From our stomping grounds in sunny Santa Fe, New Mexico comes an exhibition that draws on the talents of Mary Lee Bendolph, Kay Harvey, Agustin “Lucho” Pozo and Hank Saxe. Coloring Outside the Lines is on display at 333 Montezuma Arts from Feb. 13 to May 30, 2015. In addition to quilts by Bendolph and paintings by Pozo, the exhibit features ceramics by Saxe and Harvey. The gallery states:
The exhibition “Coloring Outside the Lines” mixes four artists that have wandered outside the lines and out of bounds into some very original and imaginative territory. This is what happens when artists with decades of art practice lose themselves in following the breadcrumbs of their own imaginative impulse, too engrossed in their own praxis to notice the lines they are crossing. Like the child too engrossed in scribbling color to notice or care about the lines in a coloring book they have emersed selves in their work.
Take the Mary Lee Bendolph quilt Houndstooth, 2003. It seems to fall outside the reference lines of rural Alabama quilting or any traditional African patterning. It is certainly not a quilt that one could imagine an art curator describing as typical of the Gee’s Bend tradition. Thinking this way would be a mistake. It is in fact Mary Lee going deep into her own expression of the African-American quilting tradition. The African-American quilting tradition besides it’s recognizable bending of the grid and masterful improvisational assemblage components also has a characteristic narrative component. There is a story about Gee’s Bend and Mary Lee Bendolph embedded in Houndstooth, 2003.
One of the Gee’s Bend quilter’s early encounters with the outside world came when a group of women from Connecticut came South to Gee’s Bend, Alabama to help organize a Freedom Quilters Co-Operative during the civil rights struggle in the 60’s. The bonds of friendship formed in that co-operative have remained to this day. Mary Lee’s sister returned from a trip to Connecticut and brought Mary Lee, as a special present, a dress suit outfit. Mary Lee was not quite sure what to do with her sister’s gift, never wore it and kept it in the closet for many years. It was several years later that she understood that treasured gift from her sister. Then her sister’s gift became both the subject and the actual material for a quilt. Houndstooth carries, in the form and materials of the quilt, a freedom struggle tale and the emotional resonance of Mary Lee’s relationship with her sister. This warmth and emotional content is what makes Mary Lee Bendolph’s quilts so beloved by both museum audiences and traditional quilters whether they know the story or not.
John’s Baldessari’s instructional aphorism that you “learn to make art by making art” is true for the art practice of all four artists in “Coloring Outside the Lines”. It is especially true for Kay Harvey. Kay has, for several decades, followed her own drummer. Her ceramic sculpture in Coloring Outside the Lines sums up decades of her art journey.
Although Harvey has worked in various forms her natural inclination is towards the freedom and improvisation of abstract expressionism. A trip to Antarctica and it’s mystical minimal landscape turned her toward minimalism and Kay returned to make a series of elegant mono-prints that took advantage of years of layering oil paints to subtly layer the mono-print inks to produce deep rich colors for sky, sea and the massive ice fragments that had broken away from the land mass to drift silently through the polar sea. In this world abstraction and landscape meet and Harvey used torn paper fragments in the monoprint process to capture the abstract shapes of these drifting ice islands.
Simultaneously Kay continued to paint and make ceramics. The torn paper fragments led to a series of torn paper collage works exhibited at 333 in 2013 where Harvey used torn paper much as she used an oil paint brush stroke, adding a sculptural third dimension to the collage form. Those torn paper assemblage works suggested open sculptural forms while her ceramic works began to peel open the vessel form.
With this new series of ceramic sculptures Kay has pushed her tendencies from the various mediums into a very original hybrid form. Harvey has completely torn apart the vessel form, then fired these torn slab fragments with exuberant color on both sides, interlocked the resulting shards in an embrace of balance to make contemporary ceramic sculptures that combine the freedom of abstract expressionist improvisational painting with an assemblage form that turns the vessel inside out and every which way. The almost crazy use of color, that is both sophisticated and child like, matches perfectly the skewed architectural balance of the sculptural assemblage.
Hank Saxe has been making clay objects for 51 years. He apprenticed to a commercial potter at the age of 14. He has literally put thousands and thousands of clay objects in a kiln to fire. Saxe studied at Cal Arts and the Maryland Institute College of Arts, moved to Taos in 1972 in the more than heady Easy Rider/ Dennis Hopper days, met and married his partner Cynthia Patterson. Always the artist, Saxe and his partner Cynthia also had a practical side and they decided to open a commercial ceramics business to make architectural elements and geometric designs in ceramic. The geometric designs proved difficult to sell but handmade ceramic light fixtures proved to be a booming business and they sold them around the world.
In tandem with his commercial ceramics business and his own studio practice Saxe also operated a informal ceramics atelier, offering technical assistance to artists like Lee Mullican and Lynda Benglis, giving them technical advice gained from his years of working with clay. In 2014, while on a trip to NYC, shepherding a group of Benglis ceramic sculptures, Saxe suffered a severe heart attack. The quick response of the emergency trauma unit saved his life. Completely and even miraculously recovered Saxe has turned with intensity to his own studio practice. The brilliant ceramic sculptures on exhibit at 333 capsulize the almost fanatical energy he is now bringing to his own work. Years of experience and what has always been part of his practice, a love of the technical parts of making ceramics, takes the glazes and fired surface to an extraordinary level.
Saxe’s new sculptures have a landscape spirit with reference to strange plinths that somehow mysteriously melted up from the earth’s molten core to be cooled not just by wind and water but the by elemental forces of cool 50’s modernism. The Japanese tea ceremony is there but so is a Mad Hatter’s tea party in some imagined cave where the hip stalactites of bubble gum pink and lime green have more in common with Italian Memphis design than with Carlsbad Caverns. However you describe them they are colored way outside the lines of traditional ceramics while they contain within them Saxe’s lifetime of experience working in the ceramic tradition.
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