'Ceramics in the Expanded Field' resurrects the appreciation for clay and ceramics
by Dilpreet BhullarApr 23, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Sukanya DebPublished on : May 06, 2023
Zimra Beiner's solo exhibition, If It Holds It Grows, at Hostler Burrows in Los Angeles, took place as a meeting ground for the artist’s expansive ceramic practice, aspects of design and utility, and transmogrification. Primarily working as a ceramicist and an educator, Beiner was trained in ceramic arts with architectural history in the mix, informing a rich practice that engages with colour, scale, landscapes and the potential of transformation. While the artist’s overall practice experiments with the size and scale of works and the capacity of material through its sculptural aspects, the works presented in the exhibition take a more subdued tone, with the selection primarily consisting of (planter) stands that invite collaborative possibilities in arrangement, imagination, and growth.
Beiner describes his artistic trajectory through the last 15 years, speaking briefly about his academic background, being trained as a sculptor, and how his initial foray into clay started with making vessels and eventually progressed to consider the form of 'still life.' Drawing upon classical forms or methodologies of seeing and making, Beiner considered still life as something sculptural, citing British sculptor Tony Cragg’s early work, besides an engagement with drawing with clay. Beiner talks about his practice of drawing with clay with STIR, sharing, “I think of a lot of the work in the show as drawing and very much about drawing with clay. I also imagine them having some engagement with plants. So that’s the open-ended design or craft, whatever you want to call it. My education with utility always considered the person who uses it as a collaborator who would figure out how to use it, but my suggestion being that there would be plants there."
In If It Holds It Grows, Beiner’s engagement with the stand or holder form creates a certain airiness that transforms the solidity of sculptural practice. Through seeming patchworks of clay with repeating forms and patterns that resemble latticework and stone carvings from architectural sites, the holder and support structures envision plants and foliage within and are additive to its sculptural form. There is a certain abstraction that is afforded by sculptural experimentation, and one can notice the different procedures in making the different forms, once informed by the qualities of drawing and composition. Ultimately, Beiner plays with the form and possibilities around clay as a medium and pushes the boundaries of the medium as points of inflexion.
While classical art history notes sculpture art as the process of removal in its most basic sense, where one uses stone as the medium of carving, Beiner describes his own process in clay work as being additive in nature. The artist describes the delicate and laborious process of “building” his works that take form through layers, moving from bottom to top. Adding to the challenge of the form is the physical tension that builds with this process of assembling, and he mentions that on one hand, the clay has to be soft and malleable enough to sculpt—while the addition of layers adds to the weight (sometimes his completed works being 300-400 lbs)—and therefore, contends with what the structure can hold without falling apart. Once the structures are completed in their rudimentary skeletal form, decorative bandings are added to elaborate on the same structures. Beiner notes his interest in the physical tension that comes with ceramics and goes on to describe how the limits of the craft are defined by the size of the kiln that the works are fired in and the parameters of geography and proximity.
While the exhibition engages with a range of scales, where the works are miniature to much larger in size, Beiner finds himself driven to the medium by considering its unique properties and qualities as a framework to work within and also push. However, Beiner also notes that it is hard to make large-scale works that feel “effortless” or have some sort of “presence about it.” Another property that comes with the territory is the consideration of colour which involves a series of experimentations and failures due to the technical aspects of ceramics. While there are several ways of approaching colour through form, the fundamental principle goes back to the glaze and the pigment or colourant.
Beiner speaks about these particularities and constraints of the medium, stating, “With ceramics, it’s one of those problems with an enormous amount of experimentation and failure, because when you put the glaze on, you don’t know what colour it is and when you fire it, and then it transforms. I feel like that’s a unique kind of way of thinking about colour. I can’t think of many other media where this is the case, maybe glass, but it’s really difficult to be interested in colour and be working with ceramics. [...] It’s a combination of knowing and not knowing, and that is part of the trick with doing something long enough that you want to know but it’s also exciting to not know. Otherwise, it would be dull.”
Beiner speaks about the craft’s engagement with nature, as influenced by thinking about patterns and ornamentation, while at the same time considering the practice of gardening and taking care of plants. He goes on to speak about the affinity between pottery and gardening as practices or professions. Beiner mentions his work under Walter Ostrom, a Canadian ceramicist and Rhododendron specialist, whose garden he worked in.
The artist also speaks about the influence of landscapes in his work, especially Los Angeles as a city, that has a strange relationship to plants and architecture, where exotic plants merge with suburban architecture, through a constructed landscape that he considers to be the “epitome of artifice” with the addition of fake rocks and its unique colour scheme. He further adds, “For a while I was interested in the bland, generic kind of colour schemes of suburban America, that feel like anywhere and nowhere at the same time. I spent a lot of time in those areas. I think Los Angeles had an impact on this [exhibition's] work, and it might be below the surface or hard to see.”
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