Robin Stark’s titles—“Delicate Balance,” “Keeping It Together” and “Sisyphus”—hint at the challenges she has experienced in bringing form and order to her sometimes recalcitrant clay. But equally acceptable titles might have been taken from 1930s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies: “Shall We Dance,” “Flying Down to Rio” and “Carefree.” To understand why, you first must know a little about the rich and complex history of contemporary ceramics.
The modern ceramics era began with the arts-and-crafts movement that flourished throughout California from 1870 to 1920. Organized as a reaction to inferior, mass-manufactured and poorly designed ceramics, it affirmed the status of pottery as a legitimate artistic expression by emphasizing the importance of individual style. This tradition contributed many elements crucial to today’s ongoing revolution in clay—which began in the ceramics department at Otis Art Institute in the 1950s—including the freedom to discard functionalism and the openness to other aspects of contemporary art and other cultures.
- From the Calendar
- Robin Stark’s Second Wind
- Through June 28
- Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave., 507-3630.
Henderson’s Stark has used that freedom and openness to conceive her work as sculpture, while slyly referencing traditional ceramic vessels and drawing on multiple sources of inspiration. Her four “Entwined” pieces are redolent of the work of early 20th-century futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni. Her flame-like entwined shapes are as volatile and suggestive of movement as his broken planes and contours, and her affinity with art deco, an early modern design movement, is evidenced by her use of geometric forms and eclectic sources, from “primitive” to Machine Age. The vertically stacked cut-out circular shapes of “Sisyphus—Long Fall” are reminiscent of New Guinea wood carvings and Nigerian headdresses; the sweeping curves and jutting triangular shapes of “Keeping It Together” remind me of the spire of the Chrysler Building. In these pieces, the faceted forms, enhanced by glazes of bright blues, greens and yellows juxtaposed with shades of gray and tan, convey a particular mood or time of day.
My favorite, “Over The Top,” is formed by two angular catapult-like shapes, the outline of which echoes a traditional teapot. Wittily incorporated into the structure are two delicate cups, one perched atop it in a gesture of celebration and triumph.
Stark’s work has elegance and beauty—the same qualities we enjoy when watching Fred and Ginger dance. In both cases we don’t see the effort, and that’s as it should be.