Pretty Not Pretty (Again)

Hiroshi Ogawa •  Amy Fields  •  Brad Mildrexler  •  Mary Henry

In the spring of 2017, Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art organized and produced the original group exhibition PRETTY NOT PRETTY, which found tremendous critical and popular success among viewing audiences in Portland.  

 PRETTY NOT PRETTY (AGAIN) will once again showcase the latest ceramic sculpture created by three of Oregon’s most celebrated artists working with clay and fire as principal media: Hiroshi Ogawa, Amy Fields and Brad Mildrexler. 

 This exhibition asks the question: what are different qualities and meanings within the concept of “beauty” and “ugly”, and emphasizes how one’s interaction with unique works of art are always visual encounters based on personal preference.

Yohen is a Japanese term for the unpredictable changes that take place in a wood fired kiln.  The results may be disastrous, or it may create an unexpected treasure.  In firing Hikarigama, yohen is what I seek in the hope that the individual viewing this works sees the beauty because of the imperfections.  I seek to search for a soft, sensitive, and subtle form and texture in all its imperfections from the unpredictable nature of wood firing.   Perhaps that's what makes them look 1000 years old.

                                                                                                              Hiroshi Ogawa

 This is how this exhibition came about: a few months ago, the Oregon ceramic art master Hiroshi Ogawa announced his final participation in firing the enormous two-chambered Hikarigama, the wood-fired "Illuminated" kiln that Hiroshi built on his property in Southern Oregon many decades ago. 

Many, many artists working with clay have been inspired by their trials by fire guided by Hiroshi, working as a team for the 7 day round-the-clock stoking and burning of the Hikari-gama.   Then waiting for a week for the kiln to cool down.

Now he is retiring, and Hiroshi has decided after this last June firing that he will no longer be making new work.   

 This exhibition showcases this final body of fire-tortured vessels, and as a finale, Hiroshi has invited his friends Amy Fields and Brad Mildrexler to exhibit new work along with this last trove of his own ceramic pieces. 

Each of these three Oregon ceramic artists use their own distinct process of working with clay and fire to explore the nature of aesthetics, finding beauty in the imperfect, the unbalanced, the caustic, and the primitive.

Adding a striking visual contrast to the exhibition, curator Jeffrey Thomas has placed these loose, organic and rough sculptural works so that they resonate visually with Geometric Inventions 1990, a quartet of large paintings by Mary Henry (1913-2009).

Born in 1913, Mary Henry attended the California College of Arts and Crafts at a time few women were sincerely accepted by the public and the art world as artists. Then, in the late '30s, Henry experienced a life-altering moment whose full effect wouldn't command her life for another 25 years or so: a lecture by the constructivist pioneer and Bauhaus champion Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.  Henry was gripped by Bauhaus' formal ideas and Moholy-Nagy's fascination with pure expressiveness through line and color.

Those ideas brewed and steeped in Henry's imagination as she lived a life of domesticity: married with children.  Henry even left her family for a time to study with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago in the '40s, but it wasn't until 1964, the year she got divorced and became a working artist, that Henry would truly pursue her ambitions. Thus initiated, her journey began to perfect a spare yet expressive visual language out of geometric shapes and bold graphic colors. 

There is an urge in all men to be understood and appreciated and some of the things that lie closest to our hearts cannot be told with the word symbols but need another medium to be said. 

Mary Henry

Henry emerges as a second-generation geometric abstractionist and one of its most supple champions; she located spiritual essences in her work and elicited the highest passion. Through the years, Henry has garnered praise in Artforum, yet while her work has been exhibited widely and was collected in major Northwest museums, Henry has remained a kind of cult regional figure that the art world is just learning about.

The mission of Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art is to keep significant NW artists in front of the public through focused group shows such as this one, each devoted to an important theme that can be explored by placing different artworks in a “visual conversation” with each other.