By James Romaine
Since its inception in 2005, the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin has been an oasis of cultural exchange for ceramic artists in one of Europe’s principal artistic centers. Founded by Thomas Hirschler and Kaja Witt, the residency program provides a creative sanctuary in the midst of an exhilarating city where artists from around the world can create artwork stimulated by their surroundings and experiences. Developed after the couple spent time at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin welcomes artists to a city that is, at once, standing in history and bursting into the future.
Ceramicist Allison Luce, who lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA), participated in a residence at the Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin between May and July 2010. Inspired by a city with such a tumultuous past, Luce was amazed at the beauty and resiliency of life that was Berlin. This residence allowed her to experience the city in a different way than previous trips that were characterized by quick visits to the main tourist sights. By taking bike rides along the Mauer Weg, following the path of the Berlin Wall, she was able to weave between the former East and West Berlin in a way that was impossible for 30 years and experience where the wall divided the city. Since Luce was there during the spring, she saw the quiet garden of the residency transformed into a blossom of life. As the weather warmed, she also went to various monuments and landmarks around the city, such as the Soviet War Memorial, which is tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood. Luce was amazed to experience a city’s metamorphosis woven from a web of history into something thriving and beautiful.
Evaporate, 2010, 14.5" x 13" x 5.5", Fired Clay with oxides, watercolor, mixed media. Photo by Allison Luce.
In Berlin, Luce developed a body of sculpture, collectively entitled “The Serpent Tree”. Referencing nature, as well as the body, “The Serpent Tree” works, such as Mandrake and Echo, as vessels of birth, growth, death and, even, life through death. The theme of residence has been a central theme of Luce’s ceramics for many years. Her work materializes the twisted processes of organic growth. One of the advantages of clay ceramics, born of earth and fire, is its potential material affinity with the viewer. Luce’s work takes full advantage of this affinity. Working in clay, the material out of which all of humanity was created, her sculptures explore the ephemeral nature of our existence and the belief in the promise of life. Just as the body is the residence of the soul, Luce’s sculptures are residences of presence and meaning.
The forms of Luce’s work, such as Cleave (2007) have, for many years, been inspired by that of the shell. The shell has a long and rich history, one that transcends boundaries of time and cultures, in ceramics. This may be, in part, because the shell evokes themes of both births since it echoes the feminine form of a womb, and death since it recalls a grave. The fragile shell reminds us of life’s brevity. At the same time, Luce’s work reminds us of the potential for new life bursting forth from within the shell. As forms of life, Luce’s vessels are, like each of us, shaped and refined by a tension of internal and external forces. Although works such as Echo (2010) are not figurative, they address issues of the body, specifically how a person’s appearance begins to be shaped by experience. Luce’s fragile forms represent a unique and distinct vision for art that is at once elegant yet unpretentious. Her elemental constructions and radiant surfaces move sculptural issues of form and process out of the realm of the theoretic and into forms of everyday encounter.
In Plenty, 2012, 29” x 17” x 4 ½”, Fired Clay, with oxides, mixed media. Photo by Mitchell Kearney.
During her Zentrum für Keramik-Berlin residency, the forms and processes of Luce’s ceramics evolved significantly. She let go of the austere color palette that had characterized works such as Eve (2008) and added watercolor to the fired pieces as the base for further stains. Undoubtedly influenced by the changing of the seasons and the brightly colored graffiti coloring the sides of many buildings, her work became brighter and more focused on nature.
Dr. James Romaine is an Associate Professor of Art History and Chair of the Department of Art History at Nyack College in New York. His books include The Art of Sandra Bowden and The Art of Guy Chase. He has authored numerous articles, in the Art Journal of the College Art Association, American Arts Quarterly, Books and Culture, and Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion.
Visit Allison Luce’s website.