Del­i­cate forms

Per­chance: Ce­ramic Sculp­ture by Ch­eryl Ann Thomas at Wil­liam Sie­gal Gallery

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

ragility and sta­bil­ity com­bine in the el­e­gant, ephemeral ce­ramic sculp­tures of Ch­eryl Ann Thomas. What be­gan as an ex­per­i­ment to see how high and thin she could make a cylin­dri­cal sculp­ture led to a se­ries of col­lapsed and fray­ing forms, trans­formed in the kiln. “I made the com­mit­ment to fol­low the process be­fore I had any idea what would hap­pen, Thomas told Pasatiempo. “I was sur­prised by what came out and I’ve been fol­low­ing that ever since.”

Thomas, whose ex­hi­bi­tion at the Wil­liam Sie­gal Gallery opens Fri­day, June 24, lets an el­e­ment of chance de­ter­mine the end re­sult of each porce­lain piece she fires. She be­gins a new work by form­ing a hol­low, round col­umn of coiled clay. The heat of the kiln, reach­ing more than 2,300 de­grees Fahren­heit, causes the col­lapse. “I start with a 10-inch cir­cle, and the col­umns go up to about 38 to 46 inches,” she said. “The piece is dry­ing as I’m work­ing, and it’s get­ting strong as it dries, but if I were to poke it, it would just all go down.”

Per­chance: Ce­ramic Sculp­ture by Ch­eryl Ann Thomas in­cludes eight of her re­cent works, some of which com­prise two or more pre­vi­ously fired ce­ram­ics that have been re­fired to­gether to form a new sculp­ture. They also bend, twist, and tear at the seams along the coils, end­ing up look­ing like piles of gath­ered scarves or other fab­rics with split­ting seams, or, be­cause of their tex­tured sur­faces, like sheets of peeled tree bark. But her sculp­tures seem less like some­thing cast off, such as an ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing, and more like the repos­i­to­ries of unseen en­ti­ties. Winged, for in­stance, is an amor­phous dark shape that looks like a specter whose cloak is lifted by the wind. “It made me think of Winged Vic­tory,” she said, ref­er­enc­ing the Nike of Samoth­race (also called Winged Vic­tory of Samoth­race), an an­cient Greek sculp­ture dat­ing to the sec­ond cen­tury BC. “Usu­ally the ti­tle would re­mind me of the piece, but I don’t want any­thing too spe­cific. I don’t want to in­ter­pret it for peo­ple.”

Thomas’ work is process-ori­ented. The coil method al­lows for an artist to build a sculp­ture higher, with less risk of col­lapse. Most ce­ramists would smooth out the coils af­ter con­struct­ing a ves­sel, but Thomas leaves them ex­posed. The thin coils lend the sur­faces of her pieces a rough but uni­form tex­ture. “The fact that it’s built up coil by coil, that’s the way a lot of things in na­ture grow,” she said. “I pinch the coils to­gether but don’t use any­thing to make them re­ally stick. The coils in­ter­act with each other in the kiln, and fold or break. They’re per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal when I put them in.”

Most of the pieces at Wil­liam Sie­gal have some color. Thomas uses soft muted tones in a piece called Re­pose, a tri­par­tite con­struc­tion whose up­per sec­tion is taupe, mid­dle sec­tion is a pas­tel blue, and lower sec­tion is off-white. Com­press, an­other sculp­ture com­posed of sev­eral orig­i­nally sep­a­rate pieces, has at its cen­ter a col­lapsed form tinted pas­tel pink. Winged, how­ever, is a dusky form veined with blue. “I used black and white for a long time,” she said. “Maybe in the last two or three years I added color. Every­thing pro­gresses re­ally slowly with me. I take my time, and I don’t plan on mak­ing any changes, but they oc­cur through ac­ci­dents or through cu­rios­ity. The col­ors are ox­ides like man­ganese, black iron, or cop­per. The blue comes from cobalt. They’re nat­u­ral el­e­ments, the same things that color stones. I add that into the clay.”

Thomas was born in Santa Mon­ica and grad­u­ated from the ArtCen­ter Col­lege of De­sign in Pasadena in the early 1980s. “My de­gree is in paint­ing, and there was a long time when I didn’t have a stu­dio prac­tice,” she said. “I took an in­tro­duc­tion to ce­ram­ics course, and I tried a lot of things, mostly slab work.” Per­chance is her first ex­hi­bi­tion at Wil­liam Sie­gal, but she has ex­hib­ited in Santa Fe in the past, in­clud­ing a solo show at the Jane Sauer Gallery in 2006 and sev­eral group in­vi­ta­tion­als at Santa Fe Clay. Early in her ca­reer, she in­tended her ce­ram­ics to be con­cep­tual and also min­i­mal. The col­ors were monochro­matic and the forms re­tained their cylin­dri­cal shape. Some of her Relics ,a se­ries of works be­gun in 2002, give some idea of what her sculp­tures look like pre-col­lapse. Now she builds on her orig­i­nal con­cept with mod­i­fi­ca­tions, not just by fus­ing mul­ti­ple pieces to­gether, but some­times by tak­ing parts away. “When I’m com­bin­ing, I’m mak­ing choices about color and place­ment, but of course, I still don’t re­ally know how they’re go­ing to come out, so that’s an­other part of the art. For a while I was do­ing some bronze pieces, but that was too ex­pen­sive for me. I would make a piece out of wax and then have it cast. It had a to­tally dif­fer­ent look but was still process-based.”

The del­i­cacy of the sculp­tures is also what gives them their strength. They col­lapse be­cause of their fragility, but also set­tle into their per­ma­nent, sta­ble forms. Thomas gives up some mea­sure of con­trol. Chance be­comes her col­lab­o­ra­tor. “I’m drawn to chance and fragility, prob­a­bly through life ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had, but I didn’t set out to ex­press that. I set out to re­main dis­tant from it, but no mat­ter what work you do, you end up re­veal­ing your­self to your­self. You find out about things that maybe you didn’t even know were there.”

Ch­eryl Ann Thomas:

Com­press, 2015, hand-coiled porce­lain

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