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"Dining In: An Artful Experience" Turns Utensils Into Fine Art

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Art. It's what's for dinner.

"Dining In: An Artful Experience," on view at 18 Hands Gallery, is a juried exhibition of art that you eat with. Gallery co-owner Betsy Evans explains that these pieces are multifunctional, for decorative use or use on a dining room table. However, a close inspection agrees more with the first use. While there are a few functional pieces, most of the exhibition's works are better suited on a wall. Take, for instance, Angela Stickels' "Self Portrait" platter, a Picasso-inspired creation of lips, lids and leaves. Stickels slices her face in two and places each side on opposite ends of the platter. Heavy makeup accents her eyes and lips. Just imagining a two-year-old splattering his spaghetti and meatballs all over this work of art is enough to induce hot flashes. And though her "Celebrate Everything" cake stand proudly bears the image of a cupcake with pink frosting, it is too pretty to be covered, even by Aunt Gertrude's blue ribbon Angel food cake.

Daryl McCracken's "The Blue Hole" is a plate that also doesn't deserve to be covered and demands respect. It begins light blue at the edges, swirling into a vortex of darker and darker hues of blue, until in the middle, a pool of Bermuda blue waits to suck you in. The effect is both pretty and otherwordly; the varying blues recall the Earth's horizon. Jan Dreskin-Hais' "Plate" of white, coral and black repeating triangles is just as hypnotizing, with triangles that repeat themselves all over the plate. Who in their right mind would cover these with Hamburger Helper?

If you must make function of fine art, the exhibition's drink-ware might stand a chance. Though pretty like their plate partners, these cups, tea kettles and mugs are more convenient, as what's ingested hides inside, and it's the outside that counts. Caleb Zouhary's "Black & White Soy Sauce" set is architecturally stunning. The tiny teacup and pot set settle into a seashell holder, the entirety of which is polished with a bright, Cherry wood glaze. Naoko Teruya's "Condiment Set," which won Best of Show, features four pieces -- two ceramic pots and two salt and pepper shakers -- in shades of ashen coal and burnt coral. The pots stand side-by-side, spouts extended upward, like two soldiers at attention. Mary Linda Lewis' "Florida Memories" pitchers are embellished with leaves and lemons, primed and ready to pour cold lemonade. Without question, Mary Lambeth's "Pair of folded condiment bowls" are twin turquoise holders, are the cutest things on display.

A proper dining experience wouldn't be complete without ambiance, right? For this, Ann Ruel's "Homemade from Serving Wives" candlestick trio shines brightly, not from candles, but the red and gold happy housewives etched into the ceramic. Marissa Vitolo's "Tool Vase" covered in abstract colors are a great way to brighten up a dinner party, too.

This is 18 Hands' sixth annual "Dining In" experience, according to Evans. She operates the gallery with Karen Cruce and Katy McKinin. All three women are ceramic artists, and the majority of artists featured in the gallery practice ceramics, as well. There are a few fiber and jewelry artists thrown into the mix, but the purpose of 18 Hands is "to expose Houston to a larger range of ceramic artists," says Evans. To wit, there are 40 ceramic artists featured in this exhibition.

"Dining In: An Artful Experience" will be on view until September 1. Visit 18handsgallery.com for more information.

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