For millennia, the shaping of vessels and other objects in clay has been recognized all over the world as a fundamental human practice, a universal activity that infuses the mundane reality of the earth with the spirituality of expressive form. The watery, two-handed act of “hitting” and centering a lump of clay on a spinning wheel requires a rare combination of full-body coordination and Zen-like mental balance. When things go well, ceramicists enjoy a satisfaction that can only come through total absorption in the creative process.
Clay Studio, a dazzling, new, 24,000-square-foot, ceramics-centered arts venue, opened in the hills of Goleta just before the pandemic hit last year. Directed by Patrick Hall and funded in large part by Lynda Weinman, the nonprofit organization intends to create a world-class ceramics scene just 15 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara. Hall, who received his BFA and MFA degrees from UCSB, has worked in both ceramics and design for decades. The clean modern lines of the studio’s reception area and art gallery reflect his aesthetic, and the ambitious buildout that he’s envisioning for the property reveals the potency of the collaboration he’s initiated with Weinman. Walking through the facility’s various spaces with him and his dog, it’s possible to get lost in a dream of community and creativity. Soon that dream will become a reality.
While the wheels have been loaned out to members who are working from home, the site’s many kilns, large and small, are still in place, as are several impressive, new 3D clay printers and an extraordinary array of carefully crafted spaces designed to offer artists one-stop solutions for all their needs, from glazing and firing to taking catalog-worthy photographs of their work. Although it will be several months before COVID restrictions ease enough to allow artists to return to work there in groups, a charming gallery show of work by the great ceramic sculptor Don Reitz can be seen now by appointment.
Reitz occupies a special place among the generation of ceramic artists who remade the medium beginning in the late 1950s. Like his friend and mentor Peter Voulkos, Reitz pushed the boundaries of the art form, moving from the apparent simplicity and painstaking precision of his early pots into an astounding array of visceral forms following his discovery of the burgeoning California school of ceramic sculpture and the salt-glaze technique that became, for a time, his signature. Coming on the heels of Spontaneous Response: The Innovative Ceramics of Don Reitz, a retrospective organized by Chris Rupp for the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art in 2019, this smaller but still generous collection of Reitz’s work offers another chance to experience the grandeur and majestic materiality of his massive “teastacks” alongside a representative sampling of his other modes of expression. Particularly touching are selections from the “Sara Series,” a set of colorful earthenware slabs that Reitz created in collaboration with his 5-year-old granddaughter while both the artist and the child were hospitalized, he as a result of a serious car accident, and she with cancer. There could hardly be a better way to get excited about the reopening of the facility for public use, artist residencies, and instruction than a visit to this Don Reitz exhibition. For information and reservations, visit claystudiosb.org.
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