Highlights from Paul Kotula

The Confusion That Comes After, 2020
Rebecca Frantz
Earthenware, low fire glaze
17.5″ x 23″ x 44″

Rebecca Frantz’s ceramic “prosthesis” piques my interest in conceptual art.  The Confusion That Comes After is oddly surreal, humorous, and precariously dangerous.  Formed at a length beyond normal for a human arm (even the arm of a tall person), the object offers the wearer a linear extension of the body that is simultaneously graceful and awkward.  Less a sculptural representation of the body in terms of bone and muscle, the figurative-like sleeve with hand is almost rubbery by comparison.  Poised at 90 degrees to the wall at shoulder height, it is the wearer that keeps the terracotta hand from remaining pressed against the wall.   If one becomes unfocused or fatigued, the arm shall fall and shatter.  Ones only hope at that moment of collapse is the help of another human to prop up or catch the clay arm before its function is lost. 

As Frantz acknowledges in her artist statement, her work is inspired by the Jewish tale of Golem. At this time of heightened identity awareness, this work questions if it is the artist that must keep her heritage alive.  What happens if she or anyone one of us cannot or no longer wishes to be responsible for “holding up” histories?   

The histories that inspire the functional ware of Yang Li and Jacob Vinson are centuries apart but their conscious goals to infuse domestic life with beauty is shared.  Li and Vinson offer measurable pleasures for eyes and hands, and, while their distinct visions would be welcomed at any point, their gifts as makers seem more pertinent now.  COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our lives in numerous ways and the notion of home as sanctuary has taken on greater meaning during our extended period of isolation.  While the digital world was and remains an escape for many, the kitchen was and is as well.   

Li’s obsessively engineered and hand finished forms (at times in color combinations that seem right out of Frank Stella’s Takht-I-Sulayman Variation 1 from the Protractor Seriesin the collection of Cranbrook Art Museum) inspire a playful approach to the ritual of tea or coffee, shared dessert, or some other party fare if only for two now, many soon.

Vinson’s skillfully (but with a welcomed bit of wobble at times) wheel thrown pottery comforts us not only by the artist’s touch and seductive transformation of glaze through fire, but also through the many cultures and histories he summons as a potter.  While his pots seem simple and traditional, their role at table or as cupped while drinking will grow more meaningful to the user as his or her perceptions awaken. 

About Paul Kotula

Paul Kotula has exhibited his work internationally since 1991. Among his recent exhibitions are “Convergence: Pottery from Studio and Factory,” Art Alliance, Philadelphia; “The 63rd Scripps College Ceramics Annual,” Scripps College and “Hide and Reveal: 4th International Craft Biennale,” Cheongiu City, Korea. His work has been featured in numerous magazines including “Paul Kotula: On art, design and living in the Motor City,” American Craft (Dec/Jan 2009). He is a frequent visiting artist/critic at Cranbrook Academy of Art and a former instructor at College for Creative Studies. Among his awards are two Individual Artists Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. This fall he presents his paper “Re-crafting the Table” at SECAC hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University.

Paul Kotula has also worked as a gallery director for Pewabic Pottery, Swidler Gallery, REVOLUTION (Detroit and New York) and paulktoulaprojects. Working with an international list of artists, he has formed over 200 solo and group exhibitions pertinent to the field of contemporary art and visual culture. In 2003, Dialogue magazine named him one of “25 People Making a Difference in the Arts in the Midwest.”

Paul Kotula earned his MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1989.