Growth and Happy Accidents in Asian-Tinged Show Print
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 23 March 2004 18:00
The current MidCoast Gallery West exhibit featuring work by Caroline England and Ken Bichell is a striking exposition of Occidental Asian-influenced artists in two and three dimensions. England’s floral watercolors, with their black backgrounds, borrow from Chinese black-lacquer works, while Bichell’s wood-fired pottery grows out of the Chinese tradition in ceramics.

Bichell’s shapes are simple and direct, and the glazing is earth-toned and subtle. To observe the beauty of his work, you have to look closely. This is a contrast to England’s paintings, which are striking both from a distance and up-close. In addition, Bichell’s work is unstructured, while England’s is quite geometrically controlled. The show is a study in contrast from artists who are both influenced by Asian forms of art.

England is quite articulate about her work in her artist statement: “Painting flowers is my passion. It is my way to express life with a belief in goodness; life with hope.

“My intent is to capture a powerful composition to set a mood and create an emotional impact. Magnified images of flowers reveal an infinite source of detail. By designing all of the painting space, showing the pattern of a leaf, the roundness of a bloom, I hope to evince the sensitivity of a flower. I am inviting the viewer to see with me and to rejoice in my interpretation of nature’s beauty.

“Luminous-patterned sunlight and rich dramatic shadows make the unsuspected colors in white flowers the most intriguing part of the most magnificent things in our universe.”

We last reviewed England’s work in December 2001, and although her two basic stylistic approaches – flowers against a black background or within geometric patterns – have remained unchanged, the recent paintings show more refinement than the earlier ones. The lines and curves are a bit more definite and less tentative on the black-background paintings. The geometric-design integration with floral composition has also grown and is a bit more refined several years later.

Jazz Fantasy is a good example of the growth. There is an integration of the black background with the blue and white palette of colors with the geometric pattern. The colors all work together, and there is a use of partial black background to highlight the white flower in the foreground. In the 2001 show, a geometric painting called Goddess of the Rainbow had more warm colors in contrast to the cool palette of the black-background works, and the warm colors do not work as well as the cool ones chosen for Jazz Fantasy.

Wood-fired pottery in the Asian tradition depends upon the synchronicity of planned form and uncontrolled process. The planned form is created by the potter on the wheel or through a hand-building process. The uncontrolled process is set up through the use of fire in a kiln. The fuel for the fire interacts with the minerals in the clay body and ceramic glaze composition. The less homogeneous the fuel is, or the more varied types of wood and other fuel used to create the fire for the glazing of the pot, the more opportunities there are for unique patterns upon the resulting pot.

This approach to art requires a marrying of medium to artist, in which the artist gives away some of the control over the artwork to the fire. This often creates unique patterns, colors, or designs that are as much the creation of the fire as they are of the artist. The talent of the artist is in knowing what elements to mix with what shapes to create the best chance for happy accidents.

Because an artist is giving over some control to an element of the medium, the artist knows that the work is not finished until nature completes it. Therefore, there can be a tendency to leave the work more raw than an artist does when nature takes no hand in the art’s completion. Bichell’s work follows that rule of thumb.

Lotus Jar is a good example of the informality of structure with the fire-induced glaze-pattern modification. When you look at the inside of the bowl, you can see how the fire swirled and created a different color around the rim of the bowl. In fact, the fire swirls created a flame-like pattern that lies just under the rim on the inside of the bowl. Bichell’s knowledge and experience with firing pottery led him to know the proper placement of the bowl in the kiln to achieve this pattern.

This show highlights the work of two mature artists whose styles are quite different yet influenced by a similar artistic tradition. We see a contrast between control and lack of control. We see the contrast between formal and informal. Both artists’ works are likely to appeal to different parts of a viewer’s sensibility.