Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Body Perspectives ... Figure Sculptors from University of Florida Ceramics

Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Body Perspectives ... Figure Sculptors from University of Florida Ceramics

Article excerpt

IS IT TOO GREAT A STRETCH TO SAY THAT ARTISTIC DNA can be transferred through the teaching process? Body Perspectives ... Figure Sculptors from University of Florida Ceramics at the Thomas J Funke Gallery at Funke Fired Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio, US presented a strong argument in favor of the thought and, in fact, art history is the continued story of just such transfers.

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The show, with two works by ceramist-sculptor Nan Smith and others by both current and former students, was 20 years in the making, says Lisa Merida-Paytes, gallery director, curator of the exhibition and an artist herself. By that she means the 20-plus years Smith has been teaching at the University of Florida in Gainesville but she also alludes to her own appreciation of Smith's work. "I became aware of her works and writings when I was in graduate school," she says. Soon after plans for the Funke gallery began to take shape in 2007, Merida-Paytes contacted Smith, "to talk about developing this wonderful space for ceramics exhibitions and our ideas started percolating a little. She had a piece in our first show, although we hadn't yet met face to face."

The ideas percolating included a long-held dream of the teacher/sculptor: a show of work by various of her students from down the years, plus one or two of her own. "I was so happy to work with Nan, to help her realize her vision," Merida-Paytes says. "We worked on it for a year and a half. Her students are dispersed around the country. Logistically, getting this show together was difficult but everyone knew the importance of showing together and, with everyone's help, it happened. One of the difficulties was that most of the work is in many pieces and requires careful installation." Thirty works were shown in the gallery's high-ceilinged, light-filled space, two by Smith and the others by 13 of her current or former students.

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about seeing these works together was not their likenesses but their differences. As every parent knows, we never have the same child twice. Transferred DNA mixes with other influences and an individual emerges. Although Smith's methods and subject matter, processed through other minds and hands, produce family resemblances, they are of a family in which no one stayed at home.

Smith herself is endlessly interested in the figure and objects that speak to both memory and desire. She takes on such out-of-fashion concerns without a blink and executes them so deftly that underlying human meaning rises over passing modes of thought. She is a restless innovator in process and in an e-mail exchange with me concerning her methods said "I have worked with rubber moulds used as ceramic press-moulds and life casting for many years. Four years ago I began slip-casting elements that were to be multiples within a sculpture vignette or installation. My recent research has included new rubber mould-making products, including silicone and polyurethane rubbers that allow me to save time. I continually glaze test and work on traditional as well as alternative surfacing techniques. I have worked with steel and wooden structures within installations as well as the back-lit photograph. So, yes, I feel I am continually testing to develop my studio practice, techniques and aesthetics." She also spoke of research reading on "themes I choose as the conceptual base of my art work, including psychology, religion, metaphysics, spirituality and recently health and the environment".

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The 'back-lit photograph' she mentions refers to a frequent element of her pieces: two-dimensional 'pictorial narratives' that at first were airbrushed paintings made from personal photographs but now are executed with Photoshop. "The imagery is printed as both sepia-toned laser decals and, more recently, as full colour china paint decals. These are then fired onto the glazed surfaces within the sculptures. …

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