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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Cooley Done

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday October 2, 04:46 pm
Fine craft exhibit blends the object and the idea with beautiful results

Photo Credit: Ron Cooley


Runs to Oct. 18

Affinity Art Gallery

I’ve made enemies by my blunt assertions of the superiority of the work of local fine craft artisans (as often seen at the Affinity Gallery) over that of the academics and their acolytes at the U of S.

I suspect this is because the primacy of the object in fine craft has never been negated by the self-regarding, postmodernist fallacy of the idea being more important than the physical work. (In English: the importance of the object itself has never wavered.)

Paula Cooley’s latest exhibition of work also indicates that concepts, however, need not be foreign to a well-made object.

The statement: “MIX: hard surfaces and soft curves; ceramic, metal and glass; kiln and torch; hands and hammers; blood, sweat and burns. Serve at room temperature.” And: “Paula’s new body of work required melting glass, zapping MIG welders, smoking coal forges and earth shaking power hammers. Undeterred by flying sparks, Paula’s elegant sense of form and design has expanded to encompass new materials into her ceramic vocabulary.”

Those are the words of Mel Bolen, curator of this show, and a significant fine craft artist as well.

Cooley’s works have an organic flow, and although they have a “feminine” quality to them with their bends and cambers, they’re made of materials that suggest a solidity, strength and endurance that are just as female. (I’m reminded of June Jacobs’ ability to employ contradictory metaphors of female with her “shift” dresses, suggesting gentleness and then affirming solidity.)

This manifests even further in the wonderful “gate” Cooley has installed at the front of the gallery. “Lucent” is solid and massive, but its delicate and detailed components have a variety of gaps and spaces. The patterning on the cylinders is sometimes rhythmic, sometimes not, and they rest within respective “organs” of the triptych, more like a map than a structure.

It’s also very minimalist, primarily monochromatic in colour, with clean frames and suspended “portals” that reveal more than they hide. The name “lucent” itself is defined as “glowing with light” or “marked by clarity or translucence,” so its placement before the window is ideal, and employs the natural light in a manner that enhances the works.

De La Mer” and “De La Mer # 2” have firm curvatures that mimic a hip or thigh, while “De La Mer #3”, being stoneware, seems more sombre and leaden with its teeth-like “buttons.” These works share a common formalism with past works by Cooley, like the “Stag” works, but are moving more towards an abstraction that allows the materials to define the direction of the work.

Undergrowth”, melding porcelain and bone, blends an aspect of “artifact” with the immediacy of the body, with antlers incorporated in the work. “Tendre”, meanwhile, seems in the midst of rising to meet you. “Nest” combines porcelain and wire, and also suggests something alive that you expect to shift as you observe it, and to writhe under your gaze.

Mix runs until Oct. 18th, and you should also keep an eye out for Imaginary Architects, which is an “exhibition of imaginative, handmade toys and games” examining how play factors into the work of contemporary fine craft artists. That opens on Dec. 5th

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