George Sherman "Clay Work"
Sebastian Gladstone is excited to announce Clay Work the first exhibition of the ceramic master George Sherman (b 1945) . This exhibition runs from Sunday March 14 to Sunday April 11, 2021, and will present work made over the past two years that expand on themes found through Sherman’s 55 year-long ceramic practice.
“Clay Work” is equally an homage to the masters of the past as well as a break from tradition, creating new aesthetic narratives within contemporary ceramics that align the medium with the formal tradition of sculptors and painters such as Donald Judd and Blinky Palermo.
George Sherman has been quietly working away at his Pasadena home for the better half of a century. Working mainly as a ceramic arts professor at PCC, USC, Scripps, and LACC until 2018, Sherman re-dedicated himself to his practice for one final push upon retirement. Sherman’s experience growing up on a navy base in Japan in the 1950’s has proven greatly influential to his practice. This can be seen both in the high-fired textural surfaces of his work, alongside his penchant for complex fabrication techniques to create eloquently simple forms. Sherman also studied under several masters of the California Clay Movement including Phillip Cornelius at Pasadena City College during the late 1960’s and John Mason at UC Irvine during the early 1970’s. These mentorships were crucial to Sherman’s later development from a skilled potter to a professional sculptor.
In this latest body of work, Sherman uses several sculpted forms to explore his methodology. With the Tea bowls series, the traditional Japanese chawan (ceremonial tea bowl), is turned on its head into a comically large vessel about ten times the proper utilitarian size. Then, a pancake-like surface is applied within the ceramic vessels replicating the effect of poured, hot, bubbly tea. At first glance, one is unsure what they are looking at, until it is revealed to be an Oldenburg-esque representation of a typical cup of matcha. However, these are far from oversized ready-mades, rather they present as compelling Mars-like sculptures, almost psychedelic in their textural complexity. Alongside these oversized tea bowls, Sherman has made a series of twenty functional teapots, one quarter the size of their counterparts for a bit of playful fun, concurrently a nod to his older tendencies as a funcional potter.
With the wall slabs, Sherman achieves a true technical feat--presenting large-scale ceramic works that seemingly float on the wall like stones levitating midair. These are the most complex, yet rewarding pieces in the show, and span between five to seven feet on the longer end. These slabs are created through an intensive process of mold making, ash collecting, and high-firing, and then painstakingly placed and stacked together on the wall. The wall works present something completely new in their sculptural-painting hybrid style. On one end, the texture and depth of the works far exceeds the possibilities found in traditional canvas works, while also creating dynamics not typically accessible within the ceramic medium.The wall pieces are sublime yet brutal in their compositional interplay; swirls of oxides, granite, and wood ash create gradients of hot to cold, smooth to rough, glossy to matte.
The open vessels, which are perhaps the most referential to the work of Voulkos and Mason, seem to grow out of the ground, organic in nature yet wily and unknown. These forms more than any other also reference Sherman’s army-brat upbringing and the machismo that ceramics came to be associated with in the late 1950s. Many of these works are created in tandems or trios, or families as Sherman references them. There is a simple eloquence to them with all of Sherman’s work; a subtlety that needs to be unlocked upon further inspection. With these tall vessels the glaze chemistry that Sherman employs appears to shine, as the glazes have more surface area to run down in the intensive firing process. The vessels are totems, trees, gatling guns, smokestacks, exhaust pipes, and nothing all at the same time.