Ed BlackBurn and Chris Max Thompson: Ceramic Artists at E street Gallery

On May 12, 2013 by Michelle Lepori

Christopher Max Thompson and Ed Blackburn are ceramic artists that displayed during the April 2013, Capitol Clay Invitational group show at E Street Gallery located in Downtown, Sacramento. Ed Blackburn hung Stroke of Luck and Thompson, Bowl 6 and both were ceramic bowls on a wall. They could not be more different in terms of finish, sale price, materials and cultural reference. Despite Blackburn’s non functional earthenware and Thompson’s usable ceramic, these two bowls on the wall share the same purpose: elevating a bygone culture.

cmt1It was not immediately clear to see the cultural references in Christopher Max Thompson’s Bowl 6. I barely spotted the piece as I walked from one gallery to another. Among quietly luminous, approximately seven glaze fired small bowls, it hung in a hallway. They all displayed noticeable irregularities but a strong sense of form and stylistic cohesion.

Surprisingly, because I had just come from Thompson’s studio were heavy-handed creations lived; nothing whisper thin, light and perfect. His are a thick, irregular kind, wobbly-lipped and somewhat asymmetrical. Some teapots rest in the corner. What was his inspiration? Master ceramicist, Ah Leon (1)? He certainly seemed to be as prolific as Leon; his studio was packed to the brim with ceramic vessels, plates, bowls and statues.

cmt2Back in the hallway I examined uneven rims on these displayed bowls, glaze drippings and uneven cut bottoms. These bowls would wobble forever and their method of hanging? Visible red and yellow electrical wire wrapped around a dry wall screw.

Bowl 6 Is approximately 10 inches in diameter, made of ceramic and glaze fired in earth tones. A thin wash of natural red exposes irregularities in pigment dispersal around the base; there are more or less concentrations of color. A raised rim overlaps cornflower blue with raw umber. Inside the bowl, transparent greenish ochre forms an opaque lake of pastel peridot glaze. In the shape of a whirling dervish (my associations), the form is almost perfectly circular, the lip of the bowl is nearly uniform.

Seventy-five dollars—an accessible range…but was this priced to sell, or priced because of its imperfections? Why on earth would anyone hang this hasty work? It must have been on purpose. But it did catch my eye…

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I researched. Thompson embarked upon a 1000 bowls to feed the hungry conceptual art piece. This was bowl 6 of 1000. When sold proceeds will go to better imperfect lives: Meals on Wheels, Senior Gleaners, Loaves and Fishes Charities.  “I do like to leave some of the maker’s marks in it, my hand, the other artists that work with the piece, I like to see the human element in this, because this is all about humans making a difference. (2)” To answer my previous question on the low price tag of Bowl 6, I believe he priced it to sell and the “imperfections” make it art.

“Bowls are important, I have been told, one, of the few possMichelle_sl2essions of a certain order of monks has, and they have few possessions. They have a robe; they have their sandals and a food bowl. So it is what sustains them in their austere lifestyle, it is important in their faith, it gives them nutrition and nourishment and something they hold very special to themselves. (2)” I begin to see that Christopher Max Thompson does have an influence to Bowl 6 and his entire body of work.

“I see the entire project, the making, the creating, the collaborating with other artists, the actual selling and owning of the bowls the entire art piece. It is a conceptual piece and I guess in that respect when is an art piece, a piece of art done? It’s never done. (2)” This is in line with the Zen Buddhist concept of Wabisabi as an art form and way of life: the beauty found in imperfection, change and deterioration. In that regard, a piece of art is never done.

Finished. Intricate. Historical. Stroke of Luck is all these things. At approximately 18 inches in diameter, I walked right past it. Perhaps how flat it laid against the wall, or the matte color palette of this Ed Blackburn red earthenware bowl, led to its unobtrusive discovery. On my way out of the group exhibit, I spotted this Mimbres like pottery: delicate in form, symmetrical in shape and geometrically designed. The bowls exposed base layer highlighted matte selections of thin under-glaze in shades of grey, yellow, red, sky blue and white. Careful ribbons of shiny black and yellow glaze lay in sheets on top of this. The whole effect is paper thin, smooth and a harmonious composition. Each element was chosen to elevate natural characteristics, in a well thought out execution. The lip of Stroke of Luck remained matte red and seemed to float off a black glazed base. Details didn’t finish there, a thin sky blue ribbon shined from the base followed by black glaze, followed by earthenware, followed by black glaze and a perfectly flat cut bottom. It hung from the wall on a near undetectable chain and screw.

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The artist here seems hyperaware of every detail. It is in discovering these little secrets, like the thin blue wrap on the bottom, that I come to love the patience and thoughtfulness demonstrated in, Stroke of Luck. The hand of man is detectable, the profile shows slight curvatures created during its making on a wheel, but it is slight.

There is a notable understanding of ceramics and history here. Even in 1987, during a 10 year retrospective, “Blackburn’s patterned plates and buttressed slab structures draw upon the traditionalism of Mexican and Mimbres pottery (3).”  Now in 2013 he is still resurrecting the ancient Mimbres pottery designs, bringing new life to an ancient and forgotten culture.

Blackburn and Thompson are similar in that they elevate bygone cultures. Blackburn with his new take on Mimbres design, a people and aesthetic that disappeared nearly 800 years ago (4). Thompson with his Wabisabi esthetics and charity work for the disadvantaged people. They both make use of glaze and thrown vessels. But Thompson’s piece is a mere 75 dollars to Blackburn’s 425 dollars, though both are priced well. Thompson’s piece is swallowed in a thick layer of transparent glazes while Blackburn’s is allowed to breathe through the design. Blackburn’s piece is not functional in a traditional way, I would only want to hang it or display its fragile beauty somewhere safe. Thompson’s bowl I imagine holding change, jewelry, water etc. Although, both pieces could survive “damage.” A good example of Wabisabi, Mimbres pottery was often found chipped, broken and still beautiful. These pieces are more similar than I first thought. Michelle_sl1

Sources:

“Ah Leon: “Memories of Elementary School” and the Spirit of Yixing Tea Ware.” AMOCA.org. A

MOCA, n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.

<1. http://www.amoca.org/ah-leon>.

Raines, Susan. “Ceramic Artist Aims to Feed the Hungry.” Examiner.com. Examiner.com, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 May 2013.

<http://www.examiner.com/article/ceramic-artist-aims-to-feed-with-hungry>.

“Ancestral Art: Information on Mimbres Culture.” Ancestral.com. Ancestral Art, 16 Dec. 2003. Web. 10 May 2013.

 

<http://www.ancestral.com/cultures/north_america/mimbres.html>.

Gardner, Colin. “Art Review : ‘Ten Years Later’ Exhibit Of Ceramics At Fullerton.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Feb. 1987 n. pag.. Los Angeles Times. WEB. 7 May 2013.

<http://articles.latimes.com/1987-02-20/entertainment/ca-2989_1_ceramics>.

 

One Response to “Ed BlackBurn and Chris Max Thompson: Ceramic Artists at E street Gallery”

  • Chris Thompson

    Michelle, I enjoyed the read of your article. Thank you for selecting my art to write about. I am truly honored.

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