Bumps and all

Among artists, attitudes vary about the creative life and its difficulties.

Some artists think things should be done for them that other members of society do not expect. They expend endless energy complaining bitterly that they can’t sell enough work to make a living. They whine that they are misunderstood.

Other artists don’t have time for that. No matter what the cost in personal comfort, no matter how long the wait, art, to these rare ones, is a compulsion — and a privilege.

Rob Pulleyn’s new work at Blue Spiral 1 emanates energy from this kind of joy.

There is no pretense here, nothing that makes the work precious. It’s straightforward, direct and uncomplicated.

It isn’t possible to look at the work and not see raw clay.

And that’s because nothing in Pulleyn’s process is hidden. No mysteries here — just spontaneity and delight in material and process. Even the texture of the canvas upon which the clay is rolled is clearly visible, along with an occasional lump or bump in the clay body. Colors in the under-glazes, oxides and stains are subtle and natural. Edges are left in their natural, uneven state — or simply cut off.

Pulleyn uses no fancy finishes: no glazes that look like an oil slick in the rain, no exotic “secret” formulas. For better or worse, his technical skill is obscured by his enthusiasm — it’s clear he is always anxious to move on to the next piece.

Although the ceramist’s forms take the names of everyday objects (vase, flask, bottle), they hold unexpected interest because of the integrity of their construction. Pulleyn’s interest in architecture is a clear influence — he says he enjoys the engineering problems presented by hand building, and the challenge of making decisions about surface treatment.

Indeed, the surface treatments are created with the same irrepressible pleasure as the structures themselves. In “Flask Form No. 3,” a flat black cap tops a smooth band at the top of the piece. A narrow strip at the base echoes the smooth band, and a rectangle incised in the center is filled with loose, expressive brushwork.

But the brushwork in “Vase Form No. 39″ plays a more important role. Executed in Raw Sienna, it seems to form an archway inside the vase’s carved perimeters.

“Vase Form No. 37″ is a pale, fleshy color with a gray stain rubbed into the textured surface. The piece is rectangular with an indentation near the top, its top edge is roughly cut, and two small, square windows open in front and in back.

Pulleyn even glazes the insides of his vases; these vessels want to hold whole armloads of goldenrod or wild asters.

“Shoulder Vase No. 1,” at 24 inches high, is the largest exhibited work. It terminates in a patterned neck at the top, where the signature cobalt-blue interior glaze is barely visible. The body of the piece is a light ocher color, and there’s a tiny stamped circle near the top, plus two rectangles defined by incised lines — one above the other, but unexpectedly off center.

The exhibit’s most unusual piece is “Collector No. 2.” Its interior glaze is prominent because of the almost-square-shaped vessel’s wide opening at the top — not to mention the tiny square windows in the back and the small, arched doorway in the front.

“Collector No. 2″ sits on a footed pedestal, and has a vertical line of insects stamped on its side.

Two other bottle forms are adorned, respectively, with the back view of a classical head and the outline of a couple kissing.

Pulleyn has given himself permission to try anything, and clearly delights in doing so. A businessman for many years, he’s waited a long time to do this.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]


Rob Pulleyn’s work shows in Gallery 2 at Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.) through Friday, Dec. 31. Call 251-0202 for more information.

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