Artillery Magazine Pick Of The Week

Sharon Engelstein // Ever To Find. Pick Of The Week by Ezrha Jean Black

Sharon Engelstein – Ever to Find
It is for some of us (the more fortunate among us) the first fear or horror we know – our first encounter with something at first glimpse familiar that upon extended gaze or lingering examination reveals itself as utterly transmogrified, and suddenly, quite unexpectedly, entirely alien. What follows, though, is usually more thoughtful and inquiring, even analytic. (Horror can be fascinating.) We’re picking ourselves apart even as we’re picking apart the object of horror or fascination (to see if we want more – we usually do). Alternatively, the object is transformed into its own raison d’être – an idée fixe that seems the end-product of a perfectly logical evolution. Sharon Engelstein is not the first artist to explore this psychological dimension in ceramic sculpture, but she is entirely original and expansive in a direction that is rarely seen in the contemporary landscape. Unlike say, Ken Price, her glazes are relatively neutral; but Engelstein introduces other materials (e.g., wax, copper, gold leaf and other metallic elements), extrusions and the occasional shock of color into the composition. This has a counterpart in her drawings, too – similarly both abstract and biomorphic, but frequently dissolved into a kind of rationalized mapping or modeling (e.g., a Sushi Eye whorling into a black hole of netting; mitotically Split Eggs; morphing cranial forms further wreathed in a swirl of polygons) – where an azure-auraed sapphire star explodes in a quasi-botanical mapping. The permeable divide between skin or envelope and structures, both invasive and extrusive, becomes the locus for analytic dissection, invention and wholesale transformation. (Why wouldn’t a bowl unravel in shards and take wing?) Ambiguity rarely presents in such crystalline fashion. Free Wall presents folly as dissertation – on the notions of barrier, containment, sequestration (also penetration, infiltration, corruption, exposure). There’s paradox for you: each of these compact sculptures contain entire worlds yet split them right open again – a moment of potential horror rendered ecstatic.

Contemporary Art Review LA reviews Sharon Engelstein // Ever To Find

Sharon Engelstein
at Wilding Cran Gallery

Sharon Engelstein, Ever to Find (Installation View). Image courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran Gallery.

Sharon Engelstein, Ever to Find (Installation View). Image courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran Gallery.

February 15, 2017
Text by Jessica Simmons

If the vessel is traditionally ceramic’s primary form, Sharon Engelstein’s solo exhibition at Wilding Cran dislocates the material from its expected physical manifestation. Elevated and staggered on an imposing horizontal plinth, her glazed ceramic sculptures mimic the bone-white, pristine finish of porcelain, yet also possess a quiet heft that subtly reveals the dexterously hewn, hand-wrought process of their making. Bulbous, angular, and intimately-scaled, these paradoxically static yet undulating objects fold into puddles of matter, and ultimately shed categorization as vessels by functioning as solidified, amorphous containers for their own formal logic.

As sculptures, they propose an archeology of the absurd, which offers beguiling visual riddles, as if Engelstein has anointed the viewer a sleuth tasked to decipher all plausible permutations of an unknown organism. These petrified, formless amoebas resemble corporeal orifices, deep-sea membranes, and, in the case of First Find (2016), a prostrate and partially melted Venus of Willendorf, buttressed by slabs of broken concrete. Oftentimes, the sterility of the sculptures’ white finish is punctured by translucent glazes of bright color: in Leg Foot (2017), a subtle drip recalls the prismatic glint of an oil slick; in Accidental Medicine (2016), a wound of pink recalls the flesh of the interior body.

While bodily references viscerally permeate all of these sculptures, Engelstein nonetheless manages a deception of scale that upends the human body as a reference point. Just as the plinth-based sculptures—elevated to the height of the viewer’s torso—appear organ-like, they nonetheless read as shrunken cartographies for other monumental, unknown structures. By transmuting these myriad references into mercurial spectrums of scale and matter, Engelstein folds the futuristic into the archeological, and the microscopic into the monumental—a fluid addendum to ceramic’s indexical, seemingly fixed material history.

Sharon Engelstein: Ever to Find runs January 25-March 19, 2017 at Wilding Cran (939 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021).

ARTFORUM Critics Pick

Catherine Fairbanks: Two Chimneys

Los Angeles
Catherine Fairbanks
939 South Santa Fe Avenue, Unit A
April 9–May 28

Two chimneys, Chimney Sculpture 1, 2015–16, and Chimney Sculpture 2, 2016, stand stark in the middle of the room. Hung on a corner wall are two horsehair weavings, Luce’s Fireplace 10 and 12, both 2014, reminiscent of brushes for sweeping ash. Four ceramic and papier-mâché jugs, Jug 1, 2016, and Pitcher Sculpture 4, 5, and 9 (all 2015), are stored in the back. And five embossed drawings on paper—abstractions of lamps, pitchers, and busts—authenticate this show’s sense of shelter.

In “Two Chimneys,” Catherine Fairbanks’s techniques result in ordinary magic: flour and water can make bread, or in this case, paste for paper sculpture. Pressure and heat fire earthenware, and tension combined with dye raises paper. For the show’s two eponymous sculptures, Fairbanks worked without a frame, layering pile upon pile of paper strips to replicate a mainstay of a family home—the gathering place to eat or stay warm and dry.

Yet the works here are not humdrum craftwork borne from childhood nostalgia. Nor do they show signs of daily use: There’s no ash or soot, their edges don’t fray, and absent are any wine-stained rims. The jugs bear paper handles, a medium unsuited to serving liquids. If the chimneys were lit, they would burst into flame. While hearth, vessel, and light are usually humble symbols of offering and providence, the artist’s sculptures are stripped of life-giving necessity. Fairbanks attends to the common, raising the recesses of the domestic to the master’s surface.

By Meg Whiteford