BY JOSEF WOODARD, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
November 26, 2010 12:00 AM
'FORM AND FUNCTION: CERAMIC ARTS IN CALIFORNIA'
When: through Dec. 18
Where: Westmont Art Museum, Westmont College, 955 La Paz Rd., in Montecito
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Information: 565-6162, reynoldsgallery.org
Without question, Westmont College's long-awaited new house of art, a bonafide Museum of Art, is this year's grandest and most must-see new addition to the ranks of Santa Barbara's art spaces. A fully equipped and welcoming art venue, nestled in the idyllic setting of Westmont's campus, the museum instantly takes its rightful place as one of the potentially most inspiring places to see art in the 805.
Following the grand opening exhibition last month, a retrospective of eclectic artist and Westmont Art Department veteran John Carlander, the schedule goes back on track with an ongoing tradition, the fourth annual ceramic show, just in time for the gift-seeking mission. Somehow, the more prime venue reflects well on the work, and vice versa.
"Form and Function: Ceramic Arts in California," assembled by Museum Director Judy Larsen, draws on the work of 16 artists around the state. On the whole, the exhibition celebrates the diversity of intent and positioning on the "form vs. function" scale. That is to say that many pieces make for suitable gifting ideas (including a long shelf full of fanciful and funky cups), where others steer away from convention, in search of artistic invention and purpose.
It is more than just local color and pride governing the healthy representation from the tri-counties, given that this is decidedly and historically a ceramics-friendly zone. In this show, the most celebrated artists in the field from this region are the late and greatly admired couple Otto and Vivika Heino. A pair of large, lovely Heino vessels in a display case — the gleaming glaze of the red bottle and the matte and kiln-mottled finish of the "Bizen Style Bottle" — amount to a centerpiece in the show.
Montecito's Joan Rosenburg-Dent pushes the medium into interesting and playful manipulations and illusions, mixing up hard and soft materiality. A series of delicate porcelain pieces evoke qualities of folded paper or fabric, including the vaguely dance-like pair of forms in "Martha Graham Memories."
Christopher Bates shows "Serra Dessert," with smaller bowls tucked within a larger bowl, in tribute to sculptor Richard Serra. Work by Santa Barbarans James and Linda Haggerty distinguishes itself with its glistening glossy finish and rough-hewn, bumpy surfaces. The crafted and the natural make a pact.
Up north, the Bay Area, too, has long been known for its concentration of skilled and artful ceramic artists. From Emeryville, Rae Dunn again burrows into the appearance and the illusionistic challenge of faux fabric-like impressions in clay, marked with simple, Zen-like words of advice — i.e. "think," "pause," and the form-meets-functional word "pour." Linda Meade, from Oakland, creates elegant, quasi-retro pieces with a milky finish and subtly ornamented designs suggesting a '40s-era sensibility.
From a more formal perspective, Tricia McGuigan's "Shift," made of whiteware and stoneware, looks like sheaves of thick white paper sandwiched between curved stones. Her more functional vessels and keepsakes, meanwhile, lean into the wind of traditional ceramic values, but with little narrative twists such as the respective sculpted figures on the "Reindeer Teapot" and "Tofu Soldier Teapot."
San Diegan Richard Burkett, for his own expressive intents and purposes, belongs in yet another personalized stylistic corner. His "industrial" series lures us into designs wrapped with perforated exoskeletal coverings, over mysterious interior objects. The combination hints at a reference to machinery or industrial products, but made with hands and earthen clay, and with zero utilitarian function. Except, of course, as beautiful curios, to satisfy the eye and mind. That's where art and craft enter the picture.