Clay Center’s latest exhibit shows two opposite artists finding common ground |

Clay Center’s latest exhibit shows two opposite artists finding common ground

Paul McMullan's work is sculptural, but for the first time, he's showing pieces inspired by functional wares.
Jessica Cabe / Post Independent |


Who: Paul McMullan and Bradley Walters (and chef Susie Jimenez serving chicken albondiga soup if you purchase a bowl)

What: ‘New Work’ opening reception

When: 6-8 p.m. on Friday

Where: Carbondale Clay Center

How much: Free

On the surface, ceramic artists Bradley Walters and Paul McMullan seem an unlikely pair.

Walters’ utilitarian pots are geometrical in nature, with earthy colors and textures. McMullan’s sculptural, kitsch pieces are like clay collages, brightly colored and almost certain not to last if used as functional pottery on a daily basis.

But the two artists have a few personal connections — both graduated from Alfred University at around the same time, and both are friends of former Carbondale Clay Center director Jill Oberman — that brought them together for the latest exhibit at the Clay Center: “New Work.”

“One [reason for the show] is just friendship, and in the ceramic world, there’s a respect that goes from potters to sculptors,” McMullan said. “And the ceramic world is pretty small.”

But if one looks closely enough, a connection can be made among the two artists’ work — especially in this particular exhibit, where McMullan has begun to create sculptures inspired by functional pottery.

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“This is one of the first shows I’ve done that’s dealing a little more with function,” McMullan said. “Showing with Bradley inspired me to think about function.”

Matthew Eames, interim director at the Clay Center, said the two artists have come at their work with a similar idea in mind, and what’s so intriguing about the show is how that idea can manifest in two opposite end results.

“They both base their decision making and design around the same philosophy, which is a teapot and a serving vessel, except Paul will do it in a nonfunctional manner,” Eames said. “They have a similar idea and theme, but their execution is the opposite. The link is subtle, but it’s there.”

McMullan’s pieces, though vessels, are extremely delicate and not exactly designed to be used. He said the fragility of his work is inspired by a teacup that his father received after serving in World War II.

“I was never allowed to touch it; we never used it,” McMullan said. “So it was this idea of function, but it was unusable. It’s so special, you don’t want to break it by using it. My work has a lot more emphasis put on the narrative of the teapot rather than just its function. There are little stories on them.”

Walters’ work, while much more utilitarian, is still about telling a story to the reader. He said he believes the handmade functional ware opens a door for daydreaming and exploration when one uses it.

His pieces in this exhibit center on what he describes as a reinvention of a classic object.

“It’s going to consist mostly of the pentagon teapot, which I’ve had designed for about 15 years now,” Walters said.

Walters’ teapots are geometric with various flat plains and angles that bring an interesting profile to the traditional teapot shape. All of his pieces in the show are meant for regular use, allowing the viewer to form an intimate relationship with the object and create their own stories around it.

That’s one more thing the two seemingly opposite artists have in common:

“I like to put things out there and have the audience come in and relate to them,” McMullan said.

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