Research: Hyperallergic//Kathy Butterly

Kathy Butterly and the Aesthetic Challenge of “No Two Alike”by John Yau on March 16, 2014

ButterlyGlacier, 2013, clay, glaze, 6 7_8 x 6 3_8 x 4 ¼ inches

Here is a partial list of of the shows devoted to ceramic sculpture that anyone living in Manhattan could have seen during the last year: Ken Price: Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 18–September 22, 2013), which I reviewed for Hyperallergic Weekend; Joanne Greenbaum: Sculpture at Kerry Schuss (May 2–June 2, 2013); Betty Woodman: Windows, Carpets and Other Paintings at Salon 94 Freemans (May 7–June 15);Alice Mackler: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing at Kerry Schuss (June 9–July 26, 2013); Arlene Schechet: Slip at Sikkema Jenkins (October 10–November 16, 2013); Mary Frank, Elemental Expressionism: Sculpture 1969–1985 & Recent Work at DC Moore (November 14–December 21, 2013), for which I wrote the catalogue essay; Lynda Benglis at Cheim and Read (January 16–February 15, 2014).

Current exhibitions include: Jiha Moon: Foreign Love Too at Ryan Lee (February 1–March 15); Norbert Prangenberg: The Last Works at Garth Greenan (February 27–April 5, 2014), for which I also wrote the catalogue essay; and Kathy Butterly: Enter at Tibor de Nagy (February 27–April 19, 2014).

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that ceramics are finally beginning to get some serious attention in New York. There is still a very long way to go, but the city does seem to be waking up to ceramics as an art form. Whether this change is momentary or part of a larger paradigm shift remains to be seen. As I see it, the stakes are high. For in the debate between art and craft, between de-skilled conceptualism and a skill set, ceramics has always been slighted. For some thinkers, a pair of dirty hands can be equated with a weak mind.

When Ken Price was asked if ceramics were art or craft, he said, “yes.” His take-no-prisoner’s response challenges the deeply entrenched attitude that the mind (conceptual art) is superior to the body (everything that isn’t conceptual art). In a domain of art making that appears to be dominated by women, is it any wonder that not a single New York museum (the Ken Price retrospective, organized by Stephanie Barron, originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) has attempted to address what is going on in ceramic sculpture? One reason for this glaring absence might simply be that there is no curator in New York who is interested in ceramic sculpture or who is qualified to assemble a historical survey of what has been going on in ceramics on the East Coast since the beginning of this century.

ButterlyLoud Silence, 2013, clay, glaze, 4 ¾ x 4 ¾ x 4 inches

Kathy Butterly’s current show, Enter, at Tibor de Nagy confirms what I first thought when I reviewed her previous solo show, Panty Hose and Morandi, at the same gallery for theBrooklyn Rail: “Kathy Butterly is an American original whose closest forbearer is George Ohr (1857–1918), ‘The Mad Potter of Biloxi.’ The formal traits she shares with Ohr include a penchant for crumpled shapes, twisted and pinched openings, and making (as Ohr was understandably proud to point out) ‘no two alike.’ Working within the confines of the fired clay vessel, Butterly has transformed this long established, historical convention into something altogether fresh and new, melding innovation to imagination so precisely that it is impossible to separate them.” To this earlier observation, I would now add: For this and many other reasons, Butterly is deserving of an in-depth museum survey.

Consider the intersection at which Butterly has chosen to work, and you get a sense of her ambition and genius. While maintaining a modest scale, she continually reinvents the fired clay vessel (cup or vase) in ways that exceed anything anyone else has done in the medium. From the unique base to the distinct body (creased, collapsing, convoluted and twisted), to the diverse surface, which can run from smooth to craqueled, often in the same piece, to the saturated color (sunshine yellow, fleshy pink, Veronese green and fire engine red), to minute details (yellow lozenges the size of an elf’s pat of butter), everything (including the spills and stains) in a Butterly sculpture attains its own particular identity…

Research: No Two Alike

Review: In ‘No Two Alike,’ George Ohr’s Pottery Plays on Convention



‘No Two Alike’

Craig F. Starr Gallery

5 East 73rd Street, Manhattan

The great ceramist George Ohr (1857-1918) was boastful, combative, deliberately eccentric and hugely ambitious. He called himself the Mad Potter of Biloxi and once told an interviewer, “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored, and cherished.” He was right about that. But the roughly 50 bowls, cups, vases and pitchers in this stunning exhibition testify to a creative sensibility much different from his bumptious public persona. They are marked by an exquisite delicacy of touch, a subtle sense of humor, an extraordinary formal sophistication and a Picasso-like inventiveness.

As the poet and critic John Yau notes in an insightful catalog essay, Ohr went on a 16-state journey at the start of his career to study ceramics. Back home in Biloxi, Miss., he mixed and matched Victorian, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Asian styles with insouciant, seemingly effortless panache.

Beginning each piece on a potter’s wheel, Ohr produced thin-walled vessels that he then subjected to all kinds of manipulations. Crumpling, crimping, folding, dimpling, twisting, squashing and stretching, he fashioned objects that appear organically animated. Those glazed in a wondrous variety of colors, patterns and textures resemble exotic puffballs or tropical sea anemones. Others riff on traditional conventions to playfully absurdist effect, including goblets with mismatched fancy handles. A coconut-shape teapot with a pebbled red glaze, a serpentine spout and a nonfunctional lid fused to its body calls to mind 21st-century works by the ceramic sculptors Ken Price and Ron Nagle. Toward the end of his career, in the early 1900s, Ohr abandoned glazing to emphasize sculptural forms. The 18 sand-colored examples here are classically elegant.

Review: Ji Yeon’s Think Tank

Review: Ji Yeon’s Think Tank

The subject of this review is Think Tank: A Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition by Ji Yeon Kim shown at the Anna Leonowen’s Gallery in Halifax N.S. March 12-23 2013 comprising of delightful ceramic sculptures and functional work dealing with the complexities of being a South Korean in Canada. Themes of culture shock, fear and adaption run through each work in the Think Tank, however the show is anything but dark, rather the work is Ji’s joyful manifestation of overcoming difference with a childlike resilience embodied in wonderment and playfulness.

The exhibition is named Think Tank in honor of Ji’s professors Neil Forrest and Rory McDonald. Jars rendered as portraits of all three are the feature of the exhibition (see photo above) and act as repositories for spectators comments written on doilies. With this action the think tank is ever being replenished and expanded. It is a great example of the interaction and playfulness Ji promotes. The original triad has been pivotal to Ji’s progression and studies at NSCAD University. Coming highly technically skilled from previous training in South Korea and used to working in a constrained environment Ji’ explains, “their personalities are really open and they are whimsical, funny individuals” (interview) their interactions allowed her to experiment and play in all aspecting of thinking and making. A sense of coy play permeates all aspects of Ji’s practice. Ji’s studio at NSCAD, a secretive place you must have the a password to get into (for your information the password is “little monster”, shhh!)  “is the gateway to [her] artistic practice; the most important ideas in [her] practice are play, color, culture, language and interaction with people. [Her] work is about more than simple playfulness. It is a ceramic investigation into a cultural adventure” (thesis). With this playful and respectful tone Ji asks us all to take a look at her work and join in her story, a story such that every traveller knows.

Walking into the exhibition we are faced with a wall painted in undulating light blue and lime green lines of color and adorned with more doilies, Ji’s preferred paper to sketch on. These bright colors and sketches are translated straight from Ji’s studio space, it is her way of reaching out to the viewer and an extension of Ji herself, always the bright and cheery artist. The colors mask the white walls of the gallery not only to comfort us but also Ji. Ji is afraid of the color white, for in South Korea white is the color of mourning and so tells the story of death. This fear is actually what led Ji to clay because clay is a warm hue unlike a stark white primed canvas, Ji relaxes when working with the medium. More themes of cultural difference arise as in her artist talk Ji explains how shocking it was to see how Haligonians have old cemeteries in the middle of the city and real estate around them is costly- in Korea ghosts would not be welcoming neighbors. Thus Ji surmises that Canadian ghosts are friendly and ghosts become her mascot in Canada. The three jars we encounter next and sure enough Ji’s self portrait depicts Ji wearing a hat with ghosts on it happily flying around in the night. In her eyes we see drawn a question mark and exclamation mark depicting what every piece in the show communicates. Likewise in McDonald’s portrait shows him dawning his toque, which he always wears, where Ji surmises he keeps all his power and energy and secrets. Forrest’s portrait bares no wrinkles or sign of aging with electric green hair he embodies his youthful demeanor, he has no hat symbolizing his sharing and blunt nature.

Ji says that her work here is more childish compared to what she would have made in Korea, her initial language barrier rendered her verbal communication childish and so she began to artistically communicate using childlike sentimentality. In this way we are reminded that words aren’t even necessary, exchanges can happen in different ways on many levels. The participation aspect is new to Ji’s work and came from a happy mistake, a letting go of sorts. The piece Jay Rider, 2011 is a ceramic rendition of a rocking horse but instead of a horse it is Ji’s dear friend Jay one is asked to mount. Ji had made a similar piece depicting her father in Korea.When she created Jay in Canada the piece developed a hairline crack on the belly, Ji changed her mind and thought, “maybe everyone can ride his back” (interview). Even knowing the crack was there I paradoxically really wanted to participate, even knowing I could literally be the straw that broke the horses back. This exemplifies just how strong Ji’s work draws the viewer in to engage and enjoy.  The crack was liberating and freed Ji to make art objects that physically engage the audience such as Whimsy Whimji Bridge, 2013 a play on the song “The London Bridge is Falling Down” a life size sculpture with hands raised to the sky asking you to join in the game. Further more participants are invited to decorate the white apron worn by the figure, an effort to cover up white voids with meaningful bright human interaction. Ji says, “spaces of play are where children (and adults) get to explore, discover, create and imagine” and so with her work she creates that space for us. In the center of the Anna LeonOwens is the three Think Tank jars,  Whimsy Whimji Bridge and Jay Rider occupy the middle of the gallery floor and on the walls are tiles and plates.  A series entitled Homesick Sometimes, 2013 consists of three self portrait wall tiles narrating Ji’s personal triggers- the cold winter, missing her dogs and culture shock. The pieces are dark yet delightful. Ji uses imagination for comfort and communication. Ji says “life is unpredictable, busy, complicated, and dramatic. It has ups and downs; it can be joyful exultant moments or heartbreaking disappointments… [she] likes to indulge [her]self with daydreams. Sometimes they take [her] away from reality” (thesis) this is something we all feel and need. Further along the gallery wall we encounter Aww Oh! Sign, 2013 a wall piece that protrudes out into the room like a shop sign and depicts a shocked Ji, mouth agape. Ji says many things are shocking about Canadian Culture like marijuana and overt sexuality sometimes her only response is “Aww Oh!” and we’ve all had that reaction before! Next two sets of plates entitled Two Missing Plates, 2012 tell of Ji’s forays into Halifax trying to find ingredients to make Korean food and having no such luck. My personal favorite is Meal with a bowl of rice, soup, and side dishes. At last we see the piece I don’t want to wake up at 9AM because Canada’s winter is too cold, 2012 a set of three plates decorated with sleepy bears unwilling to emerge from the warm covers of their beds. Once again a feeling every Canadian knows well.

Ji’s work is largely autobiographical but anyone who has ever been a foreigner somewhere or spent some time in Canada can relate to the themes put forth by Think Tank and Ji’s personal experience. The exhibition is a profoundly personal one and acts as a reminder to view the world in wonder and stay open minded.

Please take a moment to explore Ji’s past body of work at

Review/Issue: Say it Straight, Dummie.

I have been really enjoying this breakdown. I’ve taken the classes, I’ve done the deal in the real world and still found some nice tips and procedures (that I wish I knew when I drew up all those templates!). The gals that author this tome are quite witty and make the dry palatable. Get from your library and peruse.

Some food for thought from Canadian Business Kit for Dummies. What it says about your competitors and what I have to say about craft and what is on the horizon right now.



Porn: 500 Pitchers

Clark Craft’s 500 book series are a great reference source. Five years ago I hitched across Canada with “500 Pitchers”. Every day of the summer I critiqued a jug and doing a wee write up on each page. It was great fun and great practice. My bow at the time was browsing through it one day and I asked his opinion of one (the engineer vs. the artist!). He smirked and read exactly what I had written. I had a look of pure joy on my face when I heard his words. Had I found my soul mate? It took me a millisecond to realize what the sly fox was up to. Here are some of my faves from the book:

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Review:Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?

What a good question? I have another. Do you ever think the entire art world is farce? Well, this truck driving woman came across a Jackson Pollock painting in a secondhand store without knowing who he was or what his art looked like. Someone offhandedly said, “You know that looks like a Pollock”. She then found out it actually was then fought the art world for over 10 years trying to get her for real painting some stingy art world credentials ($5 can turn into $25 Million afterall). This movie is cute and gives an interesting, very bias, look into the American elitist art market it is worth checking out.

I am also including a screen shot of the movie synopsis on Netflix, where I watched it. I have been looking for gifts these days that aren’t actually physical things… apps for the iphone, digital organizational tools etc. Netflix is a super great gift if you are hard up come Christmas crunch time. I am a fan of all the documentaries available, like this little gem. Really, who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock anyways?

Review: Bijou Sale

Let me just say: awesome. A great space, a great variety of gifts, a great bunch of folk. I had to restrain myself from buying it all. I got so caught up in all the fine craft I forgot to take any photos. If you weren’t there, shame on you. Also Shame on me. I missed the Craft fair for peace at the Legion this past weekend. There is honestly so much talent in this little town.

Something extra charming happened at the Bijou show. Some fellow shoppers were sipping out of my mugs (one’s with goats on them)! It is so nice to know the people that are buying your work are actually using it how you intended!!!

So tell me. Did you go to any of the craft sales and fairs this season as of yet? What did you think?

P.S. Here is a picture that should have been in Friday’s studio post. My doted dots. I am firing these tomorrow! Anyone want some mountain goat pottery?

The Kiln Book

The Kiln Book by Frederick L. Olsen is the essential book for anyone slightly interested in kilns.
“This book is considered the kiln bible and is well established as a classic in its field.” says A & C Black on Googlebooks, and so right he is. I would not know the little I know about woodkilns without this book. Fredrick has dedicated his life to kilns and his teaching will go forever with this book. I remember a conversation I had with and glaze tech. who was getting her new gas kiln installed- with eyes shining she said- “isn’t it the best!” and it is. Kilns don’t have to be monstrous mysteries because of this book!

The book has ten Chapters:
Chapter 1: Refractory Materials and Applications
Chapter 2: Methods of Kiln Construction
Chapter 3: Principles of Design
Chapter 4: Cross-draft Kilns
Chapter 5: Downdraft Kilns
Chapter 6: Updraft Kilns
Chapter 7: Multidirectional Draft Kilns
Chapter 8: Fuels, Combustion and Firing Systems
Chapter 9 Electric Kilns
Chapter 10; Specialty Kilns, Innovations,  Ideas, Etc.

This basically shows that all the bases are covered. I actually own two copies of this book. You can get it off of the net at Amazon or at any pottery supply store, or the website.. check out

The Review: This section will be me reviewing a publication, exhibition, article. Pease note that all links are in grey text.