New approaches to an old tradition: Jason Green and Derek Harding at Bannister Gallery
When organizing this April’s exhibition at Bannister Galley, Bryan Steinberg, an associate professor of art at the College, was looking to break the mold concerning preconceptions about the art of ceramics, particularly its utilitarian side, its “vessel orientated” aspect as Steinberg described it.
"Double Diamond" by Jason Green
“Ceramics is more than what happens on the potter’s wheel,” he noted.
Ceramic artists can use slipcasting, molding and even certain industrial techniques to create purely sculptural forms or architectural settings.
Steinberg’s preoccupations are not new; they have had recurrent manifestations in modern art. Gauguin, for instance, in the 1880s fashioned a vase that defied function – his “Double-Vase Decorated with a Breton Figure” could not hold a bouquet of flowers.
But he is just one of many who were attracted to the unique features of clay and who used it in their sculptural projects. The list includes Picasso, Noguchi, Miró and Lichtenstein, among others.
For Steinberg, tightening budgets and the fragile nature of ceramics, which makes them hard to transport, prompted him to look locally.
“I thought it would compromise the show,” he said, “but it didn’t affect quality at all. It’s a great show.”
The exhibition, which runs through April 23, features Jason Green and Derek Harding, who are both Rhode Island-based artists, but who also have had wider exposure.
Green, who teaches ceramics and sculpture at the Walnut Hill School, an arts high school in Natick, Mass., has exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad and was a visiting artist at Jingdezhen Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute in China.
Harding is studio manager and moldmaker at Roseberry-Winn Pottery and Tile in Tiverton, and teaches at CCRI. He participated in a unique program for artists in Wisconsin, sponsored by Kohler Co., the well known manufacturer of kitchen and bath fixtures. The program brings in visual artists to work on their own projects in the company’s manufacturing facilities, allowing them to explore innovative techniques for studio ceramics.
By exhibiting these two artists together, Steinberg has formulated an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.
Both use a casting process, which works by first sculpting a model from clay or wood, then making a plaster mold from that, and finally pouring in liquid clay or pressing in plastic clay. Once the piece has dried, it is bisqued and then glazed fired.
One of the most striking differences between the work of Green and Harding lies in their surfaces, and that depends on whether the clay is pressed or poured into the mold.
Green, who presses clay, arrives at a mottled surface, and Harding, who pours, comes up with a smooth surface, what one might think of as a “perfect” surface, which, according to Steinberg. “references sanitary ware – sinks, toilets, etc.”
Steinberg went on to mention that Green achieves “refinement in mottled surfaces,” particularly in his use of glazes to “activate” those surfaces and give them a feeling of “fluidity,” which can carry over into the forms Green favors. He often sculpts wave-like patterns that flow over those surfaces.
Green also works in a modular fashion, which is facilitated by the casting process, for this allows him to use the same piece in different ways or to build interlocking structures from one or two forms, although Steinberg mentioned that Green has used many more multiples, creating pieces with around 25 tiles or so.
“He’s very methodical,” Steinberg said of Green. He just keeps working. When you think of the tortoise and the hare, Jason is the tortoise.”
Moving even farther afield from the traditional vessel orientation of ceramics, Green has constructed both wall and floor installations within galleries and has done outdoor installations as well.
Like Green, Derek Harding finds inspiration in some non-traditional places as far as a ceramicist is concerned. But he uses his material in a different way.
Ceramic work by Derek Harding
In line with his experience at the Kohler factory, Harding prefers to explore industrial themes and techniques, but does this in an “ironic way,” according to Steinberg.
“Harding is attracted to such things as pipe fittings and sprinkler systems,” he remarked, “and he uses them in nonsensical ways. He embraces and has fun with industrial processes.
“Ironically Green’s studio is in an old brewery, and there are a lot of those things around.”
Steinberg added that Harding is developing a wall installation especially for the show. That could lead to an interesting development, especially since Green takes a different approach to that form.
In some ways, this exhibition could be like the ceramic process itself. You have to be ready for the unpredictable.
“Magic can happen in a kiln,” said Steinberg. “Alchemy is part of the process. But for something to come out good, it has to be good going in.”
Gallery hours during exhibits are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursdays, noon to 9 p.m. Closed weekends and holidays. Exhibits and events are free and open to the public. Accessible to persons with disabilities. For information on event dates and exhibit opening receptions, check the website at www.ric.edu/Bannister or call (401) 456-9765.