A pair of potters

Jimmy McDonough’s ceramic masks are explorations of the primitive that were inspired by dreams. Photo courtesy of artist

The Gallery at Tacoma Community College is hosting a two-man show featuring work by a pair of artists affiliated with TCC’s ceramics department. Anthony Gaudino is a long-time studio technician of the department and has more recently embarked upon a teaching role with the school. He has also earned a position of respect in the wood-firing pottery community, a closely-knit group that is almost an elite sub-set of the larger pottery community.

Example of Anthony Gaudino’s wood-fired bottles, which are small and gem-like compared to some of the artist’s larger works. Photo courtesy of artist

Jimmy McDonough had been a long-time associate of the TCC pottery family and also had a foot in the world of the wood-fired kilns. In addition to his work in ceramics, he is a painter as well as an expert yachtsman.

Example of Anthony Gaudino’s wood-fired bottles, which are small and gem-like compared to some of the artist’s larger works. Photo courtesy of artist

Gaudino is a virtuoso of the ceramic arts. He can make forms and vessels in a wide range of styles and done with a diverse range of surface effects. He can make monument-sized pieces one day and tiny gem-like vessels the next.

In this show, there are rustic forms inspired by vessels developed in feudal Japan for the tea ceremony. Other vessels are so symmetrical and fanciful that they are reminiscent of something from the European Baroque or Mogul India (think Taj Mahal).

The largest piece in the show is a huge jar standing more than three feet in height. Its glaze of ash and local clay give it a glossy golden-brown finish with hints of red. As a contrast, there is a row of shelves along a nearby wall that have delicate little bottles paired with tiny cups whose walls are almost eggshell thin. The bottles and cups all ooze character. Each one is an individual. Each one is a treasure, a miniature landscape of texture, color and form. One bottle will show areas where it was encrusted with ash in the wood-fired kiln. There might be an impression of a seashell next to a glassy green drip where the molten ash congealed as the fires subsided. Another bottle might be a rich brown with the rough surface of an orange peel.

Most of the vessels that Gaudino has in this show are the products of some of the Anagama kilns (a wood-fired, “climbing dragon” kiln developed in ancient
China and perfected in Japan) that are tucked away in woods and forests here and there in the Puget Sound region. Gaudino is a man well familiar with these kilns that are prized by members of the ceramics community. He has spent many a night feeding wood into one of these fire-breathing creatures, all the while serenaded by the singing of frogs and the call of owls. The fruits of these late-night labors are there to see on the bodies of Gaudino’s pots – the build-up of ash, the swirl of browns and ocher tones, the drips and flow of molten ash that is formed into glaze and shows the path of the flow of the flame around the red-hot pots within the belly of the kiln. Gaudino’s work in the show is some of his best, and there is so much of it: a dragon’s hoard of treasure.

McDonough’s paintings and his ceramic masks are all of a piece. McDonough is looking to the primitive for inspiration in this work. Inspired by dreams, the paintings are of figures with shields and spears, they are wonderfully murky, misty, earthy and rustic. The slender, decorative figures could be Australian Aborigines of the Dream Time, ebony warriors of the African savannah or even Celtic tribesmen from Neolithic Europe, when Stonehenge was new.

In addition to the paintings, many done on second-hand surfaces like repurposed silk screens or cabinet doors, there is one wall that is densely hung with ceramic masks that McDonough made over the past several years. Looking at the variety of sizes, colors and techniques used to create these stylized faces, one gets a good sense of the artist at play. It looks as if it were sheer enjoyment to create this array of primitive masks by use of stamps, hand sculpting and mark-making with a variety of tools. The effect of all of the masks crowded together is almost overwhelming. The viewer is looking at a crowd, a multitude of faces. Then individuals begin to emerge and the viewer can make the acquaintance with them one by one.

“Jimmy McDonough and Anthony Gaudino” is on view through Dec. 15. The Gallery at TCC is located on TCC’s campus; use the entrance just off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred Streets. For further information call (253) 460-4306 or visit www.tacomacc.edu/thegallery.

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