Wild Things at the Myers Gallery

The 'Zoomorphism' ceramics show unleashes both fantastic beasts and forgettable strays

The word “ceramics” usually brings to mind functional pottery—cups, bowls and dishes made for actual use or as decorative pieces. They’re often pretty, but seldom riveting unless you possess an in-depth knowledge of ceramic techniques. But on the other side of the plates and platters are the studio artists who find their voice in California “funk art,” a movement that began in the 1960s and includes a strong wing of ceramic artists. It is among these rebels that we find crazy, kitschy, message-driven clay creations that shatter any preconceptions engendered by precious earthenware and far too many mugs adorned with tree-spirit faces.

Muddy’s Studio in Fullerton is pretty much a ceramist’s dream: posh rental studios in the back and monthly art exhibits in the front-space Myers Gallery that alternate between classic and offbeat. The latest show, “Zoomorphism,” is the latter, and curator Kevin Myers was clearly funk-art inspired when he decided to focus on kitschy hybrids of man and animal. The results are uneven and not quite mind-blowing, yet there are certainly a few artists who make an impression.

Salt Lake City grad student Cristin Zimmer is one of those and seems to have a message for submissive women, men who treat women like pets, or both. In Such a Good Girl, we find a full-sized dog with a girl’s head lounging at our feet. The lassie looks up at us, with a panting smile, waiting for praise and approval. Less than docile, her red-clay-chips fur is matted and wild, creeping into the girl’s head of hair. The dog collar with tag of ownership is clearly defined, and dog-girl’s glazed eyes (the only color on the figure) are swirly-trained on her master in hypnotized adoration.

In Roll Over and Get Yer Tail, similar dog-girls engage in standard pooch behavior: one lies on her back, spread-eagle, waiting for a tummy scratch, her face and hair speckled with colored chips and crazy eyes; the other gnaws on her tail in a wicked frenzy, baring porcelain teeth. Disturbing on several psychological levels, Zimmer’s canines don’t just question the nature of humanity (which the artist claims is the goal of her work), but also highlight the grotesque nature of the overly submissive woman.

On a lighter note, narrative sculptor Sharon McCoy’s satirical exploits with figures seem like mad-hatter scenes from a fantastic, alternative fairy tale. In Someday I Get New Body Parts, a rabbit-eared jester-child with a steel plate bolted over one eye holds his tummy, where another steel plate is coming undone. A papa jester appears in Cat Scratch Fever, in which a blue-faced, bunny-crowned clown-man with a metal eye smiles adoringly at the frisky feline hanging on his shoulder. And in Scape Goat, a helmeted speed-demon-billy rides atop an eye-shuttered tricycle-dachshund in a mad getaway—from a stew pot? McCoy’s stories are fanciful and mysterious, and she invites you to create your own.

Other notable pieces include some insect-play: Michael Brail’s Lepidoptera Zoomorph is a blue butterfly-winged face that might belong to a woodland nymph, and Brad Blair’s Benthic Bug #1 is a stocky, tentacled orb of a pest, with bright-orange pincers and a carnival of colors speckled across its roly-poly body. Also worth a look is Gustavo Martinez’s Siglos Después (Centuries Later), a Mesoamerican monument of cultural morphism in which eagles sprout into planes, rattlesnakes curl into trains, and all of them wind around and perch atop a mass of petrified wood, pieces of a defunct civilization.

The rest of the work in the show mostly seems out of place, often with no clear morphing characteristics, such as two pieces featuring tiny Ganesha gods and other more geometrical work that looks very much like, well, just geometrical work done in clay. Leslie Hinton’s three pieces, Finger Puppet Holder, Isn’t it Nice to Have a Duck Hat? and Chub Chub, while falling into the morph category, seem more like items made at summer camp than pieces fit for a professional show. And it’s the inclusion of such work that brings up the issue of curatorial aim and selection.

While half of the pieces in “Zoomorphism” probably didn’t belong there or weren’t the best curatorial choices, sometimes, you get the submissions you get. When I wandered into the back studio, however, I was quite impressed by the scope of its size, host of professional equipment and racks upon racks of pottery, both fired and waiting for the kiln—and it was there I also spied a perfectly phenomenal funk-art sculpture in one of the rented spaces: a 2-foot-tall alien-esque cactus with desert humanoids frolicking between limbs and bodiless heads sprouting from the tops of prickly pears. It was fantastic. The curator told me it was a piece by Dana Sydlik, a young woman trying to get into grad school. Trying to get into grad school. I’m not sure what this says about the current standards of art schools or curators, but Sydlik’s work was one of the best pieces in the building—and it should have been in the show.

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