200 words #20 / Liz Larner

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Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

Liz Larner has said that she was drawn to sculpture because it is the “most physical of artforms”. If this is true of sculpture, then it must follow that ceramics is one of the most physical of sculptural artforms, not only in the way the material demands such direct manipulation in the studio, but also by virtue of the sheer variety of surface effects, density, texture, and form it is possible to achieve.

Larner started working with ceramics in the early 90s, learning about slab building and glazing from the artist Ken Price. In this recent series she has refined the lessons of her earlier experiments into the effects of colour as articulated through sculpture and installation art to produce surprisingly small scale, but highly-charged pieces. Whilst ceramic vessels have long been used to carry pictorial and decorative devices, it is less common to be presented with the raw physicality and haptic allure of ceramics displayed in the same way that we might view a painting. There are no pictograms here, no curlicues – just the irresistible indulgence of rich glazes and raw, brittle ceramic – the kind of sculptural object that Larner might describe amongst her work as “a concrete poem”.

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Side view – Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

To view more of the artist’s works from this series follow the link below:

Liz Larner at Galerie Max Hetzler

Quotations in the text above were taken from a lecture given by the artist (see link below) at the Nasher Sculpture Center:

Liz Larner speaking about her work at Nasher Sculpture Center

Takuro Kuwata @ Alison Jacques Gallery / October 6 to November 5, 2016.

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Installation view of Takro Kuwata at Alison Jacques Gallery, Photo: Andy Keate

A “disturbing, frozen organicism” is one of the qualities Briony Fer attributed to the ceramics of Lucio Fontana, especially those he produced from around the late 1940s onwards. Fer, writing in the November 2014 Artforum, spoke of Fontanas’ ceramics as “…a riff on the dissolution of proper form…”, and took as the cue for her interpretation of this work, the concept of the Formless (L’Informe). The idea of L’Informe, developed through the 1996 exhibition (and book of the same title, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, curated by Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss) held a sub-category which the authors termed base materialism. The characteristic of base materialism could be seen, it was argued, as one of “…de-classing matter, of extracting it from the clutches of classical materialism,..”

The kind of work the authors had in mind, and which Fer offers by way of example in the form of Fontanas’ ceramics, could be seen as the polar opposite of almost anything which had been sculpted or crafted with an ideal form in mind. “The formless matter that base materialism claims for itself resembles nothing” (Bois / Krauss), whereas the crafted object resembles everything and anything which the artist might hold up, and to which the viewer might look up, as the embodiment or representation of idealism. Continue reading “Takuro Kuwata @ Alison Jacques Gallery / October 6 to November 5, 2016.”

Mary Heilmann – Looking at Pictures @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, June 8 – August 21, 2016

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Mary Heilmann, Cup Drawing, 1983, Oil on ceramic, 30.48 x 48.90 x 4.45 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

Lucio Fontana thought of ceramic as the most aristocratic of sculptural materials. And it is likely that at about the time he began to work with ceramics at the Manufattura Mazzotti in the 1930s, the medium was still held in some degree of reverence for the delicate craft it often demanded. Fontana was one of the first of several modern artists to appropriate ceramics as part of their wider body of work, to stand alongside paintings even. In turning their attentions to it however, they also tended to drift far from the aristocratic.

Mary Heilmann has also built up a body of work which incorporates ceramics and painting, but one in which the presumed appropriation of the traditionally ‘craft’ medium belies a more intimate relation between the two components in the artist’s work. Heilmann studied ceramics and sculpture at the University of California at Berkeley from 1963 to 1967, before moving to New York in 1968, where she took up painting. It is easy to see ceramics as an adjunct to the artist’s painting, especially given the scale of some of the early paintings we encounter as we walk into the first room of the Whitechapel Gallery. But it would be negligent to assume that this formative period spent working with such a raw and pliable medium did not have a sustained influence on Heilmann’s painting.

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Mary Heilmann, The Thief of Baghdad, 1983, Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 106.68 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

The exhibition opens with some canvasses in which the impact of the male-dominated New York painting scene is tangible. There are some large and loose colour field works which seem to riff off the experiments of Joseph Albers or Mark Rothko. While the scale is substantial and the effect from a distance is one of a solid, carefully built up surface, these paintings are surprisingly unkempt. The slightly wobbling edge of an area of painted surface indicates hurried execution, as do the splashes and drips which enliven the chunky sides of the canvas. There are experiments with the square; often blocked in with thick satin interlocking strips of black acrylic over candy striped washes which bleed into each other like distinct river currents. These are nominally investigations into the kind of optics which occupied Albers over the course of a lifetime. With the newly arrived Heilmann however, we see a bold and almost irreverent hunger to work through what was current or recent in American painting. Continue reading “Mary Heilmann – Looking at Pictures @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, June 8 – August 21, 2016”