Scarlet Fever

Kate McGraw
02/08/2008

Clay show is centered on color, which is never an accident

The use of the color red is never an accident, according to Santa Fe Clay gallery assistant Rod Lambert. That’s why the ceramics gallery is opening a national invitational show today that is centered on that color.

“Studies indicate that the color red can have physical effects ranging from increased respiration to raised blood pressure,” Lambert said. “Animals from bulls to birds to fish to bugs are agitated and/or excited by red. Red is symbolically the color for passion, love, sex and excitement. Historically, commoners forbidden from wearing the red textiles of the rich and powerful would like their clothing with red fabric or wear red undergarments as a symbol of rebellion. Clearly the use of the color red is never an accident.”

More than 80 contemporary potters and ceramists have accepted Santa Fe Clay’s invite to show red (or red-related) works in this show. The Journal did a little online Q-and-A with three of the New Mexico artists, Bart Johnson of Corrales and James Marshall and Siddiq Khan of Santa Fe.

Johnson, who holds a master of fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Virginia, shows throughout the region, including the Center for Contemporary Arts. Kahn, a ceramic instructor at St. John’s College and Santa Fe Clay studios, earned a diploma of fine arts from Byam Shaw School of Art in London and studied at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn and the College of Santa Fe. Marshall, who shows at Winterowd Gallery in Santa Fe and Bentley Projects in Phoenix, earned a master of fine arts at the Michigan School of Art in Ann Arbor and has done ceramic studies in Fredonia, N.Y., and Guatemala. From 1993-2000, he owned and operated James Marshall Art and Design Studios in Santa Fe.

Q: Did you do your entries especially for this show, or were they works you had already done:

JOHNSON: The entries were created especially for the show.

KAHN: My entries for the show were already done. I am working on a group of paintings for a show at Chiaroscuro Gallery. They represent my work in New Mexico. And Arizona. Since I create both 2D (Painting and drawing) and 3D ceramic sculptures, I tend to focus on one when the inspiration and momentum is there.

MARSHALL: These works were made in the course of a typical studio work week and are part of the series called “The Liminal Object” that I began 14 years ago.

Q: What do you like or find challenging about the color red?

JOHNSON: The challenge from my point of few was not having the red, which is the most powerful color, overpower the black drawing. It was a matter of finding the right balance between line and color.

KAHN: Red can be challenging as far as controlling its intensity and its relation to other colors. My approach is to start off with a complementary or cooler color, and then lay red on top, allowing hints of the underlying color to show through. In my series of new paintings, the theme is “flame,” so I am using a lot of red and flame-like colors. Each painting contains a hidden letter of the word “flame.” The ceramic sculptures are based on abstracted letters of various alphabets.

MARSHALL: Red is lustful, red is a mantra, red is love, red is prayer, red is saturated, red is devoured by the eyes, the heart, the body, the mind. Red moves, red shakes, red empowers, red transforms. Forms colored with deep saturated, penetrating red become monumental while remaining on a modest scale.

Q: Do you call yourself a potter or a ceramist?

JOHNSON: A ceramist.

KAHN: I have been called potter, ceramist, artist, painter and draftsman. I accept them all.

JOHNSON: I call myself an artist.

Q: Why do you like to work with clay?

JOHNSON: My background is in painting and drawing. What initially interested me about clay was its utility in translating my two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional characters. As I’ve continued to work with it, I’ve become fascinated with the tension between the two-dimensional illusion (drawing) and the three-dimensional object. The simple shift from drawing on a flat piece of paper to drawing on a three-dimensional form opens up a myriad of possibilities and challenges—deriving from the fact that there’s no fixed viewpoint when looking at an object. My habitual way of seeing a drawing was, as with anyone else, to stand or sit in front of it. With an object you can’t see the whole drawing simultaneously. You can choose any number of ways to see it as you turn in space.

Simply stated, when I first started sculpting in clay I felt like a flat-earth believer discovering that the earth was actually round.

For me, art has always been an enormous, magical act that contains an essential and indecipherable mystery. How do marks on a two-dimensional surface transform themselves into something convincingly real in a viewer’s mind? When I move close to a painting I look into a seemingly chaotic mass of agitated and cracking paint. When I step back from the painting I’m somehow being observed by a living and breathing artist named Rembrandt—dead now over 300 years.

What I find most fascinating in my approach to clay is the way that the illusion of space (in the drawing on the surface of the object) coexists with the actuality of the object occupying space.

KAHN: I like to work in clay because of its malleability and also the process. At different stages of constructing the piece I can constantly make additions of materials and visual elements that all contribute to the finished piece. I fire the piece several times, working simultaneously with controlling and allowing random happening to evolve into the finished piece.

MARSHALL: I work in clay because of its inherent mutability.