Most of Julia Galloway’s porcelain vessels come in pairs: a creamer and sugar caddy, two vessels on a tray, a lidded pot divided into two compartments of equal size, a salad dressing assemblage for oil and vinegar, a salt and pepper pot. She avoids the monolithic and, consequently, the static. The overall forms deﬁne and activate their partner containers, and are often painted with lines that bend and ﬂow, swirling ﬂourishes reminiscent of plant life or fabric designs. The overall palette tends to be cool, including deep purple, royal blue, charcoal gray, lustrous gold and milky white.
Most of the pairs of vessels reside in trays, custom-made environments. Handbuilt from clay made up of over 60% grog, the trays have a raw quality similar to that of bricks. Juxtaposed against them, the porcelain seems delicate, reﬁned. Inside and in between the clay walls of these paired vessels and trays are volumetric negative spaces, small-scale counterparts to grand architectural interiors. It’s no coincidence that Galloway began creating these environments as a resident at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, an institution founded as a brick manufacturer. She left there last summer in order to assume a teaching post at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
In many of the pieces included in “Little Sanctums,” a recent exhibition at Fifth Element Gallery in Portland, Oregon, the trays are deep enough to be boxes. One box sits on top of another, its bottom surface serving as a lid for the lower box. Tiny quatrefoils (conventionalized, abstracted representations of ﬂowers often used to adorn architecture, particularly European Gothic cathedrals) or dots perforate the lower boxes and act as petite windows, offering a glimpse of the vessels inside. To peer in at the salad dressing assemblage, in particular, is to violate its privacy: The spouts of the oil and vinegar containers touch in a gentle gesture, like the hands of a dancing couple.
The title of a 1998 solo show, “Little Conﬂuences,” at the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, New York, further substantiates Galloway’s fondness for the tiny, the private, and for moments of connection, when two things become one. She cites Persian miniature paintings as one source of inspiration: Their scale as well as their subject matter (they often depict tender moments in palace interiors) are parallel to that of her vessels, which capture the spirit of intimate interactions and inner worlds.
Letters from the Roman alphabet adorn some of the surfaces of her earlier work. They are formal abstractions, pleasing to look at but lacking in understandable textual meaning, like the script on Islamic paintings for those not versed in Arabic. Writing on clay pots enjoys a long history; however, isolating letters as ornament, outside of the context of language, is unusual. With them, she acknowledges the grace and beauty of handwritten words, which, like handmade pots, are rapidly being replaced by the products of machines. They are Galloway’s homage to the human touch and to the dignity of the mundane. Her containers elevate the everyday activity that engages them, making the routine seem special.
She uses letters as decorative devices; however, her understanding of the meaning of words is not superﬁcial. She is adept in conversation, and often toys with synonyms, intrigued by shades of meaning. She calls herself a utilitarian potter, astutely avoiding the semantic baggage and confusion of the term “functional.” Although painting and sculpture have come to be thought of as nonfunctional ﬁne art, both have important functions in that they beautify spaces, challenge and absorb viewers, record ideas and histories, and speak of things beyond themselves. Julia Galloway’s utilitarian pots serve all of these functions as well.