Going dotty for art’s sake

DOT.DOT SQUIGGLE DASH (ART Gallery, Bird Street) Reviewed by Jeanne Wright 

THE compact little ART Gallery in Central is showing an eclectic collection of bowls and other vessels made with the title Dot.Dot Squiggle Dash, as part of Nelson Mandela Bay’s extended Fringe programme of the Grahamstown Festival.

As with ’60s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s exhibition currently on at the Tate Modern in London, dots, spots and textures of all kinds are featured as a theme for this Ceramics SA Eastern Cape exhibition of the region’s ceramic artists.

Patterning on pots and three- dimensional vessels is not easy to do well, as it can easily detract from and interfere with the basic shape – so marrying surface marks to the format of the vessel becomes a primary concern.

If you don’t get it right, you end up with something which is neither fish nor fowl.

I am ambivalent about modern heavily-patterned vessels. They exist somewhere between the arena of the functional and the purely decorative and sometimes masquerade as sculptural objects.

The ancients – like Persian potters – used a cohesive stylisation and symmetry to decorate functional wares, as well as decorative vessels. Abstraction and irregular shape are implicit in modernism, so regular marks on asymmetrical shapes sometimes sit uneasily.

Christina Bryer has made porcelain Mandalas of exquisite thinness and regulated embedded textures, which illustrate this dilemma perfectly.

Lynnley Watson, one of the Bay’s most accomplished ceramicists, gets it right with pristine shapes which showcase her skilful control of random and abstract patterns subsumed in the glazed interior surfaces.

In contrast, overt white glaze extrusions dominate the surface of an interesting perforated black bowl by Nicole Kingston, which is more sculptural artifact than vessel.

With a more literal approach, Lydia Holmes uses calligraphic line and her cartoon-like drawing skills to narrate small dramas on mug-shaped vessels which are lined with dense solid colours.

Holmes is a figurative ceramic sculptor well-known for her whimsical sculptural pieces. For me, Lisa Walker’s insouciant trio of conical pots with brilliant red tulip-shaped heads and her Protea Vase, with its idiosyncratic persona, is the highlight of this show.

Walker has the ability to combine texture, content and format in a highly individual way, making each work a singular statement every time.

Bianca Whitehead’s red plate fulfills the brief with its divisions of colour, dots and squiggles nicely balanced. I also liked Donvé Branch’s Haiku pots for their soignée simplicity – a refreshing departure from her customary Raku-fired genre.

It’s a pleasure to be able to view a representative sample of these artists’ work in this small but comprehensive exhibition.

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