Hedge Gallery presented Color House (San Francisco, November 10, 2104 -January 6, 2015), the most recent works from California artist Tony Marsh. This body of work will stop those who know his art in their tracks. For over a decade he made two types of work. The best known was his perforated vessels with holes drilled into their body. He also made bowls and large platters in earthy tones with molded prehistoric seeds and other natural forms placed inside the vessel. There was some color as well but it was more the accent than the norm.
Above image: Tony Marsh, Single Story with Block Contents, C, 2014, terracotta, wax and assorted color
Two years ago volcanic glaze took over his projects, sudden and seemingly without warning. At the time I saw that as a sudden departure from the work that had made him internationally known. First, Marsh does not “do” sudden. He is careful and measured. Secondly, once I got past the new surfaces (which had been in gestation for a decade) the arts, the cylinders and the balls were familiar. Even with the glazes, they were pockmarked with holes.
This time, however, the shock of the new is real. This work is not anchored to the past and one senses in the artist a rising urgency to take on an array of new ideas that have, for one reason or the other, been bottled up over the years. Marsh describes the current chapter in his use of the vessel, fifteen works in all, simply as “a small-scale arena for the testing and containment of a variety of ideas.”
The gallery explains that as unusual as these works may seem, Marsh is continuing his exploration of the rich history of ceramic:
“…while at the same time creating sculptural objects that engage in a dialogue with the history of art. the sculptures ask the viewer to stretch intellectually through time, referencing both ancient ceramic technologies and more modern artistic movements. the rectilinear blocks making up the vessels’ contents are hand cut and finished, each unique in proportion and size. each block is bisected by two colors selected at random, then arranged in a compositional exploration of color, drawing a clear reference to the Neo-Plasticism of Piet Mondrian and Colorfield painters such as Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland.
“Marsh has created pieces that can be inserted or arranged in endless positions that result in new compositions. the tactile and visual familiarity of the blocks encourages the participation of the viewer, through the potential of his or her own intellectual play. they function as bits of information that bring forms into focus, occupying a place on the continuum of visual culture, between the deep history of their material and the digital nature of our present.”
All of this is true but not enough. The complexity in this work is impressive. Let’s go back to the exhibition title, Color Houses. I doubt it was chosen without deliberate context. The feeling that comes across is not just a house, another form of functional container by the way, but specifically the traditional manicured wooden houses of Japan.
It is not literal in its architectonic presentation but it is present. The job of the terracotta boxes with their right angles, drawers and tabletops is to channel wood representing Japanese boxes or chests of drawers. It becomes multimedia with only one medium.
Then there is our inner child and, I suspect, the maker’s as well. One cannot look at the forms’ brightly colored demand to be touched in a way that some of his earlier cretaceous dry surfaces did not. If your fingers don’t itch to touch and play you are not getting the art. Their friendly candy colors (perversely, but understandably) make one want to lick the surfaces.
I am older so I think back to wooden colored blocks. Most today would think Lego. Whatever your constructor kit heritage, the elements you will make you want to play and build new relationships, not necessarily 3-D, but with color compositions. And, much like the being-unable-to-reassemble-the watch period, one may never be able to get them back to the purity of the artist’s virginal arrangement, but your remade painting will be yours and the art more personal as a result.
In this sense this work will always be art at risk, it will lose its original arrangement; pieces may be misplaced or broken, an impermanence that some will find worrying and others comforting and who knows what objects for other sources their guardians may add over time? Thus they will always be in transition.
A quick bio: following a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1978 from California State University Long Beach, Marsh studied for three years with the Japanese National Living Treasure Tatsuzo Shimaoka in the the traditional pottery town of Mashiko. In 1988, Marsh completed his MFA at Alfred University in New York. He is currently the head of the ceramic arts program at CASULB where he has taught for more than 20 years.
You can go here to download a catalog of the exhibition courtesy of Hedge and distributed online by CFile Library. We will be appending more of these free publications to our posts in the coming year as fully-featured free eBooks (Color House will reappear in this format soon).
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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