Armory Art Center spotlighting ceramics by South Florida artists

Palm Beach Daily News Arts Editor

 

Ceramics long ago emerged from the domesticity of kitchen cupboards and china cabinets. The many roads the medium has taken can be seen in the 26 works by 15 artists on view in the SoFLo exhibition at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach.

SoFLo is a group of South Florida ceramic artists founded by Armory ceramics department head Helen Otterson three years ago to network and exhibit work.

The show, which was selected by the exhibiting artists, is intended to display the variety of art created by the region’s vibrant ceramics community, Otterson said. Most of the group’s members teach ceramics; seven work for the Armory.

Even the teacups are a new twist on an old form. Bonnie Seeman, who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, models her lopsided, fleshy-looking cups and saucers on body parts, such as muscle tissue and intestines.

Bryan Hiveley’s piece tells a story. In the work, a blue fox is either romping with or attacking a mauve chicken.

The style recalls primitive or Native American art. But the story comes from Hiveley’s Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami, where Hiveley encountered a “pet shop” that specialized in selling animals for voodoo sacrifices.

Hiveley, an animal lover, rescued two guineafowl by buying them. He intended for them to have a cushy life in his fenced-in backyard.

“They stayed for 20 minutes and then flew over the fence,” he said. Later, he saw them huddling with a cat for warmth on a cold winter night.

Hiveley, who leads the visual arts department at Miami International University of Art and Design, calls his piece Pursuit of Happiness in tribute to the guineafowls’ bid for freedom.

He transformed the cat into a fox and the guineafowl into a rooster because they’re more easily recognizable animals. The relationship between the characters is ambiguous, as was the unlikely truce between the guineafowl and the cat, he said.

Chris Riccardo’s Consequences also is a tableau of sorts. Its setting is a wooden teeter totter. One side is weighed down by a grossly fat child; on other side, two thinner children cling to each other in terror or glee. The children’s faces are decorated with clown makeup.

Riccardo, the Armory’s sculpture department director and foundry manager, made the piece for a show that dealt with play. “What I did was to show not necessarily the negative aspect of play but the fact that it might not be as fun for some kids as for others,” he said.

The piece references childhood obesity and bullying, and the way such experiences can warp individuals. The makeup takes its cue from serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who worked as a professional clown.

Otterson’s art also taps into dark experiences, but she’s transmuted hers into an affirmation of life. When Otterson was 8, her father was diagnosed with cancer. He was given six months to live; he survived 20 more years.

Her sculpture Floral Burst rests on a bulbous terra cotta base from which thick stoneware leaves and cylindrical glass flowers protrude. The terra cotta forms are inspired by cancer cells as seen through a microscope. The plant shapes are a nod to the succulents Otterson grew to love in her native California and Florida.

Her father taught her to respect survivors, and succulents are a prime example of endurance under harsh conditions, she said.

“I’m intrigued by the pursuit of survival and always looking for the beauty in life,” Otterson said.

Some works in the show, such as Justin Lambert’s tableware, for which the wood-firing process acts as co-creator, are useful as well as beautiful. But, as the exhibition clearly shows, functionality no longer limits ceramic artists.

By Jan Sjostrom

IF YOU GO

What: ’SoFLo Ceramics’

Where: Armory Art Center, 1700 Parker Ave., West Palm Beach

When: Through Aug. 26

Information: Call 832-1776 or visit ArmoryArt.org.


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