Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Connecting Functionality with Meaning in Laura Ross’s Ceramics

Laura Ross / Studio Clay
at Craft(s) Gallery

Ceramic Bowl, Laura Ross, 2013.

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

In her artist’s statement, Laura Ross speaks of “functionality in relation to one’s daily rituals.” The work in this show perfectly embodies this idea with vessels and forms that are matched in practicality by powerful suggestions of history and spirituality.

These ceramic pieces are mostly simple, elemental forms of such solid footing that they often express a monolithic quality reminiscent of naturally formed monuments. Weighty and grounded, at least in visual terms, there is a durable physicality that indicates that each bowl, dish or pitcher could stand up to generations of use.

The utilitarian nature of the work pushes greater sophistication away from form and into the surface details of color, texture and the occasional sculpted addition (lid handles that are birds). Ross’s palette here seems dominated by deep blue and green tones. But there are groups of softer hues and some especially rich earth tones of ore, umber and sienna that form the foundation for interesting organic patterns and incidents to emerge from within the soda-fired surface. Ross has, in a few instances, enforced a more aggressive, manipulated texture on one or two vessels. But the rich and delicate beauty that results from what Ross calls “the mystery of the accidental” in the firing process provides an effective contrast between surface and form.

The approach allows enough crudity, if you will, to emphasize the connection to the clay beneath our feet and the origin of the material. The reinforcement of the elemental raises practicality to a deeper significance that such vessels have always had in the formal social and religious customs of our past as well as the mundane use in our daily lives. The act of breaking bread together has, over time, lost much of its meaning in human existence so that we tend to take for granted the most common and universal ritual, supplanting it with over-processed foods manufactured and consumed for pace and efficiency. The notion of nourishing body and soul in tandem has become largely neglected in the modern world.

Tiny Teapot, Laura Ross, 2013.
Such notions might seem a bit pretentious; yet the presence of such pieces as two water stones – forms that, again, balance scale and visual weight – with a very small and delicately placed pool of water with a live green plant seems to reinforce a spiritual element to the body of work. And the careful placement of one series, “Black/White Opposition,” in which 12 black and 12 white cups sit in close formation on two narrow shelves placed alongside each other on the wall, consciously blurs the line of “potter’s pots” (to borrow the artist’s phrase) and objet d’art. Clearly Ms. Ross’s point is that there need not be any such distinction; and after spending time with the body of work in this exhibit, I would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Latte Cup, Laura Ross, 2013.

The somber, no-frills aspect of much of the work is given meaningful contrast in a handful of humorous elements, such as a “Sitting Frog Jar” that is highlighted by the titular amphibian, a creature of marked expressiveness serving as the handle; or a “Slab Server” that, with its curled edges and strips of color modulation, is cleverly fashioned to resemble the bacon it is designed to present at table.

This exhibit is an auspicious inaugural for Craft(s), one of several new galleries that have opened recently in Louisville. Part fine art exhibition space and part craft boutique, the open and inviting space is located in the “SoFo” district, the area of Fourth Street just south of Fourth Street Live.

Laura Ross / Studio Clay

June 28 – August 31, 2013
Craft(s) Gallery
572 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40202 
(502) 550-2035

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