Fired up about home

When Jim Etzkorn arrived in Medicine Hat from Kansas in 2009 for a yearlong residency at Medalta, a ceramics hub in the city’s historic clay district, he didn’t expect to be living in the southern Alberta outpost seven years later. Etzkorn was among the first of a wave of ceramic artists from as far away as Singapore to become permanent residents, a migration that led Medalta’s curator, Jenna Stanton, to ponder what artists contribute to the communities where they live. The outcome is Home, a show that features Etzkorn and 12 other artists who have relocated to Medicine Hat. “Home is my love letter to the town,” Stanton says. “It is important for me to show that Medicine Hat is a city full of professional international artists.”

The show, on view until March 18, is headlined by Les Manning, who has earned international acclaim for abstract forms based on the Alberta landscape. Home has attracted attention in Toronto and New York. Work from the show will travel this year to the Toronto Design Offsite Festival and NYCxDESIGN, while the Alberta Craft Council has exhibition plans for both its Edmonton gallery and its new King Edward Arts Hub in Calgary.

Visitors entering the gallery encounter a massive hand-sculpted bust by Singapore-raised Koi Neng Liew, a piece that would be right at home in a Tim Burton movie. The work dominates the gallery space with its contemptuous smile, hollow eyes and scrawny ears. Meanwhile, Stanton and Noriko Masuda – who both studied in Britain’s porcelain capital of Stoke-on-Trent – offer impeccable porcelain work with every line precisely crafted. They focus on functional objects that enhance the home and everyday rituals. Stanton’s water decanters, for instance, re-imagine stoneware whiskey jugs, and are part of her Pour Me … the self-medicating series.

Manning is the best-known name in the show. Appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011, he founded the Banff Centre’s ceramics program and Medalta’s ceramics residency. Abstract sculptural forms inspired by Alberta’s mountains and prairies are a constant in his career, which has spanned five decades. For instance, Cold Stone, an early piece in a new body of work, is composed of a celadon glazed porcelain ovoid placed atop a coarsely textured charcoal-coloured pedestal. Between the two forms is a bright yellow sheet. The work’s fleeting hints of prairie geography include a yellow reflection on the sleek ovoid that suggests a faraway horizon, a subtle nod to the terrain surrounding Medicine Hat.

Other artists in the show are Aaron Nelson, Liz Burritt, Jenn Demke Lange, Jason Lange, Xanthe Isbister, Annette ten Cate, Susan McKinnon and Adam Lefebvre.

This article originally appeared in Galleries West Magazine.
January 2017