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     "Darwin's Atoms" was a solo exhibition of terracotta sculpture created at the Black Bean Ceramic Arts Center in San Jose, 2011 - 2012. The completed works were shown in San Francisco in 2013 at the SMAart Gallery.


     The name of this show derives in part from a wonderful interview with Peter Voulkos, in the documentary Color & Fire; he comments about the timeless nature of clay, composed of the same elements as our own bodies, and endlessly recycled.  "I could be throwing my (own) grandmother!" he exclaims.














     I found this poetic attitude both scientifically accurate and profoundly appropriate when considering the body of work in my show. During my year-long artist residency at Black Bean, I drew upon the experiences of traveling to Montana to be 2011 writer-in residence at the Archie Bray.

     Tasked with creating five catalog essays for the Resident Artists' Farewell Exhibition, I held the distinction of being the only artist ever to serve as writer-in-residence at the Bray. I was also returning to the place where my beloved partner and creative collaborator and I had begun our adventures, deeply in love, in 2002.

     Bill Lassell was a sociologist and documentary filmmaker who filmed the events of my summer residency, got swept into the spirit of the Bray, and launched his own passion for clay as a result of the inspiration and welcome he found there. But Bill's life ended suddenly in 2009, and although his death was both peaceful and quick, losing him arrested my work and my life for two years.


     Back at the Bray, in another capacity and another decade, I was constantly aware of Bill and his lasting, loving influence. The landscape itself was imbued with memory. While writing my essays at the Bray, in the new Voulkos Studio, I also made the piece Apostrophe, which is a reclining figure composed of landscape elements, and references a dramatic term in which the actor speaks to an absent person, while alone on stage. Apostrophe is constructed in six sections, showing its layers like core samples of earth. I used this approach to create all the complex landscape figures for "Darwin's Atoms".  My ideal intention was to carpet the entire gallery floor, creating an uninterrupted installation of the earth/figure forms that would be experienced as if traveling on a highway. Fortunately, although this proved unworkable due to space limitations, the landscape elements linked visually and the sense of a large vista was visually successful when the forms were placed more separately.

It is an honor to acknowledge and thank Will Johnson and Ruben Reyes of Black Bean for their friendship and creative support, Bryan Vansell of Mission Clay for providing materials and rent at the studio during my residency in San Jose, Michelle Gregor, Diane Levinson and Fred Yokel for much wonderful feedback and art conversation, also our amazing critique group las cadre, and Steve Lee and all the Bray resident artists, for sharing so much with me. To artist curator Steve Allen of SMAart Gallery, my affectionate thanks. The work and the exhibition would not have succeeded without them all.

Susannah Israel

Oakland, California 2020


 "Color and fire : defining moments in studio ceramics, 1950-2000". LA City Museum of Art, 2005/Imprint New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group.

More Peter Voulkos -In just one minute and twenty seconds, young Voulkos creates a large sculpture which makes plain his powerful creative vision and the incredible energy and mastery he brought to his work.

Listing by SMAart Gallery for the exhibition:








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