Anatsui found in clay the figurative resonances of both fragility and resilience, interminable, dialectical alterity, fragilis, fragmentarity, the spectral space between softness and hardness, wetness and dryness, even liquidity and solidity. He found these properties very exciting and full of sculptural and conceptual possibilities, each speaking to significant aspects of nature and existence, and especially to the cyclicity of life. — Olu Oguibe, 1998
The quote above is taken from an exceptional essay, Anatsui: Beyond Death and Nothingness, and the artist’s little known work in ceramics. A writer and artist Oguibe has produced one of the finest essays on ceramic art that I have read and CFile is seeking to publish it in full at a later date with more and better images of El Anatsui’s ceramics. Until then you can call it up here.
This partner piece connects this week to another artist, Chicago Imagist Roger Brown, and his relatively unknown work with ceramics.
My prompt for this article was an exceptional solo show for Anatsui at Jack Shainman’s sprawling 30,000 square foot alternative space, The School In Kinderhoek (Kinderhoek, NY May 17 –September ,2015). (He also has a gallery in New York). The exhibition was a huge and exciting, covering a wide swath of his art.
The ceramics begin 1975 when he moved from Ghana to Nigeria to teach at The University of Nigeria-Nsukka. In an interview he was asked how the new surroundings changed the artwork he produced which until then had been mainly in plaster and wood.
“The circumstances were different. I didn’t have my tray carvers there so I had to change to another medium. The first medium I worked with in the new location was clay. Clay is everywhere. It’s the earth we are walking on; it’s a common thing anyone can work with. I was in an art department that had facilities for ceramics so I naturally went to working with clay. And I worked with clay for about 5 or 6 years before coming back to wood again but in a different form.
The impact of the work can be seen on one of the major 3-D works for the Schoolhouse show. Which is the featured image above. If one compares this with the ceramic work illustrated above from 1975, the shared vision between the two and maybe even its direct genealogy, is evident.
Garth Clark is the Editor-in-Chief at CFile.
Love contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.