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Last week, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts's annual conference, held this year in Milwaukee, brought both Wisconsin and ceramics into spotlight. But locals can continue an appreciation for the medium at Artisan Gallery in Paoli.
Contemporary Figurative Ceramics is a survey of ceramic sculpture by eight nationally recognized artists—Gerit Grimm, Kelly Garrett Rathbone, Russell Wrankle, Ryan Myers, Rachelle Miller, Tom Bartel, Michael Schwegmann and Marlene Miller—that offers a range of styles and deliciously delves into bizarre and slightly ominous subject matter.
Abraham Lincoln greets visitors. That is, a life-sized bust of the sixteenth president by Marlene Miller sits atop a pedestal opposite the gallery's front door. A craggy texture adds visual interest to the work, yet also feels true to this historic figure's character.
Other works by Miller in the show include a girl standing on a tree stump, a large clown and a series of small heads. Human heads also play a role in Myers's work—they're featured in his ceramic teapots and mugs, pieces that feel whimsical yet a bit dangerously so.
Bartel's mixed-media "Ballerina" invokes a mix of emotions, too. His dancer is made up of a large head with a party hat, a truncated torso, white tulle skirt and child-size legs with shiny bronzed shoes. It's a piece one could stare at all day, mentally unraveling and reconfiguring its elements to discover new interpretations.
But perhaps the most unsettling work in the show is Wrankle's "I Want More and Then Some." This languid red rabbit is smooth and sinister—he's no cuddly Easter bunny.
Contrasting in tone are Rachelle Miller's "Floral Pods," ceramic flowers that sit on pedestals and appear to sprout from a wall, and Garrett Rathbone's "Jean Fouquet," a ceramic interpretation of the early Renaissance artist's Madonna and Child painting.
Just beyond the ceramics show, the gallery showcases serene and atmospheric oil paintings by Madison artist Deb Gottschalk. Moments in Place features several lake scenes, and throughout her work the artist attempts to capture a personal recollection of real places in precise moments. A handful of paintings hang thoughtfully near beautifully glazed ceramics by Racine artist Alex Mandli.
And within the gallery's unique "In the Cooler" space, Madison artist Lisa Gralnick exhibits The Nightmare of Enduring Bliss. The renowned metalsmith, who's begun to showcase her ceramics work, created neutral-hued orbs in a variety of sizes and placed them on a carpet of salmon-colored tiles and pebbles. Several of the orbs are embellished with objects—tools, musical instruments and symbolic items—and imbue the scene with a sense of history.
All three exhibitions run through April 6. For more information, visit artisangal.com.
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