LOS ANGELES — Comments about clay’s acceptance into the fine art world are starting to sound rote. They’re also, according to Robby Herbst of KCET, not what we should be focusing on. Whole dialogues about clay have been neglected. Critics often forget to take the next step. Clay used to be neglected, but its outsider status allowed artists to approach topics that are still being developed today. Herbst gets existential, cosmic and magickal from the moment he opens, describing Ruby Neri creating what she calls an “infinity sculpture” on an earthen plinth in her studio. I had a blast reading his essay, “L.A. Artists and the Squareness of Clay,” and you will, too.
Above image: Anna Mayer, We Are committed To Burying the Dead with, Rather than Without, Provisions (Piuma Road), 2008 wildfire-fired ceramic (forthcoming)
Neri says that the medium of clay is “so loaded already [that] you don’t have to do much to bring up a dialogue.” And while she feels that those who care to think about art tend to think of ceramics as “cheesy,” “housewife-y,” or “weird,” she uses these references to produce contemporary art. Perhaps it is this squareness of clay, its essential relationship to such things as domesticity and spirituality, that makes it such an attractive medium to work in today.
In the last several years, clay-based artworks have received a bump in Los Angeles’ art world, with a fit of significant conversations and exhibitions focusing on the medium. Yet none of these conversations dwell significantly on the relationship between ceramic works and gender, labor, or spirituality; though these ideas are at play in artists’ works.
I d0n’t usually start work for the day expecting to write about the apocalypse, but I got to this morning when Herbst described the work of Anna Mayer, an L.A. artist who combines ceramics with social art and her studies in the occult (awesome. I’m onboard already). In her Fireful of Fear projet, Mayer places raw clay tablets inscribed with incantations in fire-prone canyons around Malibu. These tablets bank on the uncomfortable (but unavoidable) idea that L.A. is headed for a fiery end. Mayer uses this opportunity to write for eternity. Should the unthinkable happen, the killing flames will fire Mayer’s works. Then, like Babylonian clay slabs, they will be preserved into the future, grim warnings from a doomed culture to be either unearthed by archeologists or to be forever buffeted by dry winds. She is the inverse of ephemeral-minded artists who let their raw clay works crumble outside. Mayer still submits to entropy (as everyone must) but she also willfully leaves her mark on it. That idea is more occult than a warehouse full of Aleister Crowleys and, in a fatalist way, it makes me feel better when I start to get anxious about the climate.
That’s just a taste of Herbst’s argument. There’s plenty more in his piece. My one complaint is that framing the discussion in terms of “squareness” shifts focus to current trends, which seems like a paltry concern when the artists are looking toward the cosmic. Do read his essay, though, it feels like being launched toward infinity.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.