We had two talented, young ceramists in Gallery360 during the month of February.  If you didn’t get to see the show don’t worry, you can see more photos here.  They took their work down on Monday before I had a chance to take one last look and truthfully this made me a little bit sad.  I’d gotten used to walking through their ceramic installations, used to it in a good way.  The space within the sterile white walls and grey painted reclaimed wood flooring was transformed into an environment that made me slow down and take a second look, no matter how many times I walked through it.

Justin Price’s installation closely resembled the childhood game “Mouse Trap” or a set up you might see in a cartoon short from Loony Toons. There was a ceramic handle tied to rope, which led you to believe that if you pulled it, you’d release a bowling ball…the bowling ball then flows down a “wooden” track, launches off a “wooden” ramp which lands on another board of “wood” that launches a ham…and so on.

This fairly simple chain of events becomes elaborate when you realize that everything (except the rope…) is handmade out of clay.  The ceramic handle hangs down, begging and teasing the viewer to pull it so that it can release the bowling ball.  Logic tells you that it won’t work, but the cartoon-like styling persuades you to put logic aside and begin to daydream.  How does this unfold and what would it look like in motion?!  Most of the visitors who saw Justin’s installation expressed how much they wanted to pull that handle.  They know it doesn’t work, but they want it to work.  Justin’s playful models make it believable.  Anything is possible in a cartoon…and therein lies the beauty and success of Justin’s installation.  He forced the viewer to lighten up a little bit and take a moment to imagine.  A moment to chuckle.  A moment to visualize what might happen if those saw blades set that powerful, playful magnet free…

[Confession: I am probably the only adult who could not lighten up because I was so nervous something would fall and break!]  But now, as I reflect, I can lighten up and soak in the lure.  The installation takes you out of your world full of responsibilities and obligations and puts you in the position of a curious child.  You want to touch something sooooo badly you don’t even consider that you might break it…

Mitch Shiles installations were equally as intriguing and playful, but in a completely different way.  His displays were sterile, clean and seemingly calculated.  I felt like I was entering an extra-terrestrial scientific lab.  The fluorescent tube lighting sculpture looming above resembled to me what a standard commercial tube lighting fixture in an alien world might look like.  It was purely functional, but exaggerated, almost like its from a cartoon.  Mitch created an extra terrestrial scientific lab, but not in a way that intimidated me, in a way that probed me to explore.  (Mitch, if me referencing cartoons and your work in the same sentence is offensive, blame Justin!!  He’s got me on this cartoon wavelength…) His work bounced between organic and rigid.  Shiny and dull.  Clean and messy.  I’m excited to see what Mitch comes up with in the future as he pushes these ideas further.

In Mitch’s artist statement he asks, “What is the difference between a glitzy lie and a rancid truth?”  I looked at Mitch’s work and I wasn’t sure what he was trying to convey, I could only speculate.  Is this a commentary on pharmaceutical companies?  Are the purple trees inspired by Dr. Suess?  Is it…?  When you don’t understand the artwork you see, remember that art’s purpose is to raise questions, not answers.  Despite our incessant pining, most of the time when we need answers life doesn’t give them to us.  Perhaps in some cases (or most cases) a lack of explanation is more honest and genuine than an explanation that took days of editing and an a thesaurus to write.

Alright, although I have at least 5 other points about the show that I want to talk about, I will spare you the novel ;-)

I couldn’t be happier with the way the show turned out.  It was something different; it was raw; it was brand new work.  Mitch, graduate of Penn State University, and Justin, graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), are currently the Emerging Artists in Residency at Millersville University.  They are at the beginning of their careers, experimenting and pushing themselves to become the better artists.  We wanted Gallery360 to be a catalyst for conversation and we got it!  Thank you Mitch and Justin.  We plan on keeping in touch with them as they go through graduate school and beyond and wish them the best of luck.

If you have thoughts or critiques on the show please feel free to comment, and if you did read this, thanks for your time~

Little Miss Sunshine