Concreta, Ceramic Sculpture, Ceramists
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conCreta 2008
International Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture

Certaldo, Palazzo Pretorio

Organised by the gallery “Gulliver – Terre d’Autore” in collaboration with “La Meridiana” – International School of Ceramics
From 16th March to 30th June 2008

 

LEE BABEL
INGRID MAIR ZISCHG
LISA NOCENTINI
DONNA POLSENO
ALDO RONTINI
BETTY WOODMAN

Critical texts by Franco Bertoni

Lee Babel is of German origin, but has also worked in Italy for years.  A unique inclination towards a relationship with space is evident in all her works. Using geometric blocks formed according to models that are free and never schematic, together with the old-fashioned wisdom and patience of a stonemason at work in the great cathedrals, she has built sections of larger virtual architectural compositions. Hers are suggestions of technical and practical perfection, calling to mind poetic structures of which only the foundations are defined, not unlike Biagio Rossetti’s work in Ferrara. At times, the theme of the door emerges from her work. The door is perceived as an element that defines space and the act of living rather than being seen simply as a stationary void which permits unaware passage. At other times the theme is the wood-burning stove,  which played a pivotal role in the domestic dwelling in the Central European tradition, similar to the role F. L. Wright gave his stone fireplaces as the only solid part of the wooden houses of the pioneers. At other times she has focused on themes such as the pillar, the window, the arch and the trabeation. Her architectural structures are often “habitable”, in the sense that there is an interior and an exterior. This makes it possible to erase the distance which is inexorably placed between the sculpture and the observer. The ruins of the supporting structures of buildings destroyed during World War II are perhaps at the origin of this architectural inclination. They are proud witnesses, precisely because they have survived despite the suffering, of a life abruptly interrupted of which they still bear the signs: empty doors and windows, remnants of stairways, colored outlines formed by the walls of rooms that no longer exist. As a tribute to these memories, the colors she utilizes are never bold but instead tend to be limited to non-fiery earth tones. She covers everything with soft and tenderly poetic hues, almost as an act of compassionate compensation. As was the case for other Central European artists working in Italy during the 20th century, being bathed in the Mediterranean sun was nearly blinding. The artist’s sculptures, although solid and stereometric, seem to almost blend in with the colors of the sky and of surrounding nature: an ode to the possibility of a warm, serene life, surrounded by signs of timelessness.         
       
Ingrid Mair Zischg has been working with clay since the early 1980s and previously created paintings using a variety of different media. Her approach to ceramics was almost instinctive in that, by following modern tradition, she identified the path of the formative, or perhaps the very first, acts of human nature, in the processes of ceramics.  This led to her study of Raku pottery and a predilection for shapes which are almost primordial. They remind us of the surprise our ancestors must have felt when they created, without fully intending to do so, the very first objects in terracotta. These containers used for storing and preserving food, were nearly sacred given the fact that they helped preserve the very life of small, isolated communities in a barren and hostile world.  Curved and round like the belly of a pregnant woman, a seed or a ripened fruit cleaved in two, these objects, in essence, have not changed radically for thousands of years. Pot handles have been the focus of many philosophers, artists, designers and art historians. However, in reminding us of the importance of the empty space inside a vessel, this quote by Tao Te Ching seems still to be irrefutable: “The clay has quite a task in forming a vessel, since the use of that vessel depends on that which is missing.” What this means is that as indispensable as the clay may be in forming a vessel, it is the void inside which makes it precious. The artist’s conical or spherical, open or closed sculptures invite us to go beyond appearances and to discover the signs of the true "worth" hidden deep within these materials, what they hold and what they can contribute to revealing. In the works present in Certaldo one notes the cessation, or at least the reduction, of symbolic pulses that are extremely expressive of, or linked to, tribal worlds. These urgencies are placated in simple forms which seem almost to relate, delicately and subtly, to color alone. The color often coincides with that of the earth tones of origin, but a balanced use of pure gold adds accents of nobility. At the limit of non-existence, almost on the brink of shattering, as demonstrated by the presence of deep craquelures, Mair Zischg's sculptures call one's attention to that which we do not see or no longer appreciate, including the apparently “empty” space which surrounds us.
       

Lisa Nocentini
began working in the field of ceramics with an interest in objects.  The “low” culture of popular art, figurative contaminations and the combined use of various other materials have contributed to the emergence of her first works. Her most characterizing contribution, however, is her most recent work dedicated to figurative sculptures that seem to have come straight from the pages of a medieval bestiary. The “monsters” that kept watch over the capitals, portals and walls of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals are reintroduced to modern life as figures which have been mutilated or are comprised of both human and animal parts: dogs and birds with human heads, bodies speared with fish that take the place of the arms, permutations and combinations carried out in a crazy surgeon's operating room on the brink of fantasy and the surreal. Bright and vivid color, together with a streak of irony, partially divert one’s attention from the more horrific aspects of this visionary work, and aid in transforming it from the matter of recurring nightmares and of vestigial interior tensions. When tightly packed away in boxes, these Hieronymus Bosch-like beings spark relationships among themselves which go beyond the visual; when they assume the nature of true sculpture their “diversity” from the standards of a smooth, sugar-coated vision of what is real – predominant these days and dictated on a daily basis, with a placebo effect, by the mass media - appears even more evident. The shock effect present in the works of Lisa Nocentini is similar to that found in the ceramic works of Andrea Perini and Federico Bonaldi. It demonstrates, however, the capability of furthering these themes, blending a common visual anarchism and rustic brutalism with works in which the desire to be heard becomes captivating and, often, indulgent as well. Popular ceramic culture, which is often desecrating and irreverent, has made important contributions to this search for an opportunity for “low creativity”. Lisa Nocentini sees in it a fertile breeding ground for a contemporary offering which fits happily into the larger scheme of an old tradition, undeservedly considered marginal, still awaiting appropriate redemption.
       

Donna Polseno
focused on ceramics quite early in her career, following an initial interest in painting. In Certaldo she presents sculptures whose preferred iconographic theme is a simplified version of the female body holding a vessel or a bowl atop her head. These symbolic sculptures reintroduce ancient figures from the dawn of man. Truncated like Paleolithic Venuses (the upper extremities were often remarkably simplified), her sculptures focus on overabundant forms with a strong exaggeration of the belly and thighs, vessels of sex - the creator of life. The contorted enlargement of the pelvic area is also present in Polseno’s works. On one hand this hints at spiritual origins linked to fertility and procreation, while on the other hand it lends the figures a misshapen form which emphasizes a desire for an abstraction of reality in pure fluid shapes. Often placed to watch over the hearth or domestic life, these ancient spiritual statues are among the precursors of the Magna Mater of historic times. They underwent further developments in various cultural and religious traditions including Christianity, linked to the figure of the Blessed Mother of Christ and her virgin womb. The hermetic tradition, which produced such preeminent artists as IlParmigianino, was devoted to weaving connections between the belly of the Blessed Mother and the Vas in which an Opus occursand whose goal is not so much the perfectibility of the more humble materials into gold, but rather an interior maturity of which it is a symbolic representation. Polseno gives the female form and the vessel a modern interpretation that is visibly influenced, however, by ancient rituals and myths. Also aiding in this interpretation is the presence of “graffiti” on the female bodies and on the vessels: curved or circular designs, representing graphic symbols – common to the Mediterranean region and beyond - that refer to water, another universally recognized source of life. Lacking faces and limbs, Polseno’s sculptures do not allow for a precise anatomic identity, just as they do not require related supporting elements. Isolated atop an empty base, they float in space attracting attention towards that which is essential and significant - not necessarily that which is real or visible.
       

Aldo Rontini
is an artist quite aware of being non-contemporary. From the very outset of his studies at the Institute of Ceramic Arts in Faenza, he exhibited a preference for and a focus on masters who – at the time - had been almost forgotten by superficial critics who connived with the gauche expressions of a ceramic and artistic modernity now more and more perceived as highly trivial. Devoid of excessive consensus and manifest incomprehension, his ideal references tended toward the great Italian sculptors of the 20th century, particularly the period between the two World Wars: Domenico Rambelli, Arturo Martini and Angelo Biancini first and foremost, followed by Baroque and Renaissance sculpture, with brief excursions into Classical art as well. Gifted with a rare sculptural talent, Rontini has always maintained a connection with the great Italian tradition in the art. His contemporary influences are limited to the modernization of iconographic elements and never infringe upon the ancient ideals of perfection and of form. A form and its interpretation in a figurative, narrative and evocative sense, nonetheless, that today can only be represented as fragments, details and innuendos, since they lack the ideal support of and the cultural and creative relationship with an otherwise oriented society. His poetic illusion has, nonetheless, solid and age-old foundations. Using the humblest and noblest of expressive materials – terracotta - Rontini has followed a solitary course through the obstacles of the present, while expertly guiding his works of sculpture to the heart of the broader and grander artistic ideas of the past. Thus, he has contributed to elevating to the dignified level of art and sentiment even those creations relegated to the field of the "lesser arts": devotional, decorative, popular or marginal as they may be or may appear to be, even today. His enlarged, pierced ex-voto hearts, his deformed and truncated male nudes, and his torsos whose fluid Baroque movements are reddened by the color of substances inflamed by a scorching summer sunset or fire, all bear the signs of a tension and fever that are almost Mannerist in style. That melancholy implied by Classical art ever since the times of Praxiteles’ Hermes, marked by a longing for a legendary golden age or Arcadia in the Classical era, is modernly manifested in Routine’s works. This same “fever” also afflicted Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino and, more recently, Scipione and Leoncillo.
       

Betty Woodman
can be proud of an artistic career that is so rich from an expressive point of view and so filled with important international awards that it makes her one of the most important contemporary artists. For many years now she has shown an interest in vessels and objects, and has also taken advantage of opportunities to roam freely through the fields of sculpture and painting. Systematically overstepping the boundaries generally imposed upon the various artistic disciplines, she has shown a rare ability to innovate languages, now at risk of being stereotyped, with innovative doses of conceptual freedom. Following the trail blazed by the great masters of the last century, Woodman has freed the art of ceramics from presumed ways of thinking, from aristocratic divisions and from restrictions that, in some ways, have contributed considerably to producing effects contrary to those desired: even today, the art of ceramics, despite the fact that it boasts excellent works, is struggling to enter into art history in general, and not just that of the 20th century. By crossing boundaries and tearing down barriers, Woodman has eliminated those borders which served more to segregate than to protect. In Certaldo, the artist exhibits works which are the result of her most recent research: three large painted canvases covered with elements obtained from terracotta slabs. Painting and sculpture merge, abstract and figurative art find equal opportunities to affirm themselves, three-dimensional objects become memories of themselves in graphic syntheses which are practically two-dimensional in appearance. The general tone of these works brings to mind the finest moments of the late works of Matisse, who also worked with ceramics and glass in the Midi. More complex however, are the references to more recent artistic phenomena and, in particular, to the artist’s own previous works. Ceramic scraps form a large still life of sorts with vases, stems and flowers emerging from backgrounds that are abstract yet bring to mind fabrics, windows and elements of a warm, sunny place. Having reached a mindful maturity of expression, the artist almost seems to be asking herself questions, through design, painting and materials, about the claim to reality. Compressing her vases and their usual contents into a flattened form, the artist searches for their essence without however erasing the adequate support provided by the memory of the original matter. The extrapolated color becomes a countermelody to this extreme reduction of form. All this is done with the ease typical of masterpieces. It is an expert lesson for those who consider ceramics a specific discipline and not a language open to all possibilities.
Photo by © Andrea Messana  

conCreta         edition 2007
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