Talking with the artists: reviewing the creative spirit
New book forthcoming in Spring 2021
"Ray Gonzales: Telling Stories." Ceramics Art & Perception, No. 109. 2018: Print
"On the tenth of June in 2017 I took the train from Oakland to Sacramento, a longtime favorite route for me. Rain was falling, an unusual event lately, as we wound through the marshlands and behind the sugar cane factory. The cars were full, and people were talkative, laughing and joking with strangers. I recognized five spoken languages, received a gift of tacos and some cookies, and had ample time to think about the way common struggle in California has shaped our recent history. It is important, essential, that we stand together. For this to have lasting results, we first need to understand our history, and the work of artist Ray Gonzales is a torch held high for that understanding."
"After we spent a breathtaking day looking at an exhibition of ancient Egyptian art in the de Young Museum, I received an assignment from fellow sculptor Michelle Gregor. Over coffee in the museum cafe, she gave me an assignment - to make a piece influenced by the magnificent sculptures we had seen. Of course, I accepted..."
Margaret Keelan: Reality Twice Removed.” Ceramics Art and Perception, No. 103 pp 70-75. 2016
"Margaret Keelan's clay sculptures present us with a marvelous visual contradiction. These figures are the texture of desiccated old wood, coated with cracked and peeling paint, yet their poses are natural and their gestures are evocative. Examining them closely, we infer a long history and a lifetime of experience.
Getting inside the studio with Keelan is a rare chance to get inside the mind of the artist. (1) discovered that the childish figures the dolls embody actually begin as beautifully modelled sculptures, which another artist might present as finished. On her studio worktable a solemn little girl, balanced on sturdy legs, reaches up to hold an enormous blue butterfly, her facial features soft and delicate. The clay is just past wet, the piece just completed.
Keelan uses classic ecorche' techniques, where the model is skinless and the muscles are shown; she calls this building from the inside out. Correct modelling and anatomical accuracy are important. Yet the artist is aware of what she calls "the tyranny of realism". She says, "You need a distance--with sections, or texture--ways of keeping it sculpture. The story here is this has been sculpted into existence. It is not a child, not a doll. It is reality twice removed."
At this moment, it is hard to imagine this lifelike sculpture changing to match its predecessors in the kiln room, transmogrified into cracked wood and peeling paint, indelibly stained and worn. Graduate studies with Marilyn Levine, the Modernist trompe Voeil master, remain traceable in Keelan's signature surface development. The viewer finds it nearly impossible not to touch.
Why work with old wooden doll images? Keelan says "I loved the weathered wood look, which was to me a metaphor for growing older and 'weathering' down to our essential being. But my desire for (making) the work preceded the techniques. I have an itch and I scratch it."
The Spanish word for doll is muneca, which means both doll and wrist. Considering this in terms of Keelan's oeuvre, the hand certainly activates the doll, in this case not by manipulating a puppet but through the creation of a form. The image and content of the doll seem as uncompromising as a sonnet: rigid, predictable and confining.
Keelan has other ideas. The doll form does not connote personal childhood memories, but does have one autobiographic influence; the figures are always female. She says "I can only tell the truth of my own story--how I perceive the world over time and how my perspectives change. It must be an authentic experience." Asked about her strong sense of the formal, she gives an example unknown to this US-raised writer: as a young child in England she read weekly adventure stories about girl ballerinas who were detectives and solved mysteries and crimes. She also says that as a child in England she saw ballet regularly and she retained a strong sense of formality about the sets and costumes and the children posing and performing.
The potters wheel was Keelan's first love, eventually leading her to sculpting. She lived in England until the age of 10, when she moved with her family to Canada. Keelan takes her rightful place among the new tradition of sculptors, raised on the potters' wheel, who value the traditions and training of functional makers. 'The pottery concept," she notes, "is interactive by definition." Keelan moved to the US to earn her MFA at Salt Lake City, Utah, studying with Marilyn Levine. She began exhibiting professionally in San Francisco in 1988, and is the Associate Director of Sculpture at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Keelan is a teaching artist, like many professionals in the San Francisco Bay area with its profusion of art schools and art centres. Keelan finds teaching an "energising environment, a two-way street--a real partnership that feeds the work". She is careful not to use the ideas of her students but is "constantly aware of the opening up of possibilities" and talks of the importance of training her eye by evaluating student work, explaining what works and what does not, how and why."
“Alan King: Point Blank.” Introduction to King’s book of poems. 2016
"Point Blank, published this year by Silver Birch Press, is a book of poems by Alan King. It has been a deeply provocative read. King was born in the United States in the 1970s to Caribbean parents, at the time when I was coming to adulthood, as a teen parent, during the Rainbow years in the San Francisco Bay area. It was a dizzying time of altruism, hope and change that was to be sold down the cash river in the coming decades. King writes about growing up in those times, detailing the crash without missing the sweetness, the struggles and the triumphs.
Point Blank begins with the poem Hulk. Immediately I am signaled, briefed and enlisted as a young Black man walks down a residential street at dusk. I know this world, but any reader who does not will also be so informed. For the Hulk in the poem is not the monster. He is at the mercy of the monsters."
“Melting the Sun: Echocosmic.” Oakland Museum of Ceramics Press.
“Tiffany Schmierer: Urban Quotidian.” Ceramics Art and Perception, No. 95, pp 71-73. 2014: Print
“Nuala Creed: Ceramic Archivist.” Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 92. pp 76-78. 2013: Print
“Influences, Intersections & Innovations.” Catalog essay, Third Annual Ceramics of America. John Natsoulas Press: Davis pp 9-11. 2013: Print
”Jennifer Brazelton: Essential Structures.” Review by Susannah Israel.
Oakland Museum of Ceramics Press, Blog, articles and reviews by Susannah Israel, Resident Artist Director, 2010 -2018. https://oaklandmuseumofceramicspress.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/welcome-to-the-oakland-museum-of-ceramics-press/
“Jon Gariepy: Stormy Weather.” New Ceramics: the European Ceramics Magazine, No 3, pp 8-11. 2012: Print
“Transcendant: Michelle Gregor, David Kuraoka and Don Reitz.” Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 88 pp 50-53 2011: Print
“Sustaining the Creative Spirit.” The Studio Potter, V 39 No 1 pp 45-47. 2011: Print
“Into the 21st Century: The Association of Clay & Glass Artists.” Introduction. ACGA: San Carlos. 2011: Print
“Las cadre at Black Bean Ceramic Art Center: the first 5 years.” 2011: las cadre: the first 5 years
“Atmospheric Firings: the Tradition of Acceptance.” Exhibition review. ARTSHIFT: San Jose. 2011: Online
“Intersections & Influences.” Catalog essay, Ceramics Annual of America. John Natsoulas Press: Davis pp 2-8. Print: 2010
“David Kuraoka: Legacy of Fire.” Review of the artist’s retrospective exhibition at Pence Gallery, David. History of Kuraoka’s teaching legacy at SF State University, 1971-2009, and interviews with participating artists. 2009:
“Deep Impressions: the Sculptural Records of Richard Akers.” Neue Keramik: the European Ceramics Magazine,
No 3. pp 17-19. 2008: Print
“Shalene Valenzuela: Believe It Or Not.” Davis, California: John Natsoulas Press, catalog pp 1-5 2009
"Working Big: Sculpting Industrial Clay Pipe." Ceramics Today Dec 2004. www.ceramicstoday.com/article
"In Pursuit of Beauty." Studio Potter Mar. 2002: Print
"Woodstoke 2000." Ceramics Technical Issue 12 2001: Print
“Permanent Record: Clay Bodies.” MFA Exhibition Thesis, San Francisco State University. 24 pages. 2000: Print