Artist Sharif Bey centers his practice around recontextualizing, a process he undertakes by fracturing long-held perspectives through fragments. His figurative sculptures unify disparate materials and broad cultural references across generations and eras—his works are notably undated—drawing on both the aesthetics of West-Central Africa, particularly the spiritual protectors known as nkisi, and the industrial histories of his family and current city of Syracuse.
Largely crafted around bits of his own ceramic vessels, Bey’s works are on view at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum in a solo exhibition titled Colonial Ruptures, which questions the inherent value and power of objects, particularly as they’re stripped from their original cultures through colonial violence and structural racism. Bowed nails and rusted spikes evoke the artist’s familial ties to boiler making, a profession the show’s curator Sequoia Miller connects to the limitations of work for Black men in the 1960s: “It was one of the few ways that African American families could move into the middle class. [Bey is] thinking about his connection this whole lineage of labor, of production, of middle-class identity, and linking it to African American identity, [to] access to African cultural resources.”
Bey pairs those corroded metals with bits of shattered pottery and a reconstructed medley of his earlier sculptures, which he’s broken and repositioned into new figures. His expressive, earthenware faces often feature a crack through an eye or cheek, while aura-like rings of found scraps encircle their glorified forms. Each piece is deeply rooted in its original contexts and yet open-ended in the questions it suggests, a pairing the artist expands on in a statement about the exhibition:
I am inspired by folklore, functional pottery, modernism, natural history, and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works investigate the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, questioning how the meanings of icons, objects, and functions transform across cultures and over time.
In addition to Colonial Ruptures, which is on view through August 28, a broad survey of Bey’s works is also up through August 14 at the Everson Museum. You can find more of his sculptures on his site and Instagram.
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In the hands of Helen Burgess, goofy grins, bloated bellies, and eyes wide with surprise turn endangered or overlooked animals into endearing creatures with playfully exaggerated emotions. The British ceramicist, who works as nosey mungo (previously), sculpts quirky renditions of wildlife and other critters—she prefers to focus on conservation issues and species struggling to survive— crafting kooky pufferfish covered in spikes and chicks with tiny beaks poking out from their downy, yellow bodies.
Currently, Burgess is working on a collection of marine wall hangings, and you can follow her progress, along with shop updates and glimpses into her process, on Instagram.
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“Extremely resilient yet fragile” is how artist Karolina Romanowska describes the moody, anthropomorphic characters that comprise her series of sculptural works. Romanowska hand-builds a vast array of fantastical personas from clay, using a combination of slabs, coils, and molds to form flat tongues, individual teardrops, and horns with pointed tips. The contradictions inherent within the figures’ expressions are the conceptual counterpart to the ceramic material, she says, referring to both its ability to withstand fire and its propensity to fracture or burst upon impact.
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the artist gravitates toward colored slips to add dimension and texture to the stoneware pieces. “I find that material extremely giving as it’s reminiscent of my childhood days of playing in the dirt,” she tells Colossal. “Those were some of the most fun times I had as a child, engaging with my environment and transforming mud into pizzas, birds, and castles. Through mud, I am able to experience true freedom.”
Today, that creative energy manifests in Romanowska’s ceramic practice, which spans three-dimensional sculptures and masks that vary from miniature to life-sized. Minimal in construction and playfully contemporary, the cheeky works also reference cultural and art historical traditions. “Masks are present wherever humans are. I am only repeating an act that has been done since the beginning of us. Used for rituals and entertainment, masks can hide or reveal who we are,” she says.
Romanowska’s colorful works are on view through September 4 at the Overture Center in Madison, and she’ll have a few pieces in an upcoming group show at Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City. See which sculptures are available to add to your own collection on Instagram.
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More than form or color, texture is what preoccupies Carlos Cabo as he sculpts. The Spanish artist, who lives and works in Salinas, is drawn to the tactile qualities of clay and the possibilities inherent in its malleability. Texture “is what gives (a work) personality, what individualizes it, and essentially differentiates it from other similar pieces,” he says. “I would dare to say that the texture is more than the skin of the piece. It is the representation of its genetic code.”
From masses of the natural material sourced from the countryside, he shapes tall, slender figures wearing pocked gowns, abstract pieces that twist upward, and minimal owl-like creatures, some with sleek feathers and others with rough, bumpy plumage. Each ceramic piece is carefully molded, fired, and covered in terra sigillata, the lustrous clay slip coating that functions similarly to a glaze while not masking the texture of the sculpture’s surface.
In a note to Colossal, Cabo shares that his desire to vary the tactile parts of his practice stems from his childhood. He explains:
I grew up in a rural environment, in which we children spent a lot of time outdoors, in permanent contact with endless objects that served to accumulate a lot of tactile experiences in my memory. On the other hand, in my town, there was no electricity during the day. This came to the houses when it got dark and, sometimes, well into the night, which forced us to wander around it using our sense of feeling and touch… I came to know all the imperfections of the walls, the geometry of the doors, and the location of things.
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Dating back to the Vikings, ryijy is a distinctly Finnish textile tradition that produces thick, high-pile tapestries and rugs. The heavily patterned works, which have shifted from functional to decorative, are made by hand-knotting wool and layering the yarn into lush, textured motifs.
Drawing on her background in textile design, Finnish artist Marianne Huotari translates this technique into ceramics, creating densely delicate reliefs that evoke the depth and dimension of fiber. Huotari begins every work with a color palette and surface, whether in the form of a wall-based piece or a freestanding sculpture. She then rolls and pinches clay into oblongs and small discs imprinted by her fingertips for added texture, each pierced to create a small hole for a bit of metal thread. Once glazed and fired, the individual components are sewn into undulating topographies layered lush with color and rippling shapes. Huotari shares with Colossal:
The process is super slow but very meditative thanks to its repetitive nature. Throughout the process, I attempt to take control of the material by dismantling and reassembling the parts, which is not very common when talking about ceramic art. That provides me the freedom to make changes on the go. The technique provides countless possibilities… In the near future, I’ll be focusing on developing the sculptural expression and searching for the limits of dimensions.
The Helsinki-based artist was recently named a finalist for this year’s Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, which is hosting an exhibition at Seoul Museum of Art through July 31. She also has pieces on view through August 19 at HB381 Gallery in New York and through the end of August at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center in Denmark, where she will be a resident this fall. Watch the video below and head to Instagram for a glimpse into Huotari’s process, and browse available pieces at Officine Saffi. (via Journal du Design)
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The natural world and moments of tenderness merge in Lincolnshire-based artist Nichola Theakston’s expressive sculptures. Serene mammals sculpted in terracotta and cast in bronze characterize a tranquil animal world in which they relax, reflect, and dream. “The notion that an individual creature may experience some spiritual dimension beyond its instinctive animal behaviours is the premise behind much of my work,” she explains in a statement. With half-closed eyes or faces turned skyward, each portrait is an intimate exploration of feeling and empathy.
Inspired by fauna seen commonly around the U.K. like hares and hounds, Theakston also focuses on distant or endangered species like langurs or polar bears that are threatened by hunting and habitat loss. She draws inspiration from ancient cultures that venerated specific animals, such as the Egyptian goddess Bastet who was worshipped in the form of a cat and warded off evil spirits and disease, especially those associated with women and children.
Theakston begins in the studio by pushing and shaping clay into the lithe forms of felines, primates, and canines, trying to capture gestures and contours that give each individual its distinguishing persona. Some of these are then cast into bronze editions to which she applies a patina, giving the sculptures a distinctive texture and hue. Some pieces live on in terracotta, applied with distinctive colored slips. “My main reason for working is to attempt to elevate the animal to an expression of something beyond a representation of its form,” she tells Colossal. Each portrait uniquely mirrors human emotional shifts, encouraging contemplation and communion with the natural world and reflecting on its delicate balance.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.