Ceramics Show Dazzles

For Julia Haft-Candell, Lincoln Visiting Artist in Ceramics and guest curator of Scripps’ 71st Ceramic Annual, ceramics is a metaphor for life.

“You can take this pile of dirt and make it into whatever you want,” Haft-Candell said. 

This is the second exhibition Haft-Candell has curated and the largest one of the two. The Scripps Ceramic Annual is the longest continuous exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the United States, according to the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery website. It is known as an ‘artist's choice’ exhibition, meaning that a leading ceramicist is chosen each year to curate. 

“I second guessed myself a lot … At the opening I was questioning a few things, like rearranging or adding some pieces from the Scripps collection … But now I think it’s a really good balance. It’s not too cluttered and I really like every piece that’s in there,” Haft-Candell said.

While Haft-Candell doubted herself during the curatorial process, gallery director Mary Davis MacNaughton was confident in the curator's abilities. 

Haft-Candell, who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in ceramics, is “well-prepared to select this work, as she is part of a vibrant ceramic scene,” MacNaughton wrote in the preface of the show’s catalog. Haft-Candell has exhibited her work at several Southern California galleries, including ACME, iKo iKo and the Huntington Beach Art Center, as well as at galleries in Houston and New York City. 

The show, titled “The Familiar and Indefinable in Clay,” showcases ceramics from eight different artists. The artists are varied not just in their styles and approaches but also in notoriety, ranging from the up-and-coming Jessica Hans to the internationally renowned Betty Woodman. Haft-Candell does not only like all the pieces individually; she likes the entire body of work of each of the individual artists in the show, which was an important criterion for her.

“I wanted to have artists whose work I could really stand by," Haft-Candell said. "I wanted be able to sell it and be passionate about it.”

Upon entrance to the gallery, viewers are greeted a few steps outside the gallery’s small lobby by, fittingly, Kathleen Ryan’s “Double Door,” a tall, metallic silver structure made with glazed ceramic over steel scaffold.

Moving along the walls, they encounter smaller but nonetheless inspired pieces, such as Woodman’s asymmetrical painted vases or Brie Ruais’s “21 Ways to Enter and Exit the Studio on December 21st 2012,” a flat, pigmented and glazed ceramic with shoe-print impressions, smeared with pink and blue. On the floor you’ll find Anton Reijnders’s brilliant little stacks of glazed clay and miscellany.  

Though the pieces are all distinct, there are two common themes that run through all of them, according to Haft-Candell. First, most of the work is abstract. Even if there are some recognizable features, Haft-Candall maintains that the pieces are not largely representational. Second, the works invoke play between abstraction and representation.

“You get hints at something that you know, but it’s … muddled or altered or contrasted by something unfamiliar, so what you think you know you start questioning, or if you think you don’t know anything, you start questioning that," Haft-Candall said. "There’s this ambiguous, exciting, intriguing confusion, which is how I feel about life.” 

Haft-Candell isn’t alone in her appreciation of this ambiguity.

“Coming back often, and especially after reading the catalog, I can make the connection of how many items aren’t meant to be conventional and I like that aspect,” Williamson Gallery receptionist Karla Guerra SC ’18 said.