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Richard Notkin: An Artist's Response to Ongoing Threats in the 21st Century: Sculpture and Teapots

Margo Jacobsen Gallery, Portland
Nov 1, 2001 - Dec 1, 2001

Richard Notkin, Offering - Hand series (1996-7),
bronze, stoneware, glaze

This survey of long-time Oregon resident (now relocated to Montana) ceramic artist Richard Notkin includes his well-known teapot forms along with more recent large-scale sculptural installations. For the past 30 years his ceramic sculptures and sculptural teapots have explored the complex environmental, economical, and aesthetic impacts of contemporary human civilization upon the quality of life of the individual.

Notkin's teapots, inspired by the Yixing tradition of Chinese unglazed stoneware, are cast in molds of his own design and making, and then decorated and finished by hand. However, unlike the benign fruit and flower shapes of Yixing ware, the shapes of his teapots, human hearts, cooling towers and pyramidal skulls, are sinister or disturbing images that convey a potent political message.

The Gift, one of his large-scale works, is a mural consisting of 3-inch square earthenware tiles bearing bas-relief images of dice, scarred walls, and the quintessential death's head from Notkin's repertoire of symbolic body parts. From close-up, the large staggered grid presents the grim appearance of the Maya-Toltec skull registers at Chichen Itz·. A few steps back, and the full and irony of Notkin's title is clear -- the enormous mushroom cloud of the Bikini Atoll nuclear test in 1946. Despite being an archetype of the apocalypse, like much of Notkin's work, it makes a wonderfully seductive image.

© Robert Peterson