Image: Chris Unterseher: Doggie Diner, 1936
Ceramic with glazes; 25 x 43 x 43com
This survey of eccentric, surrealist ceramic sculpture is by artists who were working in the California Bay Area in the 1960s and 70s. The presentation highlights rare masterworks including a 1964 toilet by Robert Arneson, a bicentennial portrait of Benjamin Franklin as a frog by David Gilhooly, and an important early figurative work by Viola Frey. Also included are works by Clayton Bailey, Sandra Shannonhouse, Richard Shaw, and Chris Unterseher. These artists produced ceramic sculptures that scrutinized alternately unsavory and mundane aspects of modern life, culminating in complex and idiosyncratic personal mythologies. Their work in clay transcended the medium's traditional expression as a studio craft by exploring bawdy and irreverent subject matter with skill and technical aplomb. This exhibition illustrates the idiosyncratic balance of humor and rigor that helped define Northern California Funk art.
Robert Arneson (born 1930 in Benicia, California) is widely regarded as a principal figure of the Funk art movement. In 1962, he established the ceramic sculpture program in the Art Department at UC Davis, where he continued to teach for nearly three decades. The artist’s work has been the subject of numerous retrospectives and solo exhibitions internationally, and his work is represented in public collections throughout the world. He died in 1992 in Benicia, California.
Clayton Bailey (born 1939 in Antigo, Wisconsin) was the subject of a full-scale career retrospective exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento in 2011. His work is closely associated with the Bay Area Funk movement as well as the spin-off Nut Art movement, of which he curated the definitive 1972 exhibition. In 2013, he and his wife Betty Bailey founded the Bailey Art Museum in Crockett, California. His work is held in over 50 public collections. He lives and works in Port Costa, California.
Viola Frey (born 1931 in Lodi, California) was a pioneering figure of Northern California ceramics. Over a career spanning five decades, the artist developed a distinctive style through her radical experimentation with traditional vessel shapes. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions across the United States, and is included in numerous public collections. She died in 2004 in Oakland, Califorina.
David Gilhooly (born 1943 in Auburn, California) was an ardent proponent of the Bay Area Funk art movement. Infusing his ceramics with a blend of satire and wit, the artist cultivated a fantastical body of work depicting a vast ‘Frog World.’ These elaborate sculptures feature amphibians donning the guises of historical, religious and mythical figures, playfully challenging the seriousness of past events and the artworld alike. His work is included in numerous public collections in the US and abroad. He died in 2013 in Newport, Oregon.
Sandra Shannonhouse’s (born 1947 in Petaluma, California) sculptures explore a range of subjects, from confectionery delicacies installed atop lace doilies to surreal representations of teacups embedded within unlikely forms. Throughout her ongoing investigations into ceramics is an underlying interest in the medium and its formal capabilities. Her work is included in many public collections. She lives and works in Benicia, California.
Richard Shaw’s (born 1941 in Los Angeles) work demonstrates a remarkable facility with clay, coaxing his material in order to transcend its inherent pictorial limitations. A true surrealist, and known for his hyper realistic ceramic sculptures, Shaw shuffles buried memories to evoke an unfamiliar, yet eerily reminiscent experience. In 1988, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from the San Francisco Art Institute. His work is represented in over 40 public collections. He lives and works in Fairfax, California.
Chris Unterseher’s (born 1943 in Portland, Oregon) intricate, deftly-rendered narrative tableaux are often pulled directly from the pages of National Geographic magazine, recreating images of California scenes in clay along with their caption copy etched on brass plaques. His work was the subject of a retrospective at the Sierra Nevada Museum of Art in 1981, and is included in many public collections. He lives and works in Alameda, Oregon.