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“Living with Clay”
Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery, Cal State Fullerton, Fullerton, California
Review by Liz Goldner

Patti Warashina, "Bottom Feeder" (detail), 2009, low-fire clay, mixed media, 27 x 22 x 17". From the collection of Julie and David Armstrong. Photo courtesy of CSU Fullerton

Continuing through November 17, 2018

Perhaps it is the organic and tactile nature of clay that entices people to amass large collections of ceramic art. For as the exhibition, “Living with Clay: California Ceramics Collections,” demonstrates, ceramic works of art can become like family members. Some 130 ceramic pieces by more than 60 artists comprise this exhibition. But it’s the personal stories of the collectors, related through life-size photos and enhanced by their selected furnishings and rugs, that lends this show its distinctive flavor.

A photo of Julie and David Armstrong depicts the couple seated in their living room, filled with ceramics, paintings, rugs and classic furnishings. As the founders of the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) in Pomona, the Armstrongs own an eclectic collection of ceramic pieces by many artists, including Patti Warashina, Hector Javier Martinez Mendez, Paul Soldner and Peter Voulkos. Warashina’s “Bottom Feeder” (2009) is a finely wrought semi-nude female figure with a pristine doll-like head and a fish swimming around her legs. Soldner’s stoneware “Sculpture #16” (2000) is a roughly textured abstract depiction of a non-specific natural form, perhaps a flower or a leaf. “The Artists of Mexico” (2017) by Martinez Mendez is a large classic bowl, representing the strong ceramic tradition of our southern neighbor.

The photo of collector Richard Oelschlaeger is particularly intriguing. The retired microbiologist, standing in his loft apartment, is surrounded by a horde of 1,600 ceramic pieces. Works from his eclectic collection in this show include Kevin Snipes’ porcelain with enamel “Sweet Birdies Vase” (2009), a figurative piece with Asian influences, and “Tall Pitcher” (2006) by Julia Galloway, a classic stoneware piece with black and blue-green glaze. Oelschlaeger’s traditional style bed, with a quilt covering, is also in the exhibition, placed in the center of the galleries.

A wall-size picture of Judy and Richard Jacobs is engaging, the couple seated in Richard’s large office/studio and surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves, all crammed with ceramics. Richard explains in the show’s didactics that he and Judy have lived in the same home for more than 50 years, and have filled their space with around 1,500 ceramic artifacts from several centuries and cultures. Featured in the exhibition are Gareth Mason’s “Large Vessel” (2009), the “Long-Necked Vase” (2009) by Duncan Ayscough, and Jerome Ackerman’s stoneware “Goblet Pot” (1950s).

Gloria and Sonny Kamm’s living room is more minimal, with selected ceramic pieces on a dozen shelves. Their figurative sculptures tend towards intricacy. Viola Frey’s “Venus and the Rooster” (1975-76), a textured earthenware piece with china paint, features a half-nude Venus, alongside a large rooster. Sergei Isupov’s earthenware “Bow” (1998) features several human figures and faces, all connected to form the bow of the title.

Diane and Igal Silber’s collection was acquired in many different countries. These include the figurative stoneware “Cat Woman (ca.1985) by Jindra Vikova, a sensual part female, part cat sculpture. Also notable is the elegant and expressionistic porcelain, “Vessel” (1983) by Babs Haesen.

Paying homage to historical ceramics is the inclusion of the MAW Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. These ancient works, acquired by a group of friends and collectors, include a classic earthenware “Standing Female Figure with Hands on Her Abdomen” (300 B.C. - A.D. 300) from West Mexico; and the intriguing earthenware “Jaguar-Effigy Vessel” (1200–1550), with human arms and legs, and the head of an animal jutting out from the front of the piece.

Other artists represented in the exhibition, curated by Rody N. López, include Rudy Autio, Ralph Bacerra, Tom Coleman, Josh Deweese, Carmen Dionyse, Betty Davenport Ford, David Furman, Julia Galloway, Shoji Hamada, Robin Hopper, Jeff Irwin, Tony Marsh, Beverly Mayeri, Alleghany Meadows, Gertrude and Otto Natzler, Vincent Palacios, Don Reitz, Robert Sperry, Varda Yatom and Ward Youry. The magnificent life-size photos featured in the show are by Eric Stoner.

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