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The Language

of Line
by Heidi McKenzie

When I heard that Josh DeWeese, Sam Chung, and Heather Mae Erickson were exhibiting together in the exhibition “The Language of Line” at Lillstreet Art Center (www.lillstreet.com) in Chicago, Illinois, I was excited and intrigued. I had met Chung at the 2010 Fusion Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, where he was one of the two weekend demonstrators, and I had met Erickson at The New York State School of Ceramics at Alfred University last winter, where she was a Robert Chapman Turner Teaching

Fellow developing the molds and techniques for the very work that was displayed. I knew of DeWeese by reputation and through his work from his residency last summer at Medalta in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Works by a local mixed-media artist, Neha Vedpathak, were selected to compliment the trio of ceramists. The first thing that strikes you when you enter the space is the sense of unity—it’s as if the pieces themselves are resonating with one another. Yet each artist’s work couldn’t be farther from the others’ in

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1 “The Language of Line,” installation view at Lillstreet Art Center. 2 Sam Chung’s Cloud Bottle, 17 in. (43 cm) in height, porcelain and glaze, fired to cone 10, with low-fired China paint, 2012. 3 Sam Chung’s, Cloud Teapot, 9 in. (23 cm) in height, porcelain and glaze, fired to cone 10, with low-fired China paint, 2012. All photos: Joe Tighe.

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5 4 Josh DeWeese’s basket, 19 in. (48 cm) in height, stoneware, wood fired with salt/soda, 2012. 5 Josh DeWeese’s oil cruet with saucer, 7½ in. (19 cm) in height, stoneware, wood fired with salt/soda, 2012.

terms of style and execution: Chung’s slab-built vases, teapots, and ewers are assembled with pristine precision and their crisp white glazed cladding is highlighted with only the most minimal of cloudlike gestural strokes; Erickson’s work, in contrast, comprise sets of uniformly colored slip-cast dinner sets, her mix and match palette based on the soft hues of gentle pastels or striking yellows and rich browns; DeWeese’s work is fearless in its presence with grand sweeping profiles and a deep intensity to its bold surfaces. Vedpathak’s wall-mounted paintings, drawings and etchings provided a quiet, yet in some ways unsettlingly profound, backdrop to the sculptural pieces. The palette is limited in many cases to the monochromatic use of graphite on vellum with the occasional deep rose acrylic paint, sand, or soil integrated into the mix. The Language of Line is in fact perhaps the most precisely descriptive use of exhibition title that I have ever encountered. At first blush it seems like the curator just pulled together the works of Lillstreet’s summer visiting artists and came up with a generic catch-all phrase, but when you stand in the gallery and feel the energy of the pieces scintillating in the sunlight, the second, third, and fourth things that strike you are the lines: the steely black curves of China paint that reach around the partial circumferences of Chung’s billowing outlines; the deep creases and clean edges of Erickson’s monochrome forms demarcated in Scandinavian–like minimalism; the wispy yet majestic and purposeful lines of DeWeese’s ceramic handles, jars, cups, and pitchers; and the deliberate and frugal use of Vedpathak’s parallel groupings of lines, and anti-lines, i.e. watercolor bleeds, in counterpoint to each other. Chung’s functional work bears the mark of a consummate tailor and the innovation of a gifted engineer. The teapots and ewers in this show reveal an occasional single swath of saturated pigments, ranging from carrot orange to grasshopper green, bound within the border of the cloud contours. However it is the black and white set of two wheel-thrown and altered porcelain vases that steal the show. They represent his most recent work; a departure from the stencil cut-out slab-work, the cloud lines are gently pushed out from the inside, and the vessels stand tall, strong, and defiant, in juxtaposition to their overtly feminine carriage. Erickson’s pieces are from a larger series, Rituals of the Maker. It is grouped in three distinct sub-series: From Fujimoto (see installation image, page 48, foreground) is a stark yet arresting sushi dinner set; Pauline and Tony (not shown) is a teasingly curvaceous set of pastel bowls with matching trays; and Revolve (page 51) is an interlocking tray and cup series that bespeaks industrialism in its smoke-stack/pipeline tubularity. The latter of the three’s design, and conceptually the most successful, hints at its maker’s Scandinavian namesake, which was reinforced by Erickson’s post-graduate research in Helsinki, Finland. By far the most compelling and eye-catching piece in the exhibition is DeWeese’s stoneware basket. It stands proud and tall and its sinuous lines underscore both the angularity of Erickson’s work and the exactitude of Chung’s. The piece radiates an inherent warmth achieved through atmospheric firing and its seemingly happenstance glaze results, a process that can only be tamed by a master craftsman. DeWeese’s other showcased works also emit

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6 6 Heather Mae Erickson’s Revolve series, porcelain, cone 6, 2012. 7 Neha Vedpathak’s Untitled (detail), 36 in. (91 cm) in height, mixed media on canvas, 2011. The entire piece by Vedpathak can be seen in the installation shot on page 48, on the back wall.

a laissez-faire naivety of making that again, can only be achieved with the skill and expertise of a master. When Vedpathak was invited to show with the ceramic artists, she immediately looked up their works and found an instant connection to both Chung and Erickson’s works. The six small studies in line with graphite on vellum are a natural fit. By contrast, she admits to having had to “dig deep to get the feel of Josh [DeWeese]’s work,” eventually settling on the softness of watercolor to compliment the drippy quality of the work. The palette she chose progresses from shades of gray to saturated deep corals, and literally draws the viewer into a world where the spaces in between are equally as important as the maker’s marks. The new work created especially for The Language of Line is one of her larger untitled works on canvas. Along with the watercolor, acrylic, and graphite, Vedpathak chose to incorporate soil into the piece, trusting that “people would get that it was soil. Soil being the rawest form of drawing in a ceramic media.” The interdisciplinarity of ceramics never ceases to amaze. the author Heidi McKenzie is an artist, writer and emerging curator living in Toronto, Canada. Visit her blog at www.heidimckenzie.ca.

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