If you found the title of this post enticing, and have an affinity for jam band music and unhealthy quantities of ‘munchies’, I am sorry to disappoint you, but we are going to talk about Clay today! Particularly the work of our member artist Marcella Kuykendall.
Kuykendall studied at our own University of West Georgia and did Graduate studies at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Currently, when she isn’t in her studio working, she is the face of our local Carrollton Center for the Arts Gallery as the Visual Arts Coordinator. Visiting Blue Door Gallery you will find her work throughout in the form of ceramic vessels, delicately decorated with carving and drawings. These are not your run of the mill pottery, but are the mature reflections of a skilled artist using the medium of clay to express ideas surrounding identity and the self. Kuykendall states that these pieces “…illustrate my interest in underlying psychological states”. For the artist, the clay vessel is a surrogate for the body and the conflict between what is presented to the outside world and what resides only in the heart and mind of the individual. Heads with expressive faces top her cylindrical stoneware forms, their brows creased and eyes narrowed, suggesting concerns and emotions bubbling beneath the surface.
Through signifiers and symbols, carved and painted directly into the surface of the greenware, Kuykendall offers us clues to the emotional content of the figure. In the work above, one wonders what is missing from the ‘hole’ in the heart? Color is muted, with occasional washes of ochre or salmon, the natural clay body washed with stain to settle in the modeled crevices of hair and facial features underscoring the subtlety of her narratives. Her ‘hand’ is clearly present in the surfaces, from delicately rendered features in the faces to the decorative patterns, becoming like a signature. Kuykendall displays confident facility, using both wheel and hand techniques to will the clay into her vision, energizing the concerned expressions and volumetric dimensions.
Kuykendall’s forms are curvy and bulbous, with a belly pouch here, a love handle there, suggesting a feminine model for her vessels but also a comment on the body generally. Historically, numerous cultures recognized, as Kuykendall does, that the hollow vessel is an apt surrogate for the head and body. The canopic jars of the ancient Egyptians spring to mind, buried alongside mummies, containing select organs, topped with a portrait of one God or another. Pre Columbian ceramic art was also highly figurative, and vividly decorated, the similarity of which, to Kuykendalls works, lends a spiritual and archeological flavor.
Newer pieces in the gallery explore content beyond the figurative vessels, expanding upon the narrative content through clashing patterns and pictorial medallions, drawn and painted with underglazes and glaze ‘pencil’. Floral patterns abut stripes, directing arrows pull the eye in a swirl, and heads and faces that once sat atop the forms now peer out at us from within. The experiences illustrated in these vase works are more complex, layered and open to broader interpretations. Some taper upwards to narrow necks and flared mouths that bring to mind the vase that held Barbara Eden’s character in ‘I Dream of Genie’; the tactile, inviting textures tempt one to want to similarly rub the body of the vase as well.
If you are a novice collector of ceramics, or a seasoned pro, Kuykendall’s work belongs in your inventory. With prices ranging from $55 for smaller works to $275 for larger pieces it’s easy to fall in love with these mysterious vessels. Drop by the gallery soon and let these vividly illustrated sculptures speak for themselves!