Arlene Shechet’s Genre-Defying Experiments with Ceramics and Paper
Squiggles and masses of clay lounge among reliefs in flattened cotton at Arlene Shechet’s “Blockbuster” at Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin. Shechet allows qualities of viscosity and seepage to define her ceramics and paper works, upending the formal codes of traditional craftsmanship in experimental, off-kilter pieces that fluidly blend painting with sculpture and address the processes of art-making.
Along with artists including Sterling Ruby and Francesca Dimattio, 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