Boxers, weathered heads, politics — all in ceramics at Gallery IMA
"Variance," at Seattle's Gallery IMA, showcases regional ceramic artists Jason Huff, Paul Metivier and J.D. Perkin, who make strong impressions in a crowded field.
Seattle Times arts writer
'Variance: Three Views of Figure in Clay'Work by Jason Huff, Paul Metivier and J.D. Perkin, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through March 31, Gallery IMA, 123 S. Jackson St., Seattle (206-625-0055 or www.galleryima.com).
With the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) holding its annual conference in Seattle next week, scores of clay-centric exhibits are on display throughout the city and its suburbs.
Bellevue Arts Museum and the Henry Art Gallery have ambitious shows up. Seattle Design Center in Georgetown has assembled more than 30 exhibits under one roof, with a lineup of local and international work that ranges from quirky to nightmarish to chic. Over at Bellevue College Gallery Space, you can take off the early-spring chill with "Extreme, Ordinary, Exquisite ... Teapots on the Edge." (See www.nceca.net for details on everything going on and information about shuttles going to the Eastside and Georgetown from the Washington State Convention Center ... which will have its own generous lineup of exhibits.)
If you prefer your art with a downtown-gallery flavor, however, you can't go wrong with Gallery IMA's "Variance: Three Views of Figure in Clay." It features three Pacific Northwest ceramic artists — Jason Huff (Seattle), Paul Metivier (Auburn) and J.D. Perkin (Portland) — who all have strong, distinctive styles. Metivier and Perkin are especially sophisticated and inventive, while Huff is more a pop-art prankster.
Metivier's work is impressive on several scores. His earthenware "figure heads" and "processionists" (all human heads in various states of "decay") uncannily resemble dark-stained carvings seemingly shaped from splintered lumber or driftwood. There are even some nails pounded into those "figure heads."
The faces are haunting and varied, exuding a Boschian turmoil and clamor. Some are more ravaged than others, with pockmarks or striations scored into their intricate features. Brilliantly displayed, they loom out of the gallery walls like souls trying to re-enter a flesh-and-blood dimension after time spent in some corrosive limbo.
In "The Procession #1" and "The Procession #2," the heads are fused into a single mass invested with a multidirectional energy. They could be on a religious crusade, a political protest or a vigilante mission. Whichever it is, they're a powerful force.
More playful are Metivier's "associates": smaller fragments of faces that are mischievous grotesques. Again, they look remarkably as though they were hewn from driftwood. The balance between their seeming wear-and-tear and their potent presence is impeccable.
Perkin's work is more stylized, but no less dynamic. His subject is boxers, usually youngsters, locked in conflicts that are almost a kind of symbiosis.
In "Punching Kicking," especially, there's a lively imbalance in play. Both figures have delivered each other a blow that clearly will send them reeling — yet here they are, caught in that moment when they're still on their feet, before hitting the ground.
Perkin keeps his figures' facial and bodily detail to a minimum, with eyes, ears and lips often mere incisions in the clay. As minimalist as these touches are, they don't stop the figures from being eloquently expressive. "Untitled," the biggest piece on display, pits two boys against each other, one half a head taller than the other. The older boy's ability to intimidate comes through loud and clear, while the smaller kid's lightly sketched features are obviously asking: "What have I gotten myself into?"
One curious motif recurring in almost all of Perkin's figures: the bands of dark color that wrap around the paler clay. They're sometimes a shorthand for boxing shorts; at other times they're more like tattoo markings. Either way, they seem to lock the figures into the aggressions they're exchanging.
Huff's work has both a punning and political edge. "Mr. T Pot" is a teapot in, yes, the shape of Mr. T that comes with its own bling and tea cozy (those jeans he's wearing are real denim). "Say Anything" pits the most memorable moment from the Cameron Crowe film (John Cusack serenading his love with a boombox raised over his head) against an iconic image from the 1989 Tiananmen Square conflict, as a tank threatens to mow down the boombox-holder. "Don't Worry Be Happy" is still more charged: a murder scene with some racial-profiling jitters anchoring it.
With the variety among the three artists, along with the single-theme variations so closely explored by Metivier and Perkin, "Variance" is both aptly titled and admirably assembled.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com