“Ceramics Invitational: National Clay”

at Traver Gallery

“Vessel With Dimple #1414,” 2014, Chris Gustin
Stoneware, glaze, Anagama woodfired, 31″ x 12″ x 11″
Photo: Ben Lerman, Courtesy: Traver Gallery

Although some of the artists in the new “Ceramics Invitational: National Clay” at Traver exhibit regularly in art galleries, most form their own group shows, curate them, or also review them in pot shops or faculty lounges. Traver director Jeffery Kuiper is to be commended for bringing Midwest and East Coast clay artists to Seattle where they are rarely seen. Alfred University, America’s first ceramics degree-granting school, is represented by current and former faculty members and alumni. Of the 16 artists on view, four are current, former or retired Alfred faculty members and students. Anne Currier, Chris Gustin, Peter Pincus and Bobby Silverman are quite different from one another, but they share an obeisance to pedestal scale, thrown and hand-built forms, and allusions to ceramic history and tradition. Currier and Gustin’s works look like clay: earthy, muted colors and, in the latter case, exaggerated, over-scale functional pots. Pincus’s tall vases are the most traditional of all: white, fluted forms with stripes and simple decoration.

Kansas City Art Institute is the bridge between the East and West Coast ceramists. Featured artists here include graduates Gustin and Richard Notkin, a Washington state artist whose Chinese-style red-clay teapots have been platforms for social and political commentary since 1988, as in his two Heart Teapots (both 2013), anatomical hearts that allude to the fossil fuel industry. Jim Melchert, a UC Berkeley grad, is the most senior figure included and is often considered the godfather of conceptual ceramics. His Twenty-two Seconds (2008) is performance-related, allowing the porcelain tile to crack in the allotted time.

Among younger artists, several heartening examples stand out. John Souter, Norleen Nosri, Zemer Peled and Nathan Prouty upend expectations fostered by the Alfred crowd-i.e., they subvert hollowed forms or disregard them altogether. Souter’s are the most bizarre, with yarn and thread crudely mixed with clay, as in Ideal? (2015). Nosri is the most political: her Emigrants and Immigrants III (2016) cram tiny porcelain crowds into black, prisonlike stacks. Peled, an Israeli, takes tapered porcelain spikes and turns them into warped “floral” displays. Finally, the big surprise, Prouty, an Oregonian, riffs on Ron Nagle with radioactive-appearing piles of clay petals, colorful terra cotta scraps, and zany improbable assemblages with glue, wood and plastic sticks, that are hypnotic and repellent simultaneously.