By James Foritano
It’s so important when a lecture is just over your head that there are pictures. Every time curator Judith Motzkin’s words sailed beyond my reach, I looked around at the works of the ten potters represented in this month-long show at Vessels and understood that she was talking about Romance. Not the small potatoes served up in cinema potboilers, where the gems are mostly ersatz and the heroes so muscle-bound that a daily walk to the gym is epic.
No. Here are real pearls. Behind hand-polished surfaces, evanescent traces of combustible minerals and salts dance mystic skeins of color and form. The potters represented in “Smooth and Smoky” seek to re-discover the early days of pottery, when clay was baked in open fires without the decoration of glaze. The days when utility and simplicity were key concepts; but when, being human, potters worth their salt evolved signature styles by conserving those accidents of combustion that pleased them.
Ms. Motzkin laces the concepts of her talk with frequent stops to handle, to caress the objects around us, frequent show and tell moments when she passes around a few stalks of sea grass or a thin “tape” of copper, just to underline the sensuousness and artistry of a goal whose process of meticulous documentation can sound dry.
As an aide to my understanding, washed in images from popular cinema, I conjure that scene in Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart looks upon Ingrid Bergman and intones: “Of all the gin joints in all the world…”
As every fan of movies and Romance knows, serendipity aids the prepared seeker. If Bogart ‘lost’ Bergman in the mists of chance and change, he will recognize subtle cues that lead back, however tortuously, to his beloved.
Potter Dick Lehman spent years and countless trials attempting to reproduce an accident that left delicate imprints of leaves on the walls of clay vessels so exactly that “I could see the veins and tears and worm holes in many of the leaves.” Finally though, through chemistry and luck, Lehman can respond to a call for his signature vases with examples as fresh as the ones now on display in “Smooth and Smoky.”
If Lehman’s wizardry depends on coaxing plant-life to leave its delicate, cool imprint on baked clay, Judith Motzkin, admits to relying on “the volatility of copper” for the magic of her smoky landscapes. And Irina Okula of Shard Pots would have no business at all if she hadn’t embarked on the quixotic quest to capture the dynamism of a broken pot, reassembled. Who knew that a mended pot has a story to tell that one with more luck can’t begin to articulate?
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” pronounces Blanche Dubois as she is led off the cruel stage of Tennesee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and thence to sanctuary.
I think I appreciate the serendipity of Blanche’s guiding star that much more by opening myself to the seductive beauty of vessels whose makers dance, carefully, thankfully, with the serendipitous accidents of smoke and fire.
(Smooth & Smoky, at the Vessels Gallery, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston, through October 16. Call (617) 426-1950.