Ceramics show gathers B.C. talents

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October is the official month for major arts awards and exhibitions on Salt Spring, a time to be grateful for the wealth of talent pooled on the island and its ability to attract other inspiring artists to its shores.

With two editions of the biennale Salt Spring National Art Prize now behind us, 2018 marks the second run of the equally exciting Salt Spring Island Ceramic Awards. The finalists exhibition at Mahon Hall, which opened Thursday night and concludes on Sunday, Oct. 14, once again provides a window into the vast possibilities of the art form while showcasing masters of technique.

So varied are the pieces in terms of traditional versus contemporary, functional versus sculptural and the crossover of all elements combined, many attendees at Thursday’s opening event were wondering how the jury could ever make a final choice.

While 2016’s inaugural show was restricted to Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, this year’s event was opened to all of British Columbia. Working “blind” from photo submissions without any name attached, the jurors independently attached scores that resulted in a finalists list with a maximum 62 pieces. In the end, 37 artists were selected (some with two or three pieces each). The fact that nine of the finalists were from Salt Spring speaks to the high-calibre work being produced on the island, standing up to some of the big names from around the province.

Local artists in the finalists exhibition are Kuno Egger, EJ Feller, David Jackson, Denys James, Julie MacKinnon, LeeAnn Norgard, Pat Webber, Judy Weeden and Margo Zak. Mayne Island’s Kristine Webber is also a finalist, and so is Asha Robertson — raised on Salt Spring but now based in the Interior.

To give a sample of the range offered just within the Salt Spring group, Egger’s recent work combines bold, almost fluorescent colours and the terra sigillata finishing technique to offset classically elegant stoneware vases. One oval vase divides the brilliant crackle with black edging and a vertical centre line brushed with gold, creating the look of a marvellous beetle casing.

Feller adds a surprise element to her finely crafted, smoke-fired vessel in the form of a white disk-shaped ring, slipped over the narrow neck. Jackson’s Crow on Column combines hand-built elements to create an arresting sculptural piece, with a realistic and dynamic crow sculpture contrasting the strong vertical lines of the pillar — itself softened by a tree design in rainy grey shades.

Finalists from Vancouver Island represent nearly everyone who received an award or honourable mention at the 2016 show, including the top prize winner Sandy Harquail. Viewers will find similarly strong work from her this time, and from fellow honorees Samantha Dickie, Vincent Fe, Anthony Mochizuki and Beth McMillin — although some have moved in new directions. Mochizuki’s entries in 2016 included hefty slab-build forms. This time he has the most delicate sea urchin shell shapes in unglazed white or black, patterned with holes punched through in radiating lines.

Victoria’s Meira Mathison is influenced by the sea in a different way. Tidal Seaweed is a large pillowy piece, with a double-walled thrown structure producing the feeling of a thick fleshy pod. The hard clay surface looks as though it must be flexible. Earthy bronze tones are offset by ornamentation in copper green.

Eye-catching sculptural works abound at this show, with Together: Broken, a stunning piece by Bev Ellis perhaps the most prominent. The collection of articulated hanging pieces are hand carved and painted to become slender but hoary birch trunks, some with words such as “help” and “defeat” crudely carved into their bark. A very different use of the same finishing look is found on a square teapot by Ellis called Steep in the Wood.

Other sculptural pieces are quirky, humourous and even a little bizarre, such as Andrea Revoy’s turquoise wooled sheep, sitting udders out in a salon hairdryer chair. Anyuta Gusakova’s Lady Blue is more mysterious, a mix of cloissoné and anime. The rabbit-eared face on long neck is disturbing for its lack of facial features but beautiful with its hand-brushed under-glaze in blue and silver over white porcelain.

Bridging the gap between functional ware and sculpture, well-known ceramicist Robin DuPont (of Winlaw) wowed many viewers with Perforated Stool, a large drum-shaped piece in porcelain with “quartz and feldspathic intrusions.” The anagama wood-fired finish produces earthy tones that work well with the form, a chocolate brown cap and iron black drift complementing lighter caramel hues.

Peter Flanagan of Okanagan Pottery employs different finishing techniques to explore form and surface in his large platter 10,000 BC – Radical Transparency. Iron and cobalt applied to the centre create transparent and opaque areas that allow some of the carved spiral design to show through. The rim is decorated in two rings, a more intricate pattern of glazing giving way to clean slate scored with triangles of crisp white lines at the outer edge.

The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday. Saturday’s show closes at 3:30 p.m. and then re-opens for the awards gala from 7 to 9 p.m. The final day runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, with a panel discussion involving the jurors running from 10 a.m. to noon. 

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