Did you hear the news? Stories on Clay at Morean Center for Clay

Tall tales, served up on a platter.

Storytelling defines the core of humanity: Everyone loves a good narrative, whether it’s recapturing history, a partially truthful fish tale, or just an account of daily happenings. In a lighthearted group exhibition of both functional and sculptural pieces juried by ceramicist Sue Tirrell, artists are brought together to share what’s on their minds.

Ever wondered about the love lives of large, prehistoric amphibians? They act much like millennials in an over-the-top reality TV series on a set of vases by Canadian artist Mariko Paterson. Set up in a similar fashion to Renaissance altarpiece panel paintings that tell stories through diptychs or triptychs, sections of the tall pots are devoted to some really angsty and emotional dinosaurs.

The middle of one panel reads, “Kent & Nancy were childhood sweethearts. Many afternoons were spent shaking trees of lizards then eating them by the handful. Then one day Kent told Nancy he was going to become a vegetarian and they could no longer date. Broken-hearted Nancy would later learn that a brontosaurus named Valeria was the real reason for their demise.” Ah, love is such a fickle beast, especially when dealing with beasts. Paterson’s work is fun and hipster in the best way possible, and you can’t help but get sucked into her silly plots as a velociraptor soothes a stegosaurus with his consoling words, “Chin up, girl.” Whether or not the artist is critiquing the dramatics of our society or not is beside the point — gossip has always served as entertainment for us.

Molly Bishop also uses a mash-up of text and visuals to create a comic book aesthetic on her dinnerware. I know I’m not myself when I get hungry, so I can relate to the words “The Best Fights…. are food fights” inscribed around the lip of Bishop’s “Come Back, I’ll Make a Salad” bowl. Hurling insults at one another via speech bubbles, two burly, mustachioed dudes are fighting over nothing, which is typically one of the harmful effects of being hangry; don’t let that happen to you, too.

Breaking conventions of just resorting to patterns for functional objects, Allee Etheridge reaches for the taboo with her erotically charged works. I’m not exactly sure what a “Sexpot Vase” is, or what you would use it for, but all I know is that her pottery makes me all hot and bothered. Hiding amongst gold-leaf floral designs on a low-profiled bowl are two figures goin’ at it with intense passion. If this isn’t a statement piece for an important dinner party, I don’t know what is. Regardless of whether it’s the vessel for a vegetable medley or a nice banana pudding, people will definitely be talking about it well after the meal.

Shalene Valenzuela’s sculptural stories are more confrontational in their biting feminist commentary. Everyday household tools turn into weapons, as in “Ironing Things Out: Nip it in the Bud.” Two Stepford-wifey-esque women are painted on the face of a ceramic clothing iron: one menacingly wields an axe while the blonde holds a pair of gardening shears half open, ready to chop up some roses. Challenging conventional gender roles, Valenzuela uses overt threat paired with sly humor to get her point across in a blunt (and blunt force) manner.

As a storyteller herself, the juror Tirrell also has some of her brightly-colored sgraffito works in the show. Influenced by Western themes in most of her pieces on display, she uses patterns and solid hues in plates that would best be described as refined folk-art pottery. The narrative aspect shines the most when more than one figure is apparent in her work, as on her “Wolf and Shepherd Platter,” where a young woman fends off an anthropomorphic wolf from snatching her little lamb. What is so likable about her work is its recollection of childhood tales of evil canines like those in Aesop’s Fables or Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Also using this infamous animal as a symbol for bad things, Shanna Fliegel depicts a wolf and a rabbit riding a tandem bicycle, straining to keep it going. The title pretty much says it all: “Let’s Make this Work, Part 1.” While the visuals provoke laughter at the absurdity of the situation, the words couldn’t be more appropriate at the moment as we try to come together and understand opposing viewpoints.

Whether it’s the truth, an extreme exaggeration of it, or straight-up fiction, everyone’s got a story to tell. And what better way to continue the tradition of storytelling than through pictorial representation on the traditional material of clay.

Stories on Clay.

Morean Center for Clay. 420 22nd St. S., St. Pete.

Through Nov. 30. 


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