“Struts” sculptures by Lynn Duryea. Photos courtesy of Corey Daniels Gallery

The first summer exhibitions at Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells deliver an intriguing and idiosyncratic mix of media, genres and styles that somehow all feel part of one holistic vision. Two shows – “13 Ceramists” and “Jeff Kellar Painting and Sculptures,” both up through Aug. 6 – are of particular interest.

For years, Daniels has been fascinated by ceramics. While many ceramics shows can be an uneven mix careering from round brown pottery to whimsically decorative forms, from functional to non-functional work, what his latest show of 13 ceramic artists illustrates is a consistent point of view that elevates the medium’s raw materiality, pliability and sculptural potential. In an adjacent gallery is a show of Jeff Kellar’s sculptures, which were made some years ago, but reworked for this show. They are exhibited alongside some of Kellar’s sublimely minimalist paintings.

You won’t find any quaint teapots in the work of Sandra Byers, Lynn Duryea, Paul Heroux, Lauren Herzak-Bauman, Tom Hubbard, Abby Huntoon, Maria Kristofersson, Jonathan Mess, Boyan Moskov, Sharon Townsend, Melissa Turner, Jonathan White or Don Williams. It’s impossible to talk about each artist here, but every one of them has a singular vision and incredible level of skill.

We’ve seen some of these artists before at other galleries, particularly that of various prolific and beloved Maine-based ceramists such as Duryea, Heroux, Mess and Townsend. Taken as a whole, the majority of the work shares certain characteristics: a general preference for architectural and industrial forms, and mostly unglazed work or work that is bisque-fired or simply washed in matte clay slip.

The latter finishes heighten the medium’s sense of materiality through highly tactile surfaces that beg you to touch and handle them. Their organic presence feels accessible rather than precious, though some, particularly Byers’s tiny bisque pieces or Turner’s seductively wavy forms, can simultaneously feel incredibly delicate and refined.

But even the glazed pieces sidestep slickness or prettiness. This happens in a variety of ways – through carving, blending glazed and matte areas, layering of color and texture to create depth and so on.

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Duryea’s glazes, simply speaking, are masterful. The multiple applications of colors very slightly pearl up in the firing, revealing the many underlayers. Texturally they are like oxidized Cor-ten steel that has been patinated in shades of vertigris-like blues and greens. The association to metal is appropriate in the sense that many of her forms reference abandoned industrial structures in the desert or tools and implements. They can allude to architectural struts, smokestacks or clamps. The glazes are so exquisite and telegraph such profundity that they are worthy of hours of contemplation on their own.

Tom Hubbard’s shapes have a great affinity with those of Duryea (his studio, in fact, is in a steelyard), as do his glazes, though he, like Heroux, is using metallics that emit a mellow sheen. In Heroux’s case, bronze and rust tones alternate with unglazed areas of surface, so the overall effect is muted and subtle rather than flashy.

Floor installation of vessels by Boyan Moscov.

The work of Bulgarian artist Boyan Moskov is considerably varied. Some pots are glazed in brighter yellows and oranges, or in whites and black. Yet they are also avoid being outright glossy because Moskov has carved obsessive patterns into the surface so that the glazes adhere to the lower surface, leaving the relief areas raw and unglazed. Other pots are calligraphic, sporting scribbled and splattered patterns of glaze on matte bodies.

Or they can be decorated with colorful, childlike drawings on tall, thin-necked forms that seem at once Asian-inspired and midcentury. Daniels has created an installation of his work on the floor lining one wall of the gallery so that we can appreciate the multiplicity of Moskov’s approach to form, color and texture.

Ceramic wall sculptures by Abby Huntoon.

The industrial inspiration in the work of Duryea, Hubbard and also one of Moskov’s pots that looks like some sort of cog, is clear yet subtle. Abby Huntoon’s shapes, which are meant to be hung on the wall but look equally interesting laying on a horizontal surface, can allude to primitive tools and implements. One looks like a spike-covered club (though it could also be a stylized plant) and long spikes or nails. They are beautiful in both their simplicity and tactility.

Don Williams constructs what look like weird machine or car parts, silos or locks. From far away, they appear metal and occupy space in a very sculptural way, charging the environment around them with a hard, mysterious coolness that only makes you want to figure them out even more. Jonathan White’s forms are literal, though also fantastical in some way. They look like blast furnaces, cement factories and other industrial structures, boasting tanks, shoots, ramps and pipes.

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“Blast Furnace, Mingo Junction, O.H.” by Jonathan White

These are astonishing pieces for their sheer complexity, encompassing many techniques, including wheel-throwing, casting, slab forming, rolling, carving and god knows what else (“Blast Furnace, Mingo Junction, O.H.” appears as though it might be partially coil-built). “Bag House, Urbex Study, Weirton, W.V.” is a tour de force of techniques that’s impossible to convey in a photograph. It is clearly an old factory building. Peer through its windows and you will see tanks and all sorts of industrial works, around which White constructed the walls and roof.

White revels in the textures of corrugated metal, standing-seam roofing, rivets, metal funnels and other man-made materials for mass production. At first, they recall the industrial photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher. (In fact, the Bechers did photograph the same blast furnace plant at Mingo Junction, Ohio.) Yet they are so elaborate that they can also recall Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s cobbled-together contraptions or mechanized creatures.

This show is an embarrassment of riches. You could be here for hours, whether you are particularly attracted to this medium or not. And that is what makes it different from other ceramic shows one might encounter. It transcends the medium while also relishing in it, becoming a craft-sculpture hybrid that appeals to both contemporary craft and art enthusiasts alike.

Sculptures and paintings by Jeff Kellar at Corey Daniels Gallery.

The sculptures in Jeff Kellar’s exhibition were actually made in the 1990s. But the Falmouth artist reworked and refinished them for this show. I was not familiar with them, and they proved to be quite an illumination of his work for a various reasons. One, they are like three-dimensional manifestations of what we see in many of his paintings. The angles, intersections of planes and the depth of perspective, that on the flat surfaces of his paintings are essentially illusions, here spring to life.

Their geometric shapes are neat and ordered, and they have a way, if you walk quietly amongst them, of emanating a sense of their shape beyond their immediate form. Which is interesting in relation to the paintings, which have a much more confined energetic field. The paintings definitely emanate a sense of spatial openness, yet it is one that pulls us deep into the canvases, whereas the sculptures are outwardly vibrational in a way that envelops us in their energetic vortexes.

Another interesting sensation is that the synergy between the paintings and the sculptures creates an oasis of intimacy within the gallery that feels immersive. When you cross some invisible line into the communal presence of all the works, it’s as though you have entered a private conversation inside some sort of sanctum.

Lastly, the sculptures also reveal an artist who, even when he is sculpting, is essentially a painter. He constructs the forms out of wood and concrete, but their surfaces are covered in the identical materials of his paintings – pigment, clay and resin – and they exude the same sensuality of texture.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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