Marcel Duchamp lectured in 1957 in Houston on “The Creative Act,” saying, “All… decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.” Chance, then would be the heart of the matter. The thrill of pursuit without quarry, risked against the odds, is how the best work arises. In the words of Bob Dylan, “There’s no success like failure.” The phrase is especially apt for the work of Southern California-based ceramic artist Cheryl Ann Thomas, whose elegant works in porcelain are arrived at aleatorically, as she places super thin-walled coil-vessel towers into the kiln and heats them to the point of melting and soft collapse. The result is a kind of automatic, organic sculpture that recalls skeins of silk thread freshly wound and piled, or delicately fossilized skins shed by some porcelain serpent. Like the deep undercuts of Hellenistic sculpture and the tenebrism of florid Baroque painting, the drama of Spring or Compress lies in its exquisite effects of shadow and light.
Intuition, the wild and feral side of the artist’s mystic self, is the soul of the creative act, residing not so much in the artist’s mind or body, but in her attunement to her environment and her medium. Thomas’s aesthetic actions denote a dialogue with physics. According to our best scientists, 87 percent of physical reality is unanalyzable. Exploring the infinite actualities on offer by a world that is fundamentally unknowable (and therefore infinitely interpretable) makes art making by chance interesting. Intuition is how best to harmonize your map of the world with the fluxing input the wilderness sublimely and ceaselessly provides, and to use your readings in the forest/desert of signs to know when to sit back, and when to enact. The poignant point where things fall apart, where the economy of the refrain in a piece of music, film, or writing supports no more crescendos, the moment when the tree falls, the soufflé collapses, the wave finally crashes, the heart is pierced, the bubble bursts, and the building softly burns down is the point Cheryl Ann Thomas’s fine abstractions court and capture.