FIRE AND FORM
By Jill Sawyer
Robin DuPont shares his small, northwest Calgary house with his wife, Eden, a huge German shepherd and what appears to be about 200 pots. Stacked on Ikea shelving units, occupying most of the front room, lining the floor and tucked in among household goods, the pots are just the latest of DuPont’s prolific output. In his final year at the Alberta College of Art & Design, and a teacher of ceramics to kids and adults at the North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre, DuPont is nothing if not devoted to his art. He’s not alone. When Galleries West went looking for the cream of Western Canada’s established and emerging ceramic artists, narrowing the field was the toughest job. Here’s an introduction to artists in the western provinces, from potters with 30-year careers behind them to a few who are just starting out.
JUDI DYELLE and ROBIN HOPPER
In an idyllic setting near Victoria, Dyelle and Hopper have established a potter’s fantasy life. Their studio, gallery and shop in Metchosin, B.C., is surrounded by a garden that Hopper has crafted from the abundance of the West Coast rainforest and Japanese Zen principles. It’s a wonder he ever wants to leave it. But he does, travelling widely to deliver workshops on ceramics and gather research and anecdotes for his expanding series of books on the artist’s life. Despite the hectic schedule, he and Dyelle manage to keep their different but complementary artistic styles creatively fresh. Dyelle has been experimenting lately with a cache of clay found near Kamloops, which she has fashioned into stark, rounded geometric forms. She’s also produced a series of pierced vessels which sparked a call in November from the textiles curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hopper, inspired by nature, decorates his porcelain plates and bowls with delicate scoring and painting, including patterns from classical pottery, southwestern Native art, stylized birds and fish. Find their work year round at ‘Chosin Pottery on Metchosin Road just north of Victoria, 250-474-2676.
Though she has been a collector for many years, it wasn’t until four years ago that Sandra Ramos decided to try her own skills at ceramic art. It turns out she’s good at it. After making her solo debut with a well-received show at Vancouver’s Crafthouse Gallery last April, Ramos has now made the move out of the city and up the coast, where she is establishing a studio space and a kiln in the Pender Harbour area. Born in Seoul and raised in Toronto and Montreal, Ramos’ interest in ceramics was piqued by travel through Asia, and time spent in Japan. Now she is inspired by her teachers, Sam Kwan at Vancouver’s Capilano College, and the sculptural miniaturist Mas Funo. She describes her work as a combination of the functional and the sculptural – a series of small, salt-fired cups, each one layered with different glazes, colours and textures to produce a rich, organic style. Find her work at the Crafthouse Shop on Vancouver’s Granville Island, 604-687-7270. She is also organizing and participating in a group show with Mas Funo, Sam Kwan, Korean master potter Clay Jung Hung Kim, and Priscilla Chan, running May 6 to 31 at the Gallery of B.C. Ceramics in Vancouver, 604-669-5645.
Greg Payce’s work is almost mathematical in its precision. For the past few years he’s been throwing pots that have a distinct trompe l’oeil element – there’s as much to see between the vessels as there is in the vessels themselves. Payce creates larger-than-lifesize figures in the spaces between his pots. Working from a surprisingly tidy studio behind a heritage home in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood, he’s now working on a series of beautifully turned pots whose colours play off each other. He’s ironing out a way to film the vessels in motion, so the eye can capture shape, colour and light as it changes around these simple forms. Shortlisted in 2002 for the Saidye Bronfman Award in fine craft, and an instructor at the Alberta College of Art & Design since 1989, Payce is currently working on a high-profile Calgary public art project. He’s represented by the Prime Gallery in Toronto, 416-593-5750.
Among Greg Payce’s current students, Robin DuPont has begun to make his mark early. At 27, he has pursued working relationships with some of the best ceramic artists he can find, working in the studio of Calgary potter Jim Etzkorn off and on for five years and assisting John Chalke with the sociable firings Chalke hosts regularly at his kiln in the Alberta foothills. DuPont is most interested in functional work, and many of his recent pieces are interpretations of common vessels, from teapots to whiskey flasks to a six-pack of beer. He loves the record of physical change that’s marked on his pots in a wood-fired kiln, a process that leaves imperfections behind. Coming off a 2003 show at Calgary’s Gallery San Chun, DuPont and his wife have bought a small piece of property outside Nelson, B.C., where they plan to build a workspace, home and gallery.
Much of Jeannie Mah’s inspiration during the past 20 years can be traced to a trip to Crete in 1983. There, in a museum, she came across a Minoan cup made in 14th century BC which has become such an apocryphal part of her own development as an artist that it is now known in her personal biography as “The Cup.” That piece of ancient pottery, along with some gorgeous Sevres porcelain she spied in a French museum, showed her that domestic and functional ceramics could be beautiful. A prolific participant in exhibitions across North America for more than 20 years, Mah’s most recent work was in part a celebration of her family’s history in Regina, the city where she continues to live and work. Combining all her most important interests (which she describes as swimming, French and ceramics, in no particular order), the series Homage à Wascana Pool is a set of delicate vessels overlaid with images that evoke her love for her hometown swimming pool. Find Jeannie Mah’s work at Vancouver’s Portfolio Gallery, 604-801-6928.
An assistant professor in the ceramics department at the University of Regina, Rory MacDonald likes to surreptitiously “patch up” missing or crumbling pieces of Regina’s walls and curbsides with what he calls public craft. Travelling and studying in France (where he worked at the same studio in Vallauris where Picasso made hundreds of works of ceramic art), he did the same thing with that country’s stone walls. “There’s a kind of performative element to it,” he says. “It’s not connected to a studio or a gallery, so people can experience it in the moment.” He’s interested in the place where ceramic art and ceramic function intersect – in the toilets and bricks of ordinary life. He believes that craft can find a place in the construction of the most ordinary elements of a city’s infrastructure. MacDonald’s Intervention Works, being installed around Regina into 2004, can be found in outdoor public spaces including Wascana Park.
Only in relation to the career of Robert Archambeau (see feature page 14) could Alan Lacovetsky be considered an “emerging” artist. In fact, Lacovetsky has been working in ceramics for almost 30 years, most recently as an instructor at the University of Manitoba. But to Lacovetsky, the past few years have been a bit like starting over. He studied with potter John Reeve at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and with Archambeau at U of M, then spent almost 20 years in Australia, part of the time working with potters Peter Rushforth and Gwyn Hanssen Pigott. Now that he’s back in Canada, his work reflects a lifelong interest in fossils and fire. He divides his pieces between heavy stoneware and delicate porcelains with rich Chinese glazes, but always with the idea that the material he’s working with has taken the earth billions of years to produce. Represented in Winnipeg by the Site Gallery, 204-942-1618, Lacovetsky is also represented in the Archambeau retrospective at The Winnipeg Art Gallery, February 20 to May 30.