There is no art medium quite like ceramics, and it can lead clay into some mysterious forms, its characteristics changing with each process, from shapeless mushiness to rock hardness. What’s so beautiful and distinctive about it are the permanent handprints of its surfaces, unchangeable once a piece is in its final stage. A ceramic work cannot be painted-over; the stamp is eternal, unless broken. It forms an unearthly communication between the artist and the viewer, of which there was plenty in Arlene Shechet‘s exhibition of ceramic sculptures, “The Sound of It.”
Set atop tall pedestals of various materials, including metal, wood and glazed brick, Shechet’s work—often big, bulgy, or lopsided—explores humor and awkwardness through the imbalance of precarious forms. Working in a way that is not a common practice among sculptors, she employs a process of bringing the “inside out.” Stacked-up continuous coils of clay form amorphous shapes. The hand-thrown pieces too have irregular surfaces, polished with matte and glossy glazes, speckled with gold dust at times bubbling with fired-up red, earthy green and freckles of cobalt blue.
In her previous works, Shechet has created drinking glasses out of soap and worked on abstract Buddha sculptures in plaster. There is an element of mysticism to her hybrid forms, as they seem to be breathing and growing as viewed around the pedestals, through their sprinkled holes and sprouting tubular appendages. The objects seem to be coming to life from the dead. She creates mystery in the ugliness of her pieces, making sure not to be pinned down by allegiance to any natural forms.
The dialogue that Shechet creates with her work is vaguely familiar, possibly because of the viewer’s associations with the natural materials or the poetic titles such as Sleepless Color, Blue Velvet and Just Remembered that reverberate with loneliness and sadness. Yet she can also convey a subtle humor, as in an array of small playful pots in various sizes, shapes and materials, trimmed to perfection, but all upside down.