Through their books and workshops, the potter Bernard Leach, along with Shoji Hamada and Soetsu Yanagi, actively promoted studio pottery in England and Japan and became profoundly influential around the world in the 1950s and ‘60s. They saw studio pottery as a humanist activity that extended our cultural continuity into the Neolithic past, and they proposed a meeting of Eastern and Western culture through an “art of living” that acknowledged the values of the individual craftsperson, the importance of handmade objects and a connection to the land.
Bernard Leach’s philosophy permeates the art history of British Columbia. A revival of craft was seen regularly in exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery from the 1950s to the ‘70s and was evident in the work of a generation of now well-known artists emerging from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) at that time. While studio pottery remained a prominent practice through the 1970s, it began to disappear from institutional discourse as distinctions between so-called high and low art re-emerged in “fine art” exhibitions. Leach’s influence on BC potters and the craft/art dialogue was brought to the forefront again in the seminal 2004 exhibition Thrown: Influences and Intentions of West Coast Potters, organized by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
While studio potters continue to produce and have influence, the commitment to a back-to-the-land ethos, so central fifty years ago, is arguably less possible and attractive now than it was then. The resurgence of ceramic practices today may be indicative of a rise in the importance of handmade things generally and, in the contemporary art world, a strong interest in materiality. The ten artists in Ionic Bonds refer to the legacies and histories of ceramics while pushing the limits of functionality towards a ceramic art that integrates altogether new forms, including video, interactive projects and installation. They span many generations and backgrounds. In some cases, the artists maintain a fluid integration of studio pottery along with a conceptual art practice, while others make work in many mediums, including ceramics, as part of their broader intellectual and material exploration.
Works include an installation of porcelain panels by Tom Burrows made during his time in Jingdezhen, China, along with polymer panels and an early video and sculpture work, Sand Pile (1973). There is also a large grouping of sculptural vessels by well-known ceramicist Wayne Ngan that give a sense of his prolific practice. Steven Brekelmans and Gailan Ngan have both made new work that combines large-scale ceramic vessels with found and constructed materials. Maggie Boyd has also developed a new body of work in which projected imagery fills blank spaces left on vessels, suggesting a fluidity of meaning on otherwise fixed objects. In his Borrowed Landscape series, Glenn Lewis embeds metaphor in material, oscillating between object and place by using source materials and photographs of sites in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Jingdezhen, China, where he was an artist-in-residence. The exhibition also includes an installation of vessels and prints by Eunice Luk that came together in an exhibition at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, as well as projects by Babak Golkar that offer visitors an opportunity to throw clay at the wall and scream into pots. Collaborative vessels by Eric Metcalfe and Paul Mathieu are presented in conversation with Metcalfe’s gouache paintings.
The atoms in ceramic materials are held together by chemical bonds. An ionic bond occurs between materials with different electronegativity—metal and non-metal. The metal atom transfers electrons to the non-metal atom, becoming positively charged, whereas the non-metal becomes negatively charged. The two ions, having opposite charges, attract each other with a strong electrostatic force. The artists in this exhibition are bonded by their distinctive approaches to ceramics. Through diverse ways of working with clay, the artists respond to the deep historical roots of ceramics, the medium’s connection to the land and its ability to transform through human contact.
clay, slips, glaze, rope
43.9 x 30.5 x 22.9 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery
Photo: Goya Ngan
In the case of the plastic vessels he casts, the transformation to a now solid object emphasizes the way in which it takes up space. In a time when plastic bags and bottles, expendable objects and large oceanic plastic piles are under deeper scrutiny, Harder’s meticulous recording of his experience with these objects brings attention to how much plastic we each encounter in our everyday lives and reveals how dependent we have become on the material. Some plastic objects are made for durability and to conserve weight when filled with liquid, while others are discarded immediately after a brief period of use – most do not biodegrade. By bringing attention to every object he uses, Harder points to our individual complicity, the sheer quantity of plastics discarded and the amount of resources that have gone into the creation of these modern conveniences.
Referencing the cellular make-up of plastic material itself and the transformation to cast concrete, Harder’s sculptural constellations take the form of a polyhedron, the Classical Greek word meaning “many bases” which describes a mass or surface in three dimensions with flat polygonal faces, straight edges and sharp corners. By connecting these seemingly disparate objects, Harder makes the accumulation of these materials visible and exposes the connection between individual actions and the common good.
Installation view of David Jacob Harder: Poly(mer)hedron.
Photo: Cory Hope
Comet MMXVIII was created for the Gallery’s Luminocity 2018 exhibition (luminocity.ca) and served as a beacon of light at Riverside Park during this evening festival of video projections and new media projects. Installed on top of the newly renovated TNRD entrance, this light sculpture will act as a beacon for this public building, marking it as a significant civic and cultural space in the city. It holds visual interest in the daytime and at night, celebrating this building as a key public space in downtown Kamloops and highlighting an exceptional example of local talent. The sculpture also serves as an opportunity to showcase a new work acquired for the Kamloops Art Gallery’s collection and visibly marks the excellence embodied in one of Kamloops’ principle cultural institutions. The sculpture is representative of the Gallery’s rigorous exhibition program and commitment to community engagement.
Donald Lawrence is a professor in the Visual Arts Program at Thompson Rivers University. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria, Victoria, BC and a Masters of Fine Arts from York University, Toronto, ON and exhibits his artwork nationally and internationally. Lawrence was the 2017 recipient of the Kamloops Mayor’s Award for the Arts Artist of the Year award and was the first Chair of the City of Kamloops’ Arts Commission.
Research for this sculpture draws upon Lawrence’s duel interest in solar phenomenon and optical devices. He referenced numerous books in this research and made sketches based on medieval imagery he sourced. These ephemeral resources will also be displayed in the entrance to the TNRD building to further inform visitors about the sculpture and Lawrence’s art practice, and to mirror the Library’s fundamental interest in books, their importance and history.
Donald Lawrence Comet MMXVIII, 2018 salvaged galvanized items and fluorescent light tubes, LED lights, Bubble Wrap, rope and tackle 444.5 x 279.4 x 88.9 cm Photo: Krystyna Halliwell
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