No Boundaries | Contemporary Canadian Ceramics

It is widely recognised that North America has been of global importance for ceramic art for much of the last century. What has been less well understood is that many of the most important artists have been Canadians. Across the range of practice, Canadians have expanded the potential of the pottery field. This important exhibition gathers together for the first time in the UK three artists who span the last three generations, and regions from the east to the west coast.

For the past five years Messums has taken a lead role in promoting the ceramic arts. This has been realised through an innovative exhibition programme, one important thread of which has been exhibitions on national ceramic cultures. Korean and British Ceramic have both been subject of ground-breaking shows. The focus now is on Canada. The Canadians have been a major force in the international ceramic field for decades. It is important to establish this up-front, as there has been a tendency to see the enormous and wonderful vortex that is North American art as a single giant entity, which Canada somehow blends into. While the exchange between the two countries is obviously real and intimate, there is also something very particular about Canadian practice, which differentiates it from the rest. It isn’t that the work has a common style or technique – just the opposite perhaps, it is tremendously diverse – but that there are characteristics within Canadian ceramic that endow it with a distinct ethos: A commitment to technical excellence and a tendency towards narrative as well as intellectual curiosity. The artists see ceramic as a vehicle for ideas, as a means of exploring issues well beyond the walls of the pottery and craft centre. They have no problem understanding that what they do is art in the most profound sense, and has a beautiful complexity to it.

The three artists in this ground-breaking exhibition, for the UK, Walter Ostrom, Greg Payce, and Linda Sormin, demonstrate these three traits. They also represent several generations, and all of them enjoy international reputations. Interestingly, they are also or have been committed teachers. Over the last five decades, Walter Ostrom, has been one of the most plural thinkers within production and education, anywhere. He is a legendary promoter of studio pottery as a profession. While acknowledging classic studio pottery – he has championed the development of ceramic history – he has also been at the forefront of introducing Conceptualist approaches to ceramic practice. He is as at home with Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt and Joseph Beuys, as he is with Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach.

Greg Payce lives in Calgary, Alberta and was Professor of Ceramic at ACAD before stepping back to concentrate purely on his work. Through the decades he has developed a superb form of trompe l’oeil that is entirely his own, in which thrown vessels, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in rows, appear to have standing figures between them. In his work, people fill the voids. In this way, his art gives us one of the most poetic and timeless visions of the relationship of people to pots. He has made for us an essay on the intimacy of ceramic to civilization.

Linda Sormin is a professor at New York University, but no less Canadian for that. More than anyone engaged in the medium, over the last decades she has pushed ceramic into wholly new terrain, in which the vessel disappears to be replaced by networked clouds of coloured threads and pipes. She integrates into the clay components broken fragments of things, discarded and disowned detritus, and pieces of writing, to create linear, open sculptural works that resemble neurological structures. This is probably a most appropriate analogy: her process of searching, collecting, and assembling seems to be geared to the capturing of the ephemeral: incidents and moments that have gone, leaving behind only fragments of evidence. She describes her outlook: “To make space for new discovery in any particular place or situation, how might I loosen my grip on language and methodology? Where is there opportunity to reshape my material, visual, spatial, conceptual and kinetic expectations? Research includes scavenging, collecting, disassembling and rebuilding fragments into new forms.”

Three artists representing three generations, and all at the forefront of global ceramic practice. This is a fair representation of Canadian ceramic art at this time.

 

Text by Paul Greenhalgh, September 2021

Biography 

Gregory Payce

[
- Present ]
Greg Payce lives and works in Calgary, Alberta and was Professor of Ceramics at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) before stepping back to concentrate purely on his work. Raised in Edmonton, Payce’s interest in ceramics began in his early years when he knew from the age of six that he wanted to be a potter.

Linda Sormin

[ 1971
- Present ]
Linda Sormin lives and works in New York City, and is Associate Professor of Studio Art at New York University. She has taught ceramics at Emily Carr University, Rhode Island School of Design, Sheridan College and Alfred University. Born in Bangkok, Sormin moved to Canada with her family at the age of five. She has a BA in English Literature and worked in community development for four years.

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