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Improbable Pottery 

An eye-opening ceramics show at the Business of Art Center delves into dysfunctionality

There have been a number of indicators in the last year that sculpture might be the strong suit of the Colorado Springs art community. There was the Exquisite Corpse exhibition at the Pikes Peak Community College. There were the Peak Area Performances and Artists (PAPA) Awards, where artists primarily involved in sculpture captured the three top nominations for "Best Exhibiting Individual Artist." Now there is the Dysfunctional ceramics exhibition at the Business of Art Center.

Granted, Dysfunctional is a national show with artists from 18 other states. And clearly, geography is a factor in the art submission process. But to say the Pikes Peak region is well represented in Dysfunctional would be an understatement, and this is a very, very nice show. Local entrants include Kerstin Erickson, Evelyn Baldwin, Ken and Tina Riesterer, Chip Shaw, Jason Theel and Maxine Green.

Even without the work of Lisa Chicoyne, who coordinated Dysfunctional and won the PAPA award for "Best Exhibiting Artist," the work in the current exhibition ranges from good to extraordinary.

The quality is partly attributable to juror and professor of ceramics and sculpture Marty Ray from Irving, Texas. "I tried to pick a variety and what I thought was good conceptually as well as well-crafted," she said. Ray managed to whittle a list of 149 pieces from 45 artists down to 41 accepted works. "She was pretty selective," Chicoyne explained.

It has been something of an inspiration for Chicoyne seeing the caliber and variety of work in the show. "We were hoping for a good response and I think we got that," she said. "It's always exciting and interesting to see different clay works coming in and I was really impressed with the quality of things we received."

As the name "Dysfunctional" suggests, Chicoyne drew a line between the plates and bowls one usually sees, where form follows function, and ceramic work for which the overarching consideration is artistic value. "The work actually shows the possibilities of ceramics as an art medium rather than just what you typically associate with ceramics," she said.

Many of the artists have gone a step further and incorporated a theme of the abnormal or impaired into their submissions. Nathan Cox of Peoria, Ill., for example, has contributed "Eating Dis-Order," a fabulously conceived place setting of Raku pottery with steel, copper and bronze. An antithesis of functionality, the ceramic plate and bowl, charred and rusty, are fragmented to reveal rebar skeletons implicative of building rubble. Cox has also fashioned corroded metals into ingenious eating utensils with a saw blade for the knife-edge and weathered screening as the business end of the spoon. "What I liked the most was the way he crossed the line between sculpture and pottery," Chicoyne said.

The psychological connotations of "Eating Dis-Order" are also intriguing. Does the piece comment on the way a person with an eating disorder views the dinner table? Cox seems to capture something of the emotions of shame and guilt in his juxtaposition of media.

Similarly, Linda Litteral, from Santee, Calif., has entered "Wedded Bliss," a cathartic sculpture that harkens historically to the surrealist game boards of Alberto Giacometti and Max Ernst. Hand built and high-fired, the piece depicts a game where participants are victims of domestic violence and displacement complete with suitcases and hat boxes that fall open to reveal barren interiors. Does the luggage represent the "baggage" of a broken marriage or the fact that people tend to leave marriage with little or nothing?

"Totem Two" by Pueblo artist Tom Latka is a high-relief diptych incorporating additive elements like pottery and kitchen tile into a piece that gives the appearance of subtractive stonework. Latka does an exceptional job of playing with textures and glazes, color and shape to achieve the desired effect.

Local artists Ken and Tina Riesterer are represented by a painted clay urn titled "Primary People." This is a work that appears to have gained entrance to the show more for the quality of the work than for adherence to the theme of dysfunctionality. Expressive nudes intermixed with richly colored abstract forms grace the sides of the piece accentuating the sleek lines of the pot itself.

Maxine Green's "Blue Grass," made from white clay with cobalt oxide, is an evocative sculpture with four finger-like blades of grass reaching up from the lap of what might be a flattened white stone or mass of dough. The interplay of textures is what makes this work so engaging, the grass blades set off by the tactile ridges and grooves from the sterile expanse that gives them purchase.

While most of the artists took the theme of the show in a serious light, there are several entrants, including Amy Norgaard of Bloomington, Ind. who couldn't resist the chance to inject a bit of whimsy into their work. If "Form No. 754329," out of slip cast ceramic, actually had a function it might be as a small pottery still. Nonetheless, it incorporates elements of teapots and kitchen gadgets, challenging the viewer's imagination and begging for an answer to the very human question: What's my purpose? The checkerboard arch that might serve as an oversized handle uses carefully modulated shades of red and orange to set off the candent white of the twin vessels below.

A number of awards were given, but virtually every piece in the show deserves some sort of special recognition. If you have any interest in ceramic work or the innovative possibilities of art, don't miss Dysfunctional.

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