Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jay Strommen at Perimeter Gallery

When discussing the task of deciphering Finnegan's Wake, Joseph Campbell describes school men, terrified by the difficulties of Joyce's "root language" --and have been raking leaves in Phoenix Park for the past twenty years tryinig to catch parley. Any ceramics artist will immediately identify a "root language" to Jay Strommen's work and the intricacies are such that one may also want to sweep Jay's studio floor for about twenty years to catch a glimpse of the man and his works in progress.

Jay is a very approachable artist who is happy to share his work to the curious and the awestruck, as he is to the fawning and doting. He seems ambivalent to the celebrity status he has acquired; egging it on, yet guarding his magic and his internal prestige. At the opening reception, it was a Who's Who of Chicago art world appearances.

His vessels are sublime. They are like Italian grottoes; miniature. The surface texture is a sensitive crustacious drip and bubbling ignacious earth that has been freeze-dried and then preserved in the magic of the fire. Ranging from light and sandy in color to darker grey-tick, the bowls breed mossy highlights and brindle. Some of the vessels are severely cracked or ripped, as if Jay is looking to evoke an emotional injury. The interiors of the vessels reveal a sphincter-like constriction of clay over colored glass. The emerald and sapphire mixtures pool inside the openings like gems fallen into the drain of a sink. Impulsively one wants to remove the beautiful glass setting, but also the stark contrast of the materials begin to render more emotional recognitions that seem to tell a story. Questions begin to emerge from a sense of contradiction. The solitary bowl begins to cry and howl. Parts of the bowl appear to have been removed and reattached like scabs, or violently pulled from the structure and cast into the bowl to be fused as a sandcastle may become crumbled by water only partially left intact, beautifully ruined as only nature can ruin something. It is in this way that Jay's skill and experience shine through. His hands seem to possess the power of wind and rain. And while his promotional statements dance close to the line of being overly sentimental in this way, the work is phenominally executed and the presentation in the gallery is free of any overt distractions.

Also included in the show are several large slab pieces that are mounted on the wall. They measure about 15 X 20 and roughly textured in the same way as the vessels and smoothed by copious amounts of glaze and fused glass. They seem more geological, like a fossil sample mixed with a cuniform. These tableaux seem to encode another experience. The verdent-azure glass puddles spell out alchemical schemes and grimoire teachings. Observing them as objects, is to look at them with wonder at how they were made. They are massive and weighty clay tablets that have every possiblity to be destroyed in their drying process. They index Jay's "root language" in new way and are exciting to see. To describe them any further would be to ruin the personal relationship one may have with the pieces in their pleasant ambiguity.

I recommend moving slowly from piece to piece, so that your breathing accomedates the breath of the piece at which you are looking.

They possess, therefore enter.

See Jay Strommen's work at Perimeter Gallery in Chicago or check his website for additional listings

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