Tansey Contemporary is pleased to present “Litany of Failures” by Ventura, California-based artist Cheryl Ann Thomas January 24 - February 28, 2019 featuring nine recent sculptures. The opening reception is Thursday, January 24 from 5-7 pm and Thomas will be in attendance.
Thomas creates her works by stacking serpentine-thin coils of porcelain clay into columns. She adds oxides and stains to the wet porcelain to get subtle variations in color. While in the kiln, the columns warp and collapse due to being too thin and tall to support their structure. The type of oxide and stain used greatly influences the amount of collapse or lack thereof: fluxes melt more in the kiln while refractory ones aid in structural support. Works such as Soft Vessel maintain their column-like structure while others slump and fold in on themselves like Spring.
The show’s title comes from the concept of kiln failure in ceramics: when a piece warps or breaks during firing. Thomas’ work embraces the concept of “failure” by working with chance occurrence. She approaches her work as an experiment and usually begins with a question such as “How thin and tall can I make a column? What happens if I use this oxide? What will happen if I add this stain?” Each work begins with a strong sense of curiosity and exploration without preconceived notions.
Thomas will often combine two or three individual pieces into a larger work. She says she never discards any work out of the kiln, even though she’s quite often disappointed when she opens it. She roots her practice in reconciling what at first may be considered a failure, to work with what’s given and begin to find the harmony, balance, beauty, and acceptance inherent in that. She likens her art practice to traditional Japanese aesthetics, specifically Wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection and the concept of imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete beauty.
Thomas titles her works after completion based on what the work calls to mind for her. The colors in Aftermath, for example, reminded her of the ash and burnt wood after the last California wildfire. Water Vessel, she says, feels like the colors and movement of water. While the California environment may be a subconscious influence on her work, Thomas eschews the concept of metaphor. She says that by using materials of the earth and a process that mimics the way things naturally breakdown, she creates inevitable and unforced ties to the environment. The titles serve as a doorway of sorts that invite viewers to enter and in doing so bring their own associations with them.
Thomas was born in Santa Monica, California and graduated from the Art Center College of Design with a BFA. Before practicing art full time in the late 1990s as a ceramic sculptor, Thomas worked as a grade school teacher. She has exhibited her work in solo and group shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe. Numerous collecting institutions hold her work in their permanent collections such as the American Museum of Ceramic Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Fuller Craft Museum, among others. Her work was featured in Melting Point: Movements in Contemporary Clay at the Craft and Folk Museum which highlighted ceramicists for their experimental manipulations of clay to expand the technical, aesthetic, and metaphoric potential of the medium. Her most recent exhibition was a retrospective at the Santa Paula Art Museum in California.