Clay, Ceramics and Human Expression Play a Big Part in Three Exhibitions at HCCC

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Would it be inappropriate to refer to a serious art exhibition as awesome? If so, our apologies, but that's the first word that comes to mind when taking in "2013 NCECA Biennial," "Constructing Solitude" and "Roughneck: A Juried ClayHouston Exhibition" -- the trio of exhibitions that opened at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft this past weekend.

The second, more appropriate word that comes to mind is continuity, for though each exhibition is different, all three have a common theme: an emphasis on the hands as artistic resource, and the face, or facial expression as artistic subject. Also, in the "Biennial" and "Roughneck" exhibitions particularly, ceramic and clay sculpture is abundant.

In the "2013 NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) Biennial" exhibition, in tandem with The NCECA 47th Annual Conference to be held in Houston, 35 chosen artists (from an applicant pool of 740) have provided 39 works of high ceramic quality -- the most supreme of them being Beauty by Claudia Olds Goldies : a white stoneware sculpture of a curvaceous woman in her underwear. However well-intentioned Goldies' efforts may be, however, Beauty is ironically named; the subject does not know she is, for paired with her revealing intimates, patterned with a clever touch of graphite pencil, is the woman's face, which wears an anxious expression, as if she has just revealed herself to a new lover and is unsure of the reception she will receive.

What is beautiful is the striking realism of the sculpture; the round folds of the woman's stomach and her furrowed brow all too accurately represent the image of many a woman who has disapprovingly inspected her shape in a mirror.

Not too far from that piece, a similar look of realistic uncertainty paints the expression of the stoneware man from Andrea Keys Cornell's "Gently Down the Stream" series. Is he the woman's recipient lover, also ashamed of his own pudgy physique?

There are simple ceramic and clay pieces, as well. Lining a side wall of the exhibit is the Misfit Cup Liberation Project, an interactive piece by participating artist Michael Strand, in which cups were received from visitors on opening night in exchange for his handmade pieces. Below each displayed cup is a message, ultimately creating a tapestry of personal stories from people from all walks of life.

"I got this cup in prison. It has my name and inmate ID engraved on it. I used it everyday for one year inside and over three years out. I wanted to exchange it because I wanted to leave that part of my life behind." --Cup entitled "Ex-con"

Faces transition from subtle to shocking in "Roughneck," another juried exhibition, which also works in tandem with The NCECA 47th Annual Conference. This time, there are 15 artists exhibiting 16 works, and the one with the most impact is Ever, a mixture of glazed clay, found wheel, epoxy and acrylic. That official description doesn't do it justice, so we'll describe it in laymen's terms: severed clay heads, attached to a wheel. The heads, of course, look to be in severe pain, making the other pieces of the exhibit -- a driving helmet; seashells lining the floor; a cloned figure of a man, standing back-to-back, aptly named "Homesick" -- look pretty tame in comparison.

Finally, if you're willing to think liberally of the definition, Janice Jakielski's "Constructing Solitude" solo show employs "sculpture," as well. The entire exhibition, presented in HCCC's Small Gallery, is a series of women's headwear (c. 1930s). Gleaning inspiration from her grandmother's own hat collection and the styles of the Victorian era, Jakielski has "sculpted," or stitched together her own rendition -- only in this modern version, twists such as hot candy-colored flowers, mesh goggles and adorned birds to the back of each headpiece.

Returning to the goggles, Jakielski has created them -- two pairs, specifically -- as an interactive part of the exhibit. Guests can pick up either and put them on, only to quickly learn that their peripheral vision is maddeningly limited. The goggles, therefore, restrict the normal communicative abilities of the viewer and force his or her sight, and by extension, thoughts, inward -- in effect, constructing true solitude.

The Roughneck exhibition ends March 31, the other two exhibitions will be on view until May 5.

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