Surreal ceramics

Odd, yet impressive sculptures make up the current exhibit at UNR’s Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery

“Brazen” by Stephen Kaltenbach.

“Brazen” by Stephen Kaltenbach.

Photo By David Robert

Before I view any art exhibit, I grab a copy of each brochure, pamphlet and flyer that’s available at the gallery. There’s useful information; for example, this week, one of the brochures informed me that the 12th Annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art will be held May 4-6 in Davis, Calif.

I am not sure why I found this interesting, but I did. It indicated to me that ceramic art is popular enough these days to merit a convention, but is still a specialized enough art form to, well, merit a convention.

But enough about the pamphlets, and on to the show.

Sculptures by nine artists are on display at the Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery in a show titled The Figure in Contemporary Ceramics.

“A Titillating Dream” by Lisa Clague.

Photo By David Robert

A centerpiece for the exhibit—and the largest piece on display—is “Brazen” by Stephen Kaltenbach. The work is 6 1/2 feet tall, 4 feet across and 2 feet deep, and at first glance, it seems rather simple: It depicts an enormous gladiator-like figure from the knees down. It seems that we’re looking at a rust-colored statue that has been lopped off at the knees quite abruptly—most of the gladiator’s right knee is there, but his left knee is missing, with a jagged edge on the top of his shin.

Upon deeper inspection, however, the sculpture is far from simple. The detail on the legs and feet, which are crumbling (the gladiator’s left heel is completely gone, while his right heel is partially missing), is impressive. A vein pops out of one of the muscular legs, while the pattern on the sandals is easy to recognize. Even the bony structure on the existing knee is amazingly intricate. The statue looks like a relic of a fallen, destroyed society that itself has been almost annihilated.

A work that caught my eye instantly is “A Titillating Dream” by Lisa Clague. While “Brazen” is huge and realistic, Clague’s piece is clearly a flight of fantasy. The figure is a two-headed, naked female humanoid. The cream-colored, pock-marked statue has no arms or legs besides stubs, and it appears to be pregnant. Each of the being’s two heads has a monkey-like mask screwed—the screws are visible and obviously meant to be seen—to the face.

The masks have realistic-looking eyes, one pair brown, the other blue. A pink, white-spotted tongue sticks out of each mask—and the two tongues touch at the tip, providing the visual center for the sculpture. Finally, a sphere impossibly balances perfectly on the being’s right head. This piece is sort of erotic, sort of humorous and completely surreal. If this came out of one of Clague’s dreams, her psychologist must be having a field day with her.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite piece on display, “Clown Suit” by Robert Charland. The sculpture depicts a complete wardrobe: A green suit coat and trousers, the belt still threading the loops, sits on a hanger, with a blue top hat hanging above and the shoes sitting below (there are no feet in the shoes, although toes paradoxically stick out of the frayed edges). But this suit is also unusual in the sense that toothy mouths are embedded all over the suit. And these are busy mouths, with piercings, candy, gum (with tooth marks), cigarettes, smoke—you name it—giving the orifices something to do. Some of the mouths even tongue each other. It’s a funny, yet disturbing outfit. It makes me wonder if Charland has a clown phobia.

These sculptures led me to many conclusions, not the least of which was: There are going to be some talented and, well, interesting folks hanging around at that convention in May. I’m sure of it.