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University of St Francis annual ceramics exhibition
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
The University of Saint Francis' annual ceramics exhibition has been a mainstay of the local scene for many seasons, and for the most part, has continually improved. "Figurative Ceramics: Lisa Clague, Nancy Kubale and Diana Farfan" is a break with the past trend of presenting a large group show, but a welcome change. This three person format allows for a more consistent presentation for the artists work (no one gets stuck in "the weird corner"), and all of the pieces have the chance to breath, a serious issues with national ceramics exhibitions in the past. The multiple vignettes dedicated to each artist, and the new ability for the viewer to get truly lost within the work of each artist, make for an excellent exhibition of three nationally recognized ceramic artists from the South.
Through the primary use of the figure, all of the artists find new ways to register anatomy and physical features — especially facial gesture — to create full characters and deep narratives within their respective works. Diana Farfan's work, which is primarily installation, uses the figure in a doll like representation, making them a bit toy-like, with a lack of human proportion and joints-connected multiple parts. The figures are meant to be pop-allegorical as well as having a false history and a "used" feeling like an old toy. This creates tragic characters that the viewer can relate to and find triggers to move deeper through Farfan's allegory, including many psycho-analytical and mythological references. Farfan's work mainly focuses on "The Human Condition," which she describes as "how we cope with the overwhelming environment of dysfunctional societies," the human body in all of its internal/external complexity, and the building up and breaking down of connections between each other.
Farfan's use of ceramics itself becomes allegorical as she kneads out her concepts and fully manipulates her figures like a poet would pare down their words. The use of disproportion and toy-like figures is an incredibly impressive structure within her work to represent the near-sublime of human constructs which, by intent, are created to assist, but through our fear of scale, begin to prey on their creators like mass media, social movements, and even personal relationships. In many ways, Farfan's use of the toy archetype for her figures, with articulated joints, proportion, and exaggerated features, builds up a child-like and defenseless aura. This forces Farfan's work to be seen through the eyes of one being subjugated or at least far from in control of their environment - something which most of our contemporary culture has been built to lead us away from.
Through certain figurative similarities, Nancy Kubale's work plays off of Farfan's full doll-like format with characters that, although far less exaggerated, take on certain boyish features. Kubale's primary mode of figuration includes frozen, near tectonic structure, simple features drawn on to represent skeletal and muscular features, and open, interpretable painted faces, making some of her characters feel almost like paper dolls. Far more than Farfan, Kubale's work includes humor or light-heartedness as a feature to allow the viewer to connect with her work prior to drawing them in.
In her "Naked" series, Kubale explores the "real" through a pursuit of truth through the body, our only legitimate tool to investigate our reality. Kubale believes that, "Within the structure of the Human form lies the potential to recognize ourselves and the opportunity to contemplate the complexities and contradictions of the world we live in."
With pieces like "Tiny People," Kubale creates humorous, almost kitschy characters, almost all looking up, seemingly searching, all with their mouths open, most with their eyes closed/shielded. These small figures are placed to seemingly find relation to each other and the world around them through echo-location, while wearing somewhat silly things like rabbit ears, gaudy glasses, and small hats. Kubale's absurdity allow her pursuit of truth is both genuine and honest, and treads the beautiful line between preaching and comedic monologue.
Lisa Clague's figures sometimes incorporate a similar humor to Kubale, but through a very concerted surrealist lens. Clague's figures tend to be compartmentalized, distinct, and in many ways incomplete, mirroring a particular and relatable human spirit. The hybridized creatures are masked and, in the artist's words, "evoke a place between the subconscious and the intangible." Pieces like "The Rabbit with three balls" seem to exist like characters from dreams who, fully formed, may have little to no true meaning, but lead you toward some other path, and Clague sculpts these characters in ways to make the viewer question their validity, with the eyes simultaneously looking "through" the mask, and being a part of it, the skull behind the mask being incomplete, and calm features/lack of body making the piece lack the ability to communicate fully.
Other characters like "Pallas", referring to the goat-like giantess of Greek mythology representing war, takes on many intriguing features including a convoluted series of horns atop the figures head, merging together and splitting apart, a head which seems to be bluntly placed upon a figure which is referential to Far East robed ceramic figurines, and has what appears to be a stream of water exiting its mouth, like the small figures on Renaissance fountains, infinitely spitting a small stream into the pool below it. True to her artist statement, Clague's beautiful work is truly, "…a passageway between what is dreamt, what is lived, what is remembered and what is to come."
"Figurative Ceramics" is an excellent small group show, offering a refreshing array of objects, concepts, and objective curatorial perspectives, which is even more interesting, being that all three of these female sculptural ceramicists live in North and South Carolina (Clague and Kubale from the North, Farfan from the South), showing that regionally sourced works can be applicable to any audience, when produced correctly. Although this exhibition was a departure from the norm, the University of Saint Francis' School of Creative Arts was able to continue its excellent trajectory.
"Figurative Ceramics: Lisa Clague, Nancy Kubale and Diana Farfan"
Weatherhead and Goldfish Galleries, USF School of Creative Arts
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