Presented in the sunny, front-room of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the “Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay” pottery exhibition inhabits an emotive realm outside of its punny title of excitement and energy; instead settling somewhere outside the kiln into a calming array of jar, bowls and sculpture.
Educated at the Saint John’s University in Minnesota in 1976, and director of the school of pottery since 1980, Robert Bresnahan is mentor of the four former apprentices that comprise the other four “Stoked” artists. Himself having studied in Japan during his senior year, and three years after that, under the 13th generation scion of pottery-making Nakazato Takashi, Bresnahan’s work and teachings have “absorbed [the] Japanese culture’s emphasis on community and reliance on sustainable and renewable materials.”
When provided with these broad criterion, the four former apprentices took such inspiration in forms of wildly amorphous shape and subject that range from simple pottery to symbolic sculpture.
Comprising the former, Samuel Johnson’s contributions to the exhibit are plain--everyday earthenware pots and bowls with imperfect, wobbly bodies coated in a smattered, almost sloppy, white slip glaze. He cultivates an appreciation of textures in minute shades of absent color, though superior strength in attention to the surface and exploration of patterns might go to his co-apprentice Kevin Flicker.
Flicker’s works also sit within the realm of simple--almost ancient, in the shape of the classic pottery that seems appropriate for the age of antiquity. Raised sections of delicate patterns--concentric circles and scale-like planes--- are scratched onto the body of pots, asking to be appraised by fingertips.
Works that play with the guidelines of Bresnahan’s axioms, however, are by apprentices Anne Meyer and Steven Earp, with Bresnahan’s work itself providing the rule. Bresnahan’s clay is shaped into tea-pots and serving bowls of Japanese influence, smooth bodies of red and brown adorned with hand-woven reed handles that create a root-like feel to his work--a tea set for the forest.
However, Earp and Meyer explore these themes of “community” and “sustainability.” With intricate latticework mimicking the veins of plants, or his “Large Presentation Jar” (2009) adorned with introspective couplets “Of earth I am it is most true/ Disdain me not for so are you.” Meyer, the most diversified of the five, uses human figurines to display communal female emotion, such as “Lion” (2009), a nude, encroaching, enraged woman with arms outstretched and eyes focused on some individual about to strangle the viewer.