Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Land as art

Land Art redefines the boundary between art and landscape
Photo courtesy of David Shaner/Museum of Contemporary craft
Land Art: David Shaner
Museum of Contemporary Craft
724 NW Davis St
Runs through August 7
The work of a typical artist is hard enough, but compared to that of a land artist or earth artist sitting behind a canvas doesn’t seem too bad.

It makes sense that the beginnings of land art took place somewhere in the throngs of the ‘60s hippie movement. Originating mostly in the southwestern U.S., artists would make giant creations in the earth itself using tractors, bulldozers and whatever else was needed to put a new face to the earth. This artistic sect was started as a protest to the commercialization of art and the tools needed to create art.

At about the same time, artist, sculptor and craft maker David Shaner had his own way of protesting his increasingly expensive hobby. Shaner was always fascinated with clay, stating in a 2001 interview for the Smithsonian Institute, “Clay always felt good to me. Whenever I would start a project with a painting or a blank sheet of paper, there was always a certain fear about ‘what am I going to do.’ But with a piece of clay, it just seemed like it was automatic. You just started working and it was a wonderful thing.”

By shifting away from the use of synthetic means, Shaner set the motion for what would become a lifetime of work.

Shaner was wildly influential to the world of ceramics, leading both the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts and garnering the first grant for ceramics from the NEA. Shaner settled down in Montana in 1970 where he worked on his projects before passing away in 2002.

The exhibit is a collection of work that spanned Shaner’s career as an artist. Not limited to solely ceramics, the exhibit also includes photographs and notes that provide greater insight into the complexities beyond the clay.

Shaner’s work itself is not particularly impressive to look at—unless you understand the difficulty of making ceramics—but the thoughts, emotions and questions that the work brings up are surprising. The work puts us back into our proper place in the planet—if even for a moment, we are once again an emerging superpower only beginning to understand our true potential.

A major theme of the exhibit is a celebration of the American west. The rich earthy tones of the dishes and molds remind us of the soils that we see around us, still rich in organic matter and full of nutrients. The red hues are uniquely western, bringing us back to the days of playing cowboys and Indians in the backyard. Shaner’s work is an embodiment of life and environment in the west: rugged, weathered and beautiful.

The Museum of Contemporary Craft is a partnership with Pacific Northwest College of Art and is one of only a handful of places in the Northwest that devotes space to the exhibition of craft. Along with the exhibit, a book written by Peter Held on Shaner’s work, Following the Rhythms of Life: The Ceramic Art of David Shaner will also be available.

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