Bean Finneran: “Orbits”
 at PDX Contemporary Art


“Ultramarine Ring,” 2016, Bean Finneran
“Ultramarine Ring,” 2016, Bean Finneran, Low fire clay, acrylic stain, 14″ x 96″ x 96″
Photo: courtesy PDX Contemporary Art

Drawing inspiration from the sea and plant life she observes near her studio on a Marin County salt marsh, Bean Finneran is known for sculptures that suggest coral, sea urchins, or lemon grass. She pieces the works together improvisationally from hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hand-rolled fired clay coils. Because they have no armature undergirding them and are held in place only by the laws of gravity, each piece is a site-specific installation, created at the gallery during install. “Orbit” featured five of these works: the haystack-like White Cone (all 2017 except where noted) and Yellow Dome, the broad, open circle of Ultramarine Ring (2016), and two smaller pieces, Red Cone and Ultramarine Cone (2016), which have the delicacy and scale of a bouquet. Each work appears monolithically chromatic at first glance but betrays myriad hues on closer inspection, as in Ultramarine Ring, which grades from pale aquamarine to cerulean to rich turquoise. Further nuance comes from a selective glazing of some coils’ tips, imparting a shiny luster that offsets the matte, unglazed coils. Despite the painstaking complexity of their construction, the sculptures evoke a child-like simplicity and sense of wonderment.

Finneran has not been content simply to coast on the popularity of these calling-card sculptures. In this exhibition she debuted two new bodies of work: a series of stacked circular and linear wafers of glazed stoneware and an installation of dozens of yellow-and-black disks, dramatically displayed in the gallery’s Window Project space. The stacked pieces, with their jaunty geometric rhythms, evoke Constructivist sculptures and the sharp, jutting forms of Bauhaus-era Kandinsky. The artist has some fun with color and surface effects. Each side of the bars in Orange Blocks is painted a different color, while the disks in Stacking Disks & Bars are luxuriantly capped with an opaque white glaze, which seems to ooze over the forms like cream-cheese icing on a cinnamon roll. In the window installation, Yellow Disks with Black Swirl Glaze, circular wafers scatter willy-nilly across the space’s three walls, each component individually painted with bold abstract gestures. Slightly raised above the disks’ surfaces, the gestures catch the light, glistening with a molten tar-like sheen.

These disparate bodies of work cohered seamlessly, the organic forms and improvised compositions of the sea-life works complementing the studied geometries of the stacked disks and bars. And with their upbeat Crayola palette and pickup-sticks construction, the pieces exuded an agreeable levity that seemed perfectly timed as Portland’s interminably cloudy winter gave way to clear spring skies.