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Cheryl Lucas Ceramics

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Cheryl Lucas, White Maze, ceramic, 240 x 170 x 170 mm. Photo: Sarah Rolands Cheryl Lucas, Aqua Strut, ceramic, 300 x 290 x 270 mm. Photo: Sarah Rolands. Cheryl Lucas's Sod Off exhibition as installed at The National. Photo: Sarah Rolands Cheryl Lucas, Black & White, ceramic, 160 x 110 x 100 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, Dodgy Import, ceramic, 280 x 175 x 150 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, Green Piece, ceramic, 310 x 205 x 170 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, Pink Pretence, ceramic, 315 x 180 x 135 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, Portside Shuffle, ceramic, 293 x 240 x 135 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, Sod Off, ceramic, 110 x 130 x 120 mm. Photo: John Collie Cheryl Lucas, I See Red, ceramic, 288 x 155 x 135 mm. Photo: Sarah Rolands Cheryl Lucas: Split (large); Green Piece; Aqua Strut; ceramic. Photo: Sarah Rolands, Cheryl Lucas's Sod Off exhibition as installed at The National. Photo: Sarah Rolands

Cubist-inspired, facetted forms appear sturdy and architectural. Although many works are vessels in structure—vertical vase-like forms with open tops—they read as sculpture. Other works dart off into unfamiliar territory: 'Tangle in Green', 'Tangle in Red' and 'Tangle in Blue' are playful departures. Like melted plasticine, these linear forms collapse, twist and turn in on themselves. The complex construction of interconnected segments in 'White Maze' evokes molecular configurations, referencing the structures of DNA.

Christchurch

 

Cheryl Lucas
Sod Off

 

17 November - 5 December 2020

Architectural, colourful, and with a distinctly experimental edge, Cheryl Lucas‘ latest body of ceramics clearly indicates a practice on the move. Wheel-thrown forms have been replaced by slab and hand construction. Here, Lucas eagerly embraces technical challenges and exciting new themes. The results are striking, spirited, and buzzing with both saturated colour and subtle tints.

As the recipient of Creative New Zealand’s Craft/Object Fellowship, any public outing of Lucas’ ceramics creates an air of anticipation. Sod Off is mischievous with unexpected turns.

Much thought has gone into orchestrating the presentation. The scale and placement of each work—in association with the construction and positioning of plinths—combine to create a chic, stylish display. Varied coloured glazes play against a range of muted pastel-toned plinths, each a different hue. In part this creates a 1950s or 60s nostalgia, and the circular placement of plinths draws viewers into conversation with the works.

Audiences familiar with Lucas’ output over the past twenty years have an opportunity to compare this presentation with previous exhibitions. Earlier themes re-merge. The catchy title—the expletive Sod Off—has a certain bite, as do individual titles. Slime Catcher recalls underwater plants or curious sea anemones or, equally, the result of a graphic scribble morphed into three-dimensions.

Lucas’ work has long referenced environmental, ecological and societal concerns. Earlier series directly engaged with her experiences growing up on a farm in Tarras, Central Otago. Another potent series, Royal Muntin Ware, acknowledged the danger earthquakes presented to cherished china or clay objects, with humour.

In the past, Lucas’ wheel-thrown vessels have shared connections with noted UK ceramicist Alison Britton (b. 1946), both exploring the potential of the vessel to transmit ideas, concepts and metaphors. Several pieces in Sod Off confirm that the vessel continues as an enduring touchstone. Her scale remains domestic, the tallest piece at 315 mm high.

Direct reference to locality and site is evident too. Lucas’ home and studio, high on a hill in Lyttelton, offers an immersive birds-eye view of the working port. The complex structure of Portside Shuffle, for example—all angles, different levels and holes and looking like Meccano—plays on the massive working cranes that move containers. For me it’s the highlight of the show. Equally, Dodgy Import suggests a less desirable aspect of port life is afoot, as the looped top takes on a figurative twist.

Colour is a strength in this show, with glaze choices mostly limited to individual works, although a number of pieces effectively combine contrasting colours. A hint of origami is discernible in Black & White and Teal Intercept where flat planes are highlighted in black, creating drama and vitality. Glazes of orangey-reds, strong blues, muted Salmon pinks and vibrant greens (suggestive of plants or spring growth) are countered by the palest milky aqua. Lucas’ solid glazing, achieved through multiple firings, feels akin to thick honey, successfully rounding-off hard edges and creating a sense of unity, warmth and humanity.

Cubist-inspired, facetted forms appear sturdy and architectural. Although many works are vessels in structure—vertical vase-like forms with open tops—they read as sculpture. Other works dart off into unfamiliar territory: Tangle in Green, Tangle in Red and Tangle in Blue are playful departures. Like melted plasticine, these linear forms collapse, twist and turn in on themselves. The complex construction of interconnected segments in White Maze evokes molecular configurations, referencing the structures of DNA.

Interest in contemporary ceramics is growing in New Zealand, in part reflected by the fact artists with extensive careers in other media are dipping their hands into clay. And, increasingly in important dealer galleries, ceramic shows are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Lucas’ commitment to the medium of clay remains strong and, along with other talented ceramicists, her desire to push forward and experiment makes the future exciting. With such a beguiling exhibition title, Sod Off may imply an annoyance with the prevailing status quo or, perhaps, an appeal to separate-out and seek new states of independence. We wait with anticipation to see what new territory she explores next.

Grant Banbury

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