Review American Art Collector
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by Craig Stockwell, Art New England
Malcolm Wright has always worked at clay and his earlier work established him as an American master of traditional Japanese pottery. His work has that strong quiet sculptural presence that a well-crafted functional object can achieve, but in recent years his exhibited work has moved into full abstract sculptural objects. During this transitional time there was a remarkable sculptural potential expressed, but I also sensed Wright revealing an uncertain wavering about passing into this realm of such bold uselessness. This exhibit leaves the wavering behind as Wright asserts himself as a sculptor.
As a drawing teacher, I was immediately struck by what wonderful objects these would be to draw. I am always looking for forms that mimic the complex shapes and volumes of the human model, an object that can be carefully lit and then studied for modeled curves, dark deep crevices, and revelations of negative space. These new works reveal all that. “Three Figures,” is an object only 14" high and yet it has the monumental presence of free standing red stone mesas that I’ve seen in the Southwest. I know of a particular place in Zion National Park where a free-standing mesa contains a massive interior cave that is revealed, on the outside, only as a small vaginal opening. This work suggests such imagery.
Another important element in these works is the remnant of force. Some of the finished sculptures clearly pass through moments, as moldable clay slabs, when they are shaped by force. For example, Cinched Form, after being formed is clearly tied by rope, and cinched. These works grow out of a conscious serial process, not a random expressiveness. It’s interesting to compare them, in this respect to the work of Peter Voulkos, the master of Expressionistic clay. And it is interesting to note, as well, that my conciousness of the process is a secondary reaction. . . first I am taken by form, color, surface. . . only then do I become aware of how this work came about.
The earlier works exhibited, from just a few years ago, feature the interactions between two, three or four grouped objects, the lovely spaces between these objects are often the point of their being. These works seem rooted in a Minimalist aesthetic that focuses attention on process, surface and relations. But in the most recent work the objects become solitary and consciously shaped. Wright is making the conscious decision to form and present a more decisive sculptural object, this is a vulnerable and courageous moment and it is lovely to see it succeed.
59 Main Street
October 20- December 5, 2007
Ceramic art gets its due on and off Newbury Street
by Christopher Millis, The Boston Phoenix, February 27 - March 6, 2003
Nobody questions whether ancient Greek amphoras qualify as art, just as nobody questions the artistic merit of Ming vases or Mayan temples or, nearer in time and closer to home, Dedham pottery or Marblehead pottery.
So why is it that living ceramic artists seldom enjoy a major gallery show or a museum acquisition, or for that matter a review? I think the answer comes down to two (overlapping) forces, sexism and elitism. Baked clay is the stuff of kitchenware, which means it’s associated with women’s work. Beyond that, plates and bowls and cups and saucers are functional, and to the extent that aesthetics remains in the domain of the academy, nothing is quite as contemptible as the pedestrian materials of daily life.
Enter Malcolm Wright, a career potter who hails from Vermont and who’s been showing at the Genovese/Sullivan Gallery for longer than most Boston galleries have had incorporation papers. The appeal of his current show is so unexpectedly broad – he makes not just bowls and plates and vases but sculptures that are even more compelling – that I was moved to look at all sorts of ceramics to get a better grip on what he’s up to.
After checking out sandy, unembellished, tourist-trade (but often appealing) Guatemalan bowls at Mayan Weavers (268 Newbury Street) and bright, glossy, Italian majolica ceramics at Bellezza (129 Newbury), I spotted and felt compelled to visit a giant, 19th-century, glazed terra cotta water jug in the window of Autrefois Antiques at 125 Newbury Street. Standing about three feet tall, the vessel hails from the Provence region of France; there’s another one like it in the crowded, upstairs showroom. The pair reminded me of caryatids – bulbous and stately and sensual. The rough-hewn vessels are a reminder of the inherent beauty of everything that’s truly useful; their artfulness seems all the greater since it’s a by-product, and not a goal, of their creation.
One of the intriguing aspects of Malcolm Wright’s vessels – vases and bowls dominate the show, though cups and plates make cameo appearances – is the way they too seem to have stumbled into beauty. That’s especially true of the unglazed work.
One line of Wright’s objects (and there are several lines, all distinct; it’s as if the artist were a ventriloquist in clay) involves weighty, dark, low-slung bowls and vases that appear to be both meticulously executed and unfinished at the same time. One bowl, thin as a lamp shade, looks as if it were about to fly away: instead of its circumference extending evenly and round in all directions, two sides pull inward like a pair of tucked wings. And the surface of this flightless bowl is as rough and granular as one of those antique water jugs. Wright delivers a rewarding set of contradictions: an item that’s heavy and light, static and uplifting, delicate and unrefined.
In the same unglazed finish (which he perfected while studying in Japan), he's made variously sized vases that are unexpected in a different manner, since their principal geometric form is the square. Wright’s vases come into being in one of two ways: either they’re done traditionally on a wheel, or they’re extruded – pulled through a mold that renders their shape. Any object thrown on a potter’s wheel will by nature be round. Wright corrects his wheel-born vases by gently flattening their sides – but never fully. The result is a harmonious tension between planed edges that continuously give way to voluptuous curves. (An oblong Han dynasty vase also found at Autrefois Antiques suggests antecedents in the tradition within which he works.)
The extruded vases are another thing entirely. They come closer to being genuinely square (though not one of them actually is). Each has been slightly distended, pushed in from a side, so as to form a dynamic polyhedron. Further, their apertures are neither round nor at their summits. Instead, the openings appear in the middle of their forms – in the same way mouths appear in the middle of the face. But they’re not quite shaped like mouths; they’re shaped like two connecting half-moons, wide contiguous wedges, one rounded upward beside another rounded down. It’s as if somebody had taken a sharp-edged spoon and sliced into the center of the clay. The result is a vase the likes of which you’ve never experienced. It’s edgy in both senses of the word. You come away thinking you might find it gnawing on a flower stem or, left to its own devices, chomping a cigar.
By far the best work in this exhibit, which also includes the tender and bucolic black-and-white photographs of the potter’s son, Shaun Wright, serves no functional purpose whatsoever. Malcolm Wright’s ceramic sculpture enjoys a brooding, meditative melancholia, as if small parts of the earth had risen up to remind us of the pleasure of a body’s taking form – and to remind us, through the earthy medium, of where we’re all eventually headed.
Unlike his vases and bowls and cups, among which you’d expect to see sets of similarly fashioned objects, Wright saves his sets for some of his small-scale tabletop sculpture. One work consists of two interlocking forms, a confection of curves and flattened planes; it looks alternately manufactured and natural. Fitted together, the two units resemble a cushion or a foot rest (about 8x12). Taken apart, they make me think of a geode – not for the revelation of a crystal-studded interior so much as for their harboring of surprising inner contours. In another work, three graduated formations – they look like sails made out of stone – convey a simple lyricism; they’re like an abstract family or scales of some unheard-of instrument.
A HAN DYNASTY VASE found at Autrefois Antiques (above) suggests one of the sources of Malcolm Wright's work (below).
“EARTHLY RELATIONS: Ceramics by Malcolm Wright”
at Genovese/Sullivan Gallery, 23 Thayer Street, through March 4.