Confident posture. Direct gaze. An assured knowing her handshake will be firm. The word TRUE comes to mind. TRUE in the sense of direction or plumb. While “earthy” is not an apt description, “grounded” certainly is. Lauren Mabry is a bright, young smile giving us a crooked wink. Her works have been placed alongside Peter Voulkos, Richard Notkin, and Steven Young Lee in American Art Collector. Her work has been paired in exhibition with Shen-Chen, a classically trained and contemporarily minimalist Chinese Landscape painter with a lifetime of experience behind him. She most recently followed in the footsteps of Don Reitz when she was invited to participate in Mission Clay Products Arts & Industry Collaboration. Next month she will have a solo exhibition at Belger Crane Yard in Kansas City and her works are already in notable museum collections.
The field of ceramics certainly seems to be celebrating Mabry’s efforts. And yet, I fear this is one of those times when the subtle lack of confidence embedded in the field has the potential to, at best, slow her down. At worst, it could become hazardous dead weight limiting her trajectories. Let’s not be the good friend on rhythm guitar, strumming out “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy”, keeping the band from signing the big contract. I’m concerned because there seems to be a growing pattern of leaning too heavily on labeling Mabry’s objects “painterly” and inattention to generating contextual responses. Except once. American Art Collector did place her in a continuum.
I encountered this problem over and over and over again.
Is it her youth? The lack of time on the continuum?
Here’s the thing—this young artist has not only had the limelight fall on her in a fleeting gesture; she has managed to keep the momentum rolling. Since she is working so hard, the least we could do when writing about her work, is see it in a broader context and celebrate the uniquely ceramic traits, including in our conversations a broader historic timeline. Time to stop instinctually tacking “painterly” on as unnecessary, limiting baggage.
If we are going to create parallels with painting, let’s get more specific. Mabry handles glaze like Eugene Delacroix handles paint in his sketches, but he always remained more attached to a form than Mabry ever does. Perhaps Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold is a better comparison? And we would have to zoom in tight to Monet’s Blue Water Lilies to get the same effect Mabry creates. Actually, isn’t that exactly what we do, standing in front of impressionist work, force ourselves as close to the painting as is allowed in order to be engulfed in the depth of color and brush marks? Mabry has pulled us in already, enabling a deeper inspection of color interaction because she is painting with melt rather than mimicking it.
Paint can only interpret what is an intrinsic quality of glaze. Mabry capitalizes on this and attracts her audience the same way Ron Nagle draws our attention to a hazy, tense line between colors upon his forms. We are familiar with Lisa Orr’s unapologetic squawking of glaze chemistry. Mabry chimes in on the conversation Orr is having, but she removes the complexity of utility. Utility becomes a ghost. She has distilled the vessel to the curve. If she didn’t need a form to hang glaze on, utility would only be an honored memory. Yet she hangs on to the curve, employing the invisible centripetal force to keep her focused.
Dipping way back into the annals of ceramic history, we could look to Mayan cylinders. The well-preserved originals, unlike Mabry’s cylinders, are matrices for representational illustrations. However, both use the cylinder to move a viewer around a curve without beginning or end, leaving the concept of time and space open to interpretation. The comparison becomes more evident when the Mayan illustrations are abstracted by the erosive hand of time.
Mabry enjoys pulling us around the curve of a cylinder and pushing us away. The vessel has provided a baseline for her to reinterpret the interactivity inherent in utilitarian objects.
Ultimately, this is not an in depth review. It is a plea to resist pigeonholing Mabry’s contributions so soon and to encourage a deeper mining of her objects. She can take it. She is plumb. To see her career unfolding is to marvel at her apt navigation of success. She is effortless on the way round a steep and, potentially, unforgiving curve.
For Mabry, it is a curve dripping with potential and depth.
Keep up with her schedule a www.laurenmabry.com and take some time review her growing archive. After the Belger Crane Yard exhibition, the following dates are on the docket: