Arlene Shechet’s Genre-Defying Experiments with Ceramics and Paper

Along with artists including and , Shechet leads a trend in contemporary ceramics that uses the concept of the vessel as a foil against which experiments in hand-building, glazing, and firing techniques can be set. Composing her clay works slowly and intermittently, Shechet allows gravity and balance to determine shape, giving the pieces a sympathetic aged quality, and a sense of presence.. As evidenced in “Blockbuster,” this effect can be penetratingly corporeal, as in the twists of Sounds Like (2013) and Assumed Phantom (2014), which resemble cast-off organs or fecal matter; in others, it is more architectural, as in Over and Out (2012-2013), which echoes a dilapidated favela, constructed with firebricks and kiln shelves pulled from a ceramicist’s studio.
One is struck by the attention to color in Shechet’s practice, and by the depth of her surfaces. “Blockbuster” is unified by a jewel-toned palette set against monochrome: deep blues, pastel purples, and bright greens decorate both the ceramics and the set of pigmented paper casts of items in Shechet’s studio. These works, which were created using a process developed in collaboration with master papermakers at New York’s Dieu Donné—an institution that fosters contemporary art through hand papermaking—conflate ceramics-making and two-dimensional art techniques by repurposing a traditional drawing material, paper pulp, to create sculptural forms.
Shechet describes the goal of her work as a balancing act: “I try to make things that are hybrids. And I deal with the history of art. There are conversations with contemporary art, historic art, industrial objects, nature, but if it goes too far in any direction, I destroy it,” she says. Viewed through this lens, the works in “Blockbuster” seem to pulse with a set of contrasts: light and dark, clumpy and geometric, trace and presence, as Shechet pushes and pulls to create settled forms with distinct personalities that owe all to the process of their making.
— K. Sundberg
Arlene Shechet: Blockbuster” is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, Jan. 24–Mar. 21, 2015.