Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ceramics Are Sexy: The Walker's Point Center for the Arts and Featured Artist Sexy Tom Foss

This weekend was kind of a snowy, PBR-y blur.

But it's all coming into focus now.

On Saturday I went to a gallery I've never been to before called The Walker's Point Center for the Arts (WPCA) on Milwaukee's south side. I was interested in their current exhibition, a ceramics show based on the theme of gun control, because of an upcoming conference in Milwaukee this month called The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). I'm not much of a ceramicist myself, but my life will pretty much be inundated by the theme of ceramics for the next month or so, and I figured I might as well get a head start. 

I would definitely describe the show at WPCA, "The Price of Freedom," as a gun show. BUT-no muscles involved! We're talking straight-up killing machines here. The artists involved were prompted to consider the role that guns play in our society, and whether there is something behind the idea that guns are not responsible for killing, but rather, people. 

I'm not quite sure if this came through in the pieces that I saw. Truthfully, I walked around the exhibition once without reading anything about it, just to see what I could glean from a completely ignorant viewing.The whole time, I kind of felt like I was under attack. I was thinking, "There's a lot of guns here." And I felt a bit uncomfortable, which is something I always feel whenever I'm physically around a gun or gun imagery. Coming from a household that had a zero tolerance policy for guns (no toys, no video games, no movies with guns), it makes sense. I probably didn't even see a movie that had real gun violence in it until I was about 13 or so. As an adult, I now watch a lot of movies and shows that feature gun violence, and definitely enjoy some of the glamorization and sexiness that comes with it. To me, there's really nothing hotter than Norman Reedus shooting up bad guys in "Boondock Saints." I just can't help it.

But those are movies, and that's what they're there for. To be sexy. Which is why this exhibition, and all of the inherent sexiness that also comes with ceramics, (can you say, "Ghost"?), kind of threw me off. Let's look at this piece, for example.

Allen Rosenbaum, Urban Teapot #2, 2002

The white, unglazed skyline, reminiscent of any city anywhere in the world, is an unarguably sexy point of view. A skyline inspires a romantic nostalgia for glamour, parties and excitement no matter where it is placed. The two guns cradling the ceramic infrastructure reminds us of the violence that is found in any city, but they also do nothing more than reiterate the idea of a city as a place where the crimes that take place are a lot prettier than the ones that take place out in the country where the bumpkins live. If we're going to put it in movie terms, let's go with "The Fast and the Furious" vs. "Deliverance."

This next piece also did very little to unsexify guns for me.

 Pattie Chalmers, I Love You, 2013
Pattie Chalmers, Sorry Automatic, 2013
Pattie Chalmers, Snub Nosed Oops, 2013

With the exception of the word bubbles protruding from these guns, in person, they look like real guns. I actually had to get close to these pieces in a non-gallery appropriate way to see if they were truly ceramic. One can only surmise that artist Chalmers spent a lot of time with a gun, and perhaps even used a real gun to make her molds for this piece. Although I like the poetry- "I love you, sorry, oops"- that she incorporated, to me it only says one thing: guns exist.

The last piece I'll show, entitled, The Endless Irony of it All by Richard Notkin, was only ironic to me because of its subject matter. Lacking in blatant gun imagery, this piece should have felt more effective to me as a critique on gun control based off of the apparent thesis of this post, but was in reality not effective at all because of this same characteristic. Makes sense, right? (I need to go back to college).

Richard Notkin, The Endless Irony of it All, 2013


The twisting, twirling, organ-like facade of this piece is definitely impressive as a whole. But the overall imagery is more reminiscent of general wartime than it is of guns specifically. It reminds me of German war veteran and artist Otto Dix, whose paintings of veterans in gross configurations still cause my stomach to turn.

Otto Dix, War Cripples, 1920

Although guns obviously play a very prominent role in war, I feel like the real heart of this exhibition was the idea that guns are also very prominent outside of war, which is almost scarier.

Maybe guns, like ceramics, are inherently sexy, and this exhibition was doomed from the start to be dangerous. Mind-blowing. Ka-pow.

Bad joke, idk.

One thing I do know: My friend Tom Foss is very, very sexy. In fact, he is so confident in his sexiness, that the first time I met him he introduced himself as "Sexy Tom." And, he's a ceramicist. Although I knew that an interview with young Tom would blow this blog post into another realm of sexiness, I couldn't help but ask him a few questions about the ceramic art that he makes.


Hey Tom, where do you live? I live in the beautiful town of Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin.

Tom's sexy backyard studio

How old are you? I am 17 years young.

What kind of art do you make? I do mainly hand built ceramics, and coiling is my jam. 

How long have you been making art? I have been making art my whole life, I loved it so much as a kid I even ate the Play Dough. And although I loved it I never really found my niche until my sophomore year in high school when I decided to take a Ceramics and Sculpture Class.

Describe a piece you like or that you have made recently? I really like creating ceramics as opposed to drawing or painting because of how one can move and manipulate the clay and really drastically change a project in one movement. A side effect of this method is that I never have any idea what the piece will end up like. This style made me especially happy in a recent project that you can see atop my toilet in the picture. It measures about 10 inches tall 4 inches wide and my art teacher nearly stole it from me to keep in her classroom.

Aforementioned toilet piece

What inspires you? I am inspired by many things, but mainly the idea of improvisation and the idea of blind decisions. In making a vase (pronounced vahz) I only know what the size the base will be, after that it's all up in the air. When glazing my projects I also employ little planning and as a result opening the kiln is essentially better than Christmas. Additionally I watch a lot of Parks and Recreation while doing ceramics so you could say Leslie Knope also inspires me.

Where do you stand on gun control? I'm all for gun control and I think that no one should own one except those meant for hunting.

What do you want to do with your life, kid? As far as the future goes I am looking forward to adopting my ceramics approach. I am going to Colombia for my Senior year of high school after which I am looking at attending a Folk School in Norway, but mostly I'm just looking forward to seeing where life takes me, and what happens when I open that kiln.

Stay sexy, y'all. Or maybe, don't.

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