Graham Marks: It Can Be What It Becomes is on view at Sculpture Space NYC – Center for Ceramic Arts, New York
November 4 – December 3, 2022
Graham Marks, Former Head of Ceramics at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, now in his 70’s, returns to working in ceramics with a solo exhibition at Sculpture Space NYC – Center for Ceramic Arts.
Marks was a well- known ceramic artist and influential teacher, exhibited internationally in the 1970’s and 80’s. Following an involvement in fighting the placement of a nuclear waste dump near his home in Alfred, NY he followed his interest in healing, returned to school, and became an acupuncturist, maintaining a rural private practice for 25 years.
Following his retirement, Marks resumed working in clay. His first solo exhibition of new work since 1991 will open at one of the few non- profit exhibition spaces dedicated to ceramics in the New York metropolitan area.
This body of work, candelabras and vases, was inspired by seeing the French decorative arts in the exhibition Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curated by Wolf Burchard.
In an essay accompanying the exhibition by the curator, critic, and author Glenn Adamson, he states, “This recent work is much more than the sum of its many parts. It conveys the sheer joy of an artists reunion with medium, and the formal intelligence that comes from a lifetime of looking.”
Graham Marks taught ceramics at Kansas State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and from 1986-1992 was Head of Ceramics at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited internationally and collected privately and by numerous public institutions including Yale University Art Gallery, Detroit Institute of Art, The Everson Museum Syracuse NY, Museum of Art and Design NYC, Cranbrook Museum of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, Stedelijk Museum, ‘s’Hertogenbosch the Netherlands, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, and The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Graham splits his time between Brooklyn and Alfred, New York.
Sculpture Space NYC – Center for Ceramic Arts is a ceramic and sculpture center founded in 2013. Sculpture Space NYC’s mission is to stimulate creativity, new ideas and collaboration in ceramics-based investigations. Artists, designers, and craftspeople of all backgrounds converge in this center to experiment, learn, make, reflect and grow artistically. The not-for-profit gallery maintains an ongoing exhibition schedule featuring works of recent graduates from renowned institutions such as Alfred University and RISD, as well as the work of emerging and established artists.
Essay by Glenn Adamson
The candelabra grins madly, leaping and twirling about the room, flames aflicker. “Be our guest!,” it sings, “be our guest, put our magic to the test!,” silver, plates, a shelf clock and various other accoutrements put on a fine show. The scene is, of course, from Disney’s much-loved movie The Beauty and the Beast. Futuristic when it first appeared, thanks to its use of then-new digital technology, the film is now comfortably wrapped in nostalgia, though it’s not nearly as historic as the objects that helped to inspire the scene, as well as Disney’s earlier work. That whole long overlapping history was the subject of the exhibition Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a massive hit, but there can’t have been anyone who responded to it more creatively than Graham Marks. His new body of work, shown at Sculpture Space NYC – Center for Ceramic Arts, had its initial spark at the Met, and from there, he’s taken the basic idea of an animated thing and run with it – and leapt and twirled, too. Predominantly coil-built, these objects exemplify the adage (attributed to Paul Klee) of “taking a line for a walk.” They swarm with sinuous elements which defy any easy categorization. Are they primary structure? Applied handles? Simply decoration? They’re sufficiently splendid that it doesn’t much matter, all the more so given their luscious polychrome glazes, in a palette that recalls both Bernard Palissy, the 17th century French potter, and Marks’ great contemporary Annabeth Rosen.
All this exuberance will come as a bit of a shock to anyone who knows Marks as a ceramicist – a profession that he pursued up until three decades ago, when he had a career change and became an acupuncturist. Now he’s back, and it is not altogether surprising that he has returned to the medium with fresh eyes. His earlier works were also coil-built, admittedly, but also monumental in scale, rigorously structured, and largely unglazed, so as to expose the color and texture of the clay. Marks’s sudden attraction to the baroque and rococo has caught even him off guard: “In art school in the early 1970’s, this was material I never looked at. It was seen as kind of frivolous, decadent, of the past.” A lot has happened since then, though: postmodernism, a tendency toward “sloppy craft,” an unprecedented embrace of ceramics within the mainstream art world. Marks’ new direction is not contained by any of these phenomena, but it is a vector that can be mapped in relation. (Also relevant: more remote sources, like Jomon ware from ancient Japan and ancient alabaster carvings from Egypt). In any case, this recent work is much more than the sum of its many parts. It conveys the sheer joy of an artist’s reunion with medium, and the formal intelligence that comes from a lifetime of looking. Most of all, it is free – free of his own past, free of any particular expectation about what might come next, free of anything that doesn’t feel good right now. Marks is putting his own personal magic to the test – and he’s passing with flying colors.
Sculpture Space NYC – Center for Ceramic Arts
47-21 35th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101
Photos courtesy of the gallery