Morgan Stages Its First All-Ceramics Exhibit

Article excerpt

In the wake of the 2008 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference last month in Pittsburgh, we are left with a few exceptional exhibits of clay art that still are on display. By far one of the best is "Japanese Threads" at Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery in Shadyside, through April 28.

"I didn't think there were too many shows like this being planned," says gallery owner Amy Morgan, who organized the Japanese- inspired exhibit along with Pittsburgh ceramic artist Ceil Sturdevant.

"We put together the show based on whether or not an artist was Japanese, influenced by Japanese ceramics and/or had studied in Japan," Morgan says of what is the gallery's first-ever all- ceramics exhibition.

Not a bad idea, considering the Japanese ceramics tradition can be traced back to the neolithic Jomon period (from 10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.). Believed to be the world's oldest pottery-making culture, Japanese artisans have impressed and inspired the world over with their technical and stylistic diversity and mastery over the medium throughout the centuries.

Thus, the show highlights work from nearly two dozen internationally renowned artists, all of whom share ties to Japan, whether by study, culture or history.

Morgan says the ties of these artists to Japan's ceramics culture are varied, but they share a common thread -- that of the Japanese aesthetic, which celebrates the beauty of imperfection, the elegance of simplicity and the essence of the nature of clay.

Many of the works on display are wood-fired, having the craggy, rough surfaces one would expect from that technique, as well as the unpredictable, and often beautiful, results. Something Morgan says is in keeping with a Japanese creative philosophy known as "Wabi- sabi."

"Whatever happens is what the piece should be," she says of the Wabi-sabi approach. "It's really not about the piece, but about what happens in the process of making it that defines the character of the piece."

Many artists across disciplines consider Wabi-sabi to be the quintessential Japanese aesthetic, the idea that beauty can be found in all things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

For example, Paul Soldner, frequently called the Father of American Raku, creates wheel- thrown and altered forms that, he says, "make no demands" and "follow no absolute plan."

Soldner, whose work has inspired ceramicists around the world, embraces this philosophy through the acceptance of the spirit of the medium, which is why the inherent mud-like qualities in his works are so obvious. Two of his works on display here -- a large abstract sculpture and a bottle -- exemplify the beauty this philosophy through distinct, unglazed forms. …