The Woman With The Feline Ears
Tory Folliard Gallery’s show features a menagerie of fanciful figures in clay.
Yes, art can be funny.
And that’s just a small part of what’s on display at the Tory Folliard Gallery, now inhabited by a plethora of small sculptures that are a world unto themselves. Sculptor Chris Berti is featured with a solo exhibition in Concerning Nature, and he also curated the fourteen artists in The Figure in Clay. The exhibitions are richly complementary, flowing easily from one to another. The nuances of each artist’s style and the predominately small scale of works draws the viewer in close, often revealing surprises. Tiny as many of these pieces are, don’t call them dainty.
Berti’s works are largely drawn from nature with a few odd and interesting inanimate objects thrown in. Sculptures of pants, for example. Seven Pair is a line-up of trousers, standing like stiffly pressed terra cotta-colored fabric. Yet Berti accomplishes this using bricks as his main material. These vintage construction materials are carved, smoothed and shaped into fanciful objects as well as a menagerie of animals including birds and bunnies. Other bricks are transformed into things like scrub brushes, hardly a typical choice for an artistic subject. But even a scrub brush has its charms, with the curves of feathery bristles acting in contrary character to the hard nature of stone. What’s most striking about Berti is his skill in re-imagining the form of his source material. Old stuff from buildings and streets shed their unglamorous, utilitarian purpose for playful, storybook-like characters.
Using other types of raw material from nature, Berti uses rocks (from a river) to create such things as a pudgy round caterpillar. The ancient traditions of marble carving are also given a nod with his playful series of polar bears, softly benign and sparkling under the gallery lights.
As for the art Berti has included in the exhibition,The Figure in Clay, traditional methods of slip casting and shaping clay are some of the strategies used by the featured artists. The work comprises a range of little sculptural vignettes, providing a study of the human condition through depictions of everyday activities, erotic encounters and the realms of dreams, fantasy, and shamanistic representations.
Heidi Preuss Grew plays dark stoneware off mysterious, ghostly figures in her series of wall plaques. The rather raw surfaces make for a feeling of earthiness and depth, creating plausible space for her creatures to mosey on through, such as the woman with seemingly feline ears in Lost in Thought and Debris. Grew’s combination of stoneware with Limoges porcelain and pigment is ethereally luminescent.
In contrast to these dreamy states, Richard Swanson makes slip cast clay figures with a roundly solid identity. Happy Potter Saki Set is charming and funny. In this small group, the figure of an intensely delighted, bulbous artist shapes a vase. Two finished pots in the set become the saki cups, making the jump from decorative works to pleasurably functional art.
The freedom to shape and mold the human form into all kinds of variations is well-represented by a number of artists. Debra Fritts builds a standing woman with rough, linear rivulets of clay at her feet, and the place of her arms is crowded by shallow bowls. The figure’s head and face show Fritts’ skill for nuanced, melancholy expression, as though the sculpture is a soothsayer about to speak. Lisa Claugue takes a similar approach with sweetly seated figures whose svelte human bodies morph into animal heads, connected to each other by a lustrous gold tongue emerging from the male’s sharp-toothed mouth, reaching into the female’s seemingly amused lips.
Berti and the other artists in this show offer a whirlwind tour through the range of materials and techniques employed by contemporary ceramic artists and sculptors. With the emphasis on figurative subjects, there are plenty of stories – amusing, provocative or sometimes simply adorable – that come to mind as you view the telling details.
Chris Berti: Concerning Nature and The Figure in Clay continue at Tory Folliard Gallery (233 N. Milwaukee Street) through April 19.
FRIDAY, APRIL 4
Lisa Anne Auerbach: American Megazine
The Ski Club
3172 N. Bremen Street
Opening reception 7-9pm
The Ski Club is a new contemporary art gallery opening this weekend in Riverwest. Headed by Mark Klassen and Kathleen Kennedy-Klassen, the emphasis will be on contemporary artists from around the country. The inaugural exhibition features Lisa Anne Auerbach’s American Megazine, a five-foot long magazine, which is certainly an epic piece to open this new chapter in the Milwaukee art scene.
Portrait Society Gallery
207 E. Buffalo Street
Opening reception 6-9pm
MIAD-grad Grant Gill curates this exhibition of work by 23 photographers, fixated on the theme of the pineapple. The culinary emphasis is more than just an artistic subject; it supports the underlying mission of the exhibition as a fundraising effort for The Hunger Task Force.
SUNDAY, APRIL 6
John Ruebartsch: A New Life: Portraits of Refugee Families in Milwaukee
1501 S. Layton Boulevard
Opening reception 1-4pm
Artist talk at 3pm
This exhibition features the photography of John Ruebartsch, in collaboration with artist and teacher Sally Kuzma, to present the lives and experiences of refugee families who have fled war, conflict, and persecution in their homelands. The subjects featured in the exhibition have come to Milwaukee from diverse places including Myanmar, Somalia, Laos, and elsewhere. Ruebartsch and Kuzma create work that depicts their stories as they build new lives in a new community.