking orbs and spheres. They are generally very slick and polished, beautiful and sophisticated, but they don’t arrest my gaze for more than a second or two. That is, until I come across Dayna Galletti’s dog … and her cat, rhinoceros, frog, bear, horse, pig, porcupine—you get the picture.

Galletti’s art looks human. Her pieces reveal a glimpse of the artist behind the art. Every pinch, twist and mark in the rhino’s face and the horse’s mane show that these critters were brought into existence by two very skilled and humorous hands. Galletti also allows the clay to reveal its own characteristics. She doesn’t try to smooth over the inconsistencies of her medium. The clay is allowed autonomy, the freedom to crack and crinkle wherever and whenever it sees fit.

“The more you smooth the clay, the more it takes away the character and the spontaneity,” Galletti says.

Galletti began playing with clay in her own backyard when she was 6 or 7 years old.

“I grew up in Spanish Springs,” she says. “I would strain the clay to get the rocks out.”

Even though she enjoyed her messy childhood clay experiences, when she got to college she began taking painting and printmaking classes. It wasn’t long before she discovered that getting her fingers in the mud was more her style. Her pieces have come to possess that youthful quality of a child’s first artistic moment.

“I like things that look primitive. I like things to be naïve. I think little kids do great artwork. I’m not trying to be serious.”

Galletti started out by making monolithic towers, tall figurative vases and artifact-like sculptures, all non-functional.

“I never thought much about making stuff that you could use,” she says. “It was more fun to do sculpture.”

When she started doing the whimsical animals, Galletti found that a lot of people wanted to purchase her creations. She is now able to support herself through her art.

Besides animals, her collection includes very rotund and mooshy-looking human figures. They may not be as appealing as the animals, but they are very contemporary, unique and slightly grotesque. More than anything they make you want to giggle and grab their rolls of ceramic fat.

Galletti is very unpretentious when it comes to her art. It’s all about cheering people up.

“If I can make you smile and make myself smile, then I’m happy."