North Carolina ceramist Michael Sherrill set out to make if not a better teapot, at least a more distinctive one. The Renwick Gallery’s “Michael Sherrill Retrospective” demonstrates clearly that he succeeded. But it’s what he did next that makes this exhibition so memorable.
The show, organized by Charlotte’s Mint Museum, covers more than 40 years in the largely self-educated artist’s life. It includes 73 items, beginning with inventive but relatively conventional pieces made in the 1970s and culminating with recent mixed-media, nature-inspired creations in which form entirely dispenses with function.
Sherrill’s tea vessels are notable for their fanciful contours and shimmering glazes, which can simulate gray-silver metal or produce rainbows of graduated hues. As the artist continued to innovate, the pots got bigger and their parts more exaggerated. These agreeably cartoonish creations are far too large for conventional use, with enormous spouts that compete for attention with the object’s central part.
Some of the teapots and other items, among them oddly beautiful “oil cans” that exalt industrial design, evoke myth, literature and Sherrill’s own background. “Right and Left Brain” comprises two identically shaped vessels, one multicolored and the other black-and-white. The artist, who is dyslexic, has written a chapter of his autobiography in fired clay.
The ceramist has spent his adult life in the North Carolina mountains and now maintains a studio near the evocatively named town of Bat Cave. Over time, the surrounding landscape has figuratively infiltrated his studio. Much of Sherrill’s later work borrows motifs from the forest and expands into other materials. The show’s final gallery blooms with exquisite floral arrangements in porcelain, bronze and glass. Most of the inspirations are botanical, but in one 3-D tableaux coils a snake rendered in green glass.
Sherrill hasn’t entirely forgotten teapots. There’s a lovely, if not especially functional, 2005 one that emulates the soft shape of a folded elephant-ear plant leaf. But this potter’s journey has sent him far from the housewares department and deep into the woods.
Michael Sherrill Retrospective Through Jan. 5 at the Renwick Gallery, 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The Art of Evolution
Although much contemporary art draws inspiration from science, little of it actually begins in a laboratory. Yet that’s the origin of “The Art of Evolution,” the five-artist show at Takoma Community Center. Michele Banks traveled to Paris to observe specialists in evolutionary biology, a trip funded by a D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities Sister Cities grant. On her return, Banks invited a French scientist and a local one to a workshop also attended by the other four women who contributed to this exhibition.
Her lab experience inspired Banks to make vibrant abstract ink-paintings in black, gray and blue on plastic sheets. The surface is nonabsorbent, which Banks treats as a metaphor: “As with evolution, there’s no going back to fix things,” she writes. Banks also made 3-D collages that represent microscopic phenomena with such ordinary plastic items as tubes and hairbrushes.
The plastic in Jessica Beels’s hanging assemblage looks familiar. The colorful draped squares are stitched together from bags in which newspapers wrap their product. These media, the artist notes, often print stories about the calamitous effects of plastic proliferation.
Although they don’t depict their subject literally, Shelley Lowenstein’s “When You Eat” series is grounded in the science of digestion and nutrition. The six pictures progress from “Churn” to “Power.” Adjacent is Mei Mei Chang’s mural on scalloped paper, mostly painted or drawn but with a few embroidered details. The tangled lines and shapes are Chang’s portrayal of the human psyche.
The most surprising works are by painter Pat Goslee (who is married to Washington Post editor Michael O’Sullivan). Abstract yet seemingly organic figures have been seen before in Goslee’s art, but her “Sub Rosa” series endows them an unexpected focus. The paintings employ black backdrops, and most of the pictures are round, often with a circular form at or near the center. These gambits hold the compositions together effectively and give them a potent sense of depth. Goslee’s current style is not an evolution in the Darwinian sense, but it’s a compelling development.
The Art of Evolution Through Sept. 8 at Takoma Community Center, 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park.
Borrowing a term from psychology, the Arlington Arts Center presents “Transitional Objects,” an opportunity for eight artists to interpret the sort of things children use to comfort themselves. Rather than blankets or stuffed animals, though, the participants play with grown-up toys such as the motorcycle accessories Calder Brannock piles into a large mixed-media combine.
Most of the work is three-dimensional, although Kyle Bauer’s wood constructions are upstaged by his elegant block prints of architectural details from historic Louisiana houses. Other highlights are Liz Ensz’s cast-iron models of strip-mined mountain ranges, placed in sand and dirt, and Kyle Hittmeier’s video and paper-sculpture observation of a Brooklyn building that happens to have been seized from Paul Manafort.
The most intriguing entries are those crafted by Trish Tillman. These meticulously made pieces draw from the well-known language of industrial design, yet are oversized and abstracted, and thus eerie. Rather than banish anxiety, these almost-commonplace objects are quietly disturbing.
The center also is hosting Jen Noone’s “Sort of, Kind of, Almost” and Jason Horowitz’s “Ashton Heights Re/Seen.” Noone covers boxes and frames with latex paint, only to strip it partly off and re-layer in a different color. The multiple strata of dried paint-skin appear to drip, and assume a sculptural quality.
Horowitz is a photographer who uses the Photo Sphere app to transform patches of everyday foliage into surreal 360-degree landscapes. When seen through plant-filled foregrounds, one Arlington neighborhood becomes an immersive wilderness. In addition to the prints, Horowitz offers one vista on a computer, where it can be twisted any which way. Welcome to the suburban jungle.
Transitional Objects ; Jen Noone: Sort of, Kind of, Almost Jason; Horowitz: Ashton Heights Re/Seen Through Sept. 7 at Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.