For “Higher Ground,” her solo exhibition debut at Abmeyer+Wood Fine Art (www.abmeyerwood.com) in Seattle, Washington, Ann Mallory built upon several decades of creating, exhibiting, and marketing her earlier functional pottery. Now making oversize, handbuilt and thrown vessels with pinched-tops, she effortlessly demonstrates the bravura glaze techniques she garnered from subsequent advanced study with Marguerite and Frans Wildenhain and Karen Karnes after attending Stanford (BA, 1971). Upon first examination, it would be tempting to concentrate on the lessons Mallory learned from the Wildenhains and Karnes, as well as her earlier tutelage with Susan Peterson at University of Southern California: rich, deeply layered revelations of subtle glaze patterns; chromatic shifts effected through exquisitely modulated high firing; and just the right balance between optical interest and earthy presence.
What she did not gain from them was a strong sense of form. For sculptural pots this size—up to 46½ inches tall—there is no corresponding or commanding thud of objecthood as in Peter Voulkos or Jim Leedy. Called Contemplative Vessels or Memory Stones, the otherwise untitled and numbered vessels are recessive, quiet, inviting, and tentative. The tallest, Memory Stone #4, awkwardly tilts its shoulders in opposite directions, like a diffident teenager. Given a second chance though, the dark skin of silvery greens and blacks with a gray blush at the blunt foot repays any closer scrutiny. This is equally true of all the work. At the very least, Mallory’s Higher Ground survey establishes her as a worthy heir to the Wildenhains. Like them, whether smooth and matte, as in Casing #44 or puckered and glinting as in Memory Stone #6, Mallory exploits a panoply of glazes, but addressing a different tradition: Japanese country stoneware.
Largely monochromatic surface treatments accentuate form, as I have said, not always for the better. A single sloping shoulder is more pronounced in Memory Stone #3, but such asymmetry is quickly forgiven when blue, pink, and purple tones are noted beneath the overall black glaze.
Quasi-crystalline patterns emerge under a dazzling celadon haze in Casing #42. Its repeated horizontal and vertical intersections echo the impact of textile design on Japanese potters, right back to the paisleys imported from India by 16th-century Portuguese traders. Mallory’s uncanny scratchings are like cuneiform writing in some areas, with random iron spots elsewhere punctuating the gray-green field. Memory Stone #7 is dustier and dirtier-looking; its ochers and grays dangerously skirting the look of excavation fakes, but saved by rich, drenchy white glaze drippings.
Flattened on top like Buddhist temple stools or garden seats, Contemplation Vessels #134 and #135 could be set outside, I suppose, but in the gallery they exuded devout ceremonial power. With squarish indented tops (perhaps a place for purifying water) they contain the most varied surfaces of all, layered bands of color from bottom to top. Vigorous dark spatters half way up Contemplation Vessel #135 turn it into a prized peasant rice-storage container. The melting pale blue-to-green upper area of Contemplation Vessel #134 gives way to another murky base, the mottled colors of kelp and seaweed.
Seen in Seattle, Washington, where the earliest ceramic shows of Toshiko Takaezu, John Takehara, and Robert Sperry occurred, Ann Mallory has some tough competition. However, as with her dialog with the old Bauhaus masters of her youth, the artist’s dialog with Asian-inspired masters of Pacific Northwest ceramic art has just begun. Her predecessors would no doubt understand—and applaud.
the author Matthew Kangas is a frequent contributor to Ceramics Monthly. His fourth volume of collected writings, Return to the Viewer, contains reviews of Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, Roy Lichtenstein, Akio Takamori, Charles Krafft, and others (midmarchartspress.org).