Clay Center exhibit ‘Building Blocks’ opens First Friday |

Clay Center exhibit ‘Building Blocks’ opens First Friday

Colleen O’Neil

If you go

Who: Matthew Eames

What: ‘Building Blocks’

When: Opening reception 6 – 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Carbondale Clay Center

How Much: Free

Carbondale Clay Center resident Matthew Eames has always been obsessed with building things.

“It all stems back to my obsession with Legos as a child,” he said. “They were my absolute favorite toy. I still have plenty of them at home.”

Eames’ interest in structure is apparent in his new exhibition, “Building Blocks.”

Influenced by the history of construction, “Building Blocks” is a large-scale installation that takes over the gallery space in the Clay Center. Minimalist it is not. Eames has built false walls and ceilings, using a variety of industrial materials as well as thrown clay. More than 200 pieces of art adorn the 18 false walls, the floor and the ceiling. The walls, made of plywood, drywall or leftover foam donated from the Marble Distilling Company, will be slightly off-center. The only semi-empty section will be in the back — the walls are painted gray and scattered with what Eames calls “remnants,” mismatched pieces of art that he’s disregarded and moved to the back of his mind.

“It’s a totally transformed space,” he said. “You’ll walk in, and it won’t be a gallery. It’ll be my domain.”

Eames’ art is conceptual, but not bafflingly abstract. It deals with the psychology of building things. Anything in the world can change or shift — either physical structures or social institutions — but we often see these things as permanent. The crooked walls juxtaposed with curvy ribbons of clay in “Building Blocks” are meant to throw the viewer off balance.

“The false walls represent the ‘permanent’ space,” Eames explained. “The ceramic sections are the tenuous nature [of reality], and having them all teetering just slightly a few inches off-balance from one another brings in the psychological aspect.”

When the viewer walks into the space, the crookedness makes them feel a bit uncomfortable and claustrophobic. By creating this atmosphere, Eames hopes to help people recognize that the structures they see every day are constantly changing.

His work is partly influenced by that of Robert Smithson, the artist behind the earthworks piece “Spiral Jetty,” and Smithson’s theory of the “architectural unconscious.” This theory deals with the nature of reality — what is currently in a place, what the place used to be and what it could be are all part of the psychology of space.

Eames, a native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has been a ceramic artist for 16 years. He received his B.F.A. in Ceramics in 2007 from the University of Hartford and his M.F.A. in 2013 from Wichita State University. Beyond the academic setting, he has held residencies in Arkansas, Colorado and Massachusetts. He started his career making pots, then his work took a huge shift after graduate school.

“I walked in [to Wichita State University] making sculptures and pots, and I walked out doing huge installations,” he said.

But all of his art has the same language and process. Each piece deals with impermanence. For instance, he’s made large sculptures that break down into table settings, then turn back into sculptures when dinner is over. Then he started building on walls and making bigger objects. But they’re always impermanent.

“I always use rigid structures,” he said, “but they never connect, and they’re always surrounded by mass. These ribbons of clay are space to create. And they’re allowed to move around; they’re never really complete.”

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