Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics

StanfordArtMuseums

This exhibition presents the work of four groundbreaking contemporary American artists whose practices emerge from the history of ceramics and provide both insight into the past and ideas for the future. Kathy Butterly, Kahlil Robert Irving, Simone Leigh, and Brie Ruais are pushing the boundaries of fired clay, building on the work of stalwarts from the past and exploring new questions. While these contemporary artists have distinct visions, they share a reverence for ceramics and its rich, sometimes complicated history. Together, they provide extraordinary insights into the medium’s capacity for individual expression.

This exhibition is curated by Jason Linetzky, Director of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University and organized by the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge the lenders to the exhibition, support from Museum Members and the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation, and an in-kind donation from Farrow & Ball.
This brochure is published on the occasion of Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics
at the Anderson Collection at Stanford University March 2020-February 2021.

FORMED

AND FIRED

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CERAMICS


front cover: Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics, (installation view), Anderson Collection at Stanford University, 2020.

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Anderson Collection at Stanford University

Wisch Family Gallery

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FORMED

AND FIRED

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CERAMICS

Anderson Collection at Stanford University

Wisch Family Gallery

Ceramics have played a fundamental cultural role for centuries as objects rooted in ritual, utility,

and artistic expression. Clay is found across the globe in its raw and naturally occurring form

and has been used to craft vessels for holding the remains of emperors, platters for serving

royalty, ovens for cooking food, and tiles and bricks for constructing basic shelters. This medium

is essential and elemental, and its malleability and variety of finishing processes allow for

infinite—and at times, unexpected—expressive forms.

Since the 1950s, California—in particular Los Angeles and the Bay Area—has been one of the

most generative places for ceramic sculpture. Leading proponents include Peter Voulkos

(1924–2002) and John Mason (1927–2019), whose ceramics were some of the first to engage with

abstract expressionist and minimalist tendencies, respectively, and Robert Arneson (1930–1992)

and Viola Frey (1933–2004), whose figurative and highly personal forms engaged politics,

gender, and the everyday. Now, a new generation of ceramicists is confronting the medium by

experimenting further with process and allusion. Carving, repeated firing, and inventive glazing

are coupled with references to the body, race, digital media, and the environment, advancing

ceramics yet again.

This exhibition presents the work of four groundbreaking contemporary American artists whose

practices emerge from the history of ceramics and provide both insight into the past and ideas

for the future. Kathy Butterly, Kahlil Robert Irving, Simone Leigh, and Brie Ruais are pushing the

boundaries of fired clay, building on the work of stalwarts from the past and exploring new

questions. While these contemporary artists have distinct visions, they share a reverence for

ceramics and its rich, sometimes complicated history. Together, they provide extraordinary

insights into the medium’s capacity for individual expression.

Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics is on view through September 28, 2020.

Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics, (installation view), Anderson Collection at Stanford University, 2020.

This exhibition is organized by the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge the lenders to the

exhibition, support from Museum Members and the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation, and an

in-kind donation from Farrow & Ball.

This exhibition is organized by the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge the lenders to the

exhibition, support from Museum Members, and an in-kind donation from Farrow & Ball.


SIMONE LEIGH

American, b. 1967

For more than a quarter century, Leigh has centered her ceramic

practice on the social record and experiences of black women, who

become both the subject of and audience for her work. Her

sculptures typically blend and explore elements of African craft and

architectural traditions, American vernacular art, feminism, and the

cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. With each piece,

Leigh acknowledges a complex history of art, honors the often

anonymous and overlooked labor of women, and delivers an

encounter with “a kind of experience, a state of being, rather than

one person.”

As with other elements of her artistic practice, these works shift

between abstraction and figuration. In Althea (2016), she depicts

facial features that are smoothed and refined but not specific, and

a torso reminiscent of traditional vessels, domed dwellings, and

skirts. Leigh forms each piece by hand and utilizes a range of

ceramic materials and finishes, typically firing each sculpture

multiple times. Porcelain, cobalt, and India ink carry symbolic

weight, and the artist employs them to present “femininity as

something solid and enduring, rather than fragile and weak.” Leigh

has created a space of her own through a masterful touch, merging

of disparate but related sources, and celebrating those who have

been significantly underrepresented.

Simone Leigh, Stretch Series #1, 2019, glazed stoneware, 25 x 13 x 13 in. Courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery


this page: Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics (installation view)

opposite page: Althea, 2016, Terra-cotta, India ink, porcelain, cobalt, and epoxy, 26 x 24 x 13 in. (installation view), Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased through the Board of Overseers

Acquisition Fund


Installation View


KATHY BUTTERLY

American, b. 1963

Butterly’s work emerges from a personal language of scale, form,

and color. They are filled with ambiguities and attractions: each

piece embraces beauty and deformity, figuration and abstraction,

diminutiveness and expansiveness, turbulence and stillness. The

artist is acutely aware of the inconsistencies within each work. “The

magpie makes this beautiful nest, and it steals things that are

gorgeous and glittery because it wants to seduce its mates,” she

says. “I want to do that. I want to seduce you to look at my pieces,

because when you get up close, they are a little mischievous, they

are a little bit more complicated, not as innocent as you thought.”

Butterly’s eccentric objects develop through repeated touch,

carving, firing, and glazing, with each sculpture becoming a

chronicle of its transformation from one of seven different mold

casts. Starting with a readymade shape—a humble pint glass,

hurricane candle holder, or vase—she alters the molded form by

removing and adding material, then firing and glazing, typically

repeating the process as many as twenty times over a span of up to

two months. Though their expressiveness, intimacy, and richly

personal vocabulary harken to art historical precedents, Butterly’s

works are entirely her own. These small, emotive sculptures speak

volumes through their spectacular palette, incredible detail, and

confounding beauty.

Kathy Butterly, Snap, 2005, porcelain, earthenware, and glaze, 5 ¼ x 5 x 5 in. Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, 2019.008


this page: Form to Solid, 2018, Nail polish on catalogue page, date tbd, 9 ⅞ x 8 in. Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, 2018.006

opposite page: Kathy Butterly, Tough Patty, 2015, clay and glaze, 4 ½ x 5 ⅞ x 4 ⅛ in. Collection of Kathy and Tom Wiggans


Installation view


KAHLIL ROBERT IRVING

American, b. 1992

Irving’s sculptures emerge from a long history of ceramics and

decorative arts—one complicated by colonialism, unbalanced trade

practices, and industrial production. He uses his art to address

contemporary issues of race, community and police relations,

violence against Black Americans, gentrification, waste, and

upcycling. By featuring digital news clips, discarded materials, and

lost lives, Irving brings renewed awareness and permanence to the

forgotten. His work levels our view and turns it downward,

encouraging a reinterpretation of and reengagement with the

street, as well as the objects we find upon it.

The labor, knowledge, and drive that shape Irving’s handmade

pieces serve as homages to the tradespeople of past generations

whose hands formed bricks, concrete, and stoneware. While his

sculptures appear to be built of found objects, each element is

faithfully fabricated and assembled by the artist in his studio using

traditional methods of extrusion, slip casting, and sprig (or press)

molds. Many of the surface images are sourced from the Internet,

captured as screenshots and printed as custom decals. The works

are typically fired twelve to sixteen times, accumulating character

through layering of forms and material and hinting at

contemporary lived experience. “Finding a place for myself to be a

part of the conversation is also a part of what I am trying to do,” he

says, “[to] readjust and rearrange how we see histories, to make a

better future.”

Kahlil Robert Irving, Street Mass, 2017, glazed and unglazed stoneware, enamel, and luster, 13 x 9 x 8 in. Collection of Marcie and Michael Roosevelt


this page: Kahlil Robert Irving, Rose Memorial 2018 edition: {RIP ALH} - STL, 2018, Glazed and unglazed stoneware and porcelain, opal luster, gold luster, silver luster, blue luster, found

decals, personally constructed decals, 15 x 8 x 7 in. Courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts

following page: “Its Breath and Breathing” / Daily NEWS: Pipes, Pots, Tubes (Layered Relic) , 2018, glazed and unglazed stoneware and porcelain, opal luster, gold luster, silver luster,

blue luster, found decals, and personally constructed decals, 12 ½ x 13 ½ x 11 in. Collection of Mary Patricia Anderson Pence


BRIE RUAIS

American, b. 1982

Beginning with an amount of clay equal to her body weight, Ruais

engages in a performative act that captures the physicality of her

body in time. Working on the floor and using her fingers, hands,

knees, and feet, Ruais pushes, scratches, and kneads the clay from

the center in motions that invoke labor, prayer, and sex, creating a

form limited only by the force and reach of her body. “I am shaping

it as much as it is shaping me,” she says. Her spiraling, expansive,

choreographic gestures exist in space and time, but the clay—sliced,

glazed, and fired—affords a permanent record of the performance.

Ruais’s work is informed by the American landscape (particularly

that of Southern California, where she was born), its diversity, its

fragile monumentality, and its natural palette. In Desiccating from

Center (Salton Sea), 130 lbs. (2019), her pigmented and glazed

stoneware evokes the once thriving, now evaporating sea in

Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Through this and other pieces,

Ruais enables viewers to experience the beauty of the work, sense

the labor behind its creation, and reexamine physical relationships

with the natural and built environments.

Brie Ruais, Desiccating From Center (Salton Sea), 130lbs, 2019, glazed and pigmented stoneware, hardware, 83 x 80 x 2 in. Collection of Mary Patricia Anderson Pence


this page: Brie Ruais, Coming Back Around, 132 lbs, 2018, glazed stoneware, hardware, 77 x 68 x 3.5 in. Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery

following page: installation view


Installation view


This exhibition is curated by Jason Linetzky, Director of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University

and organized by the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge the lenders

to the exhibition, support from Museum Members and the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson

Charitable Foundation, and an in-kind donation from Farrow & Ball.

This brochure is published on the occasion of Formed and Fired: Contemporary American Ceramics

at the Anderson Collection at Stanford University March 2020-February 2021.

All photography by Impart Photography.

© 2020 The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

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