‘White and Shadows’ comes to ArtShare
If You Go...
Who: Michael Wisner
What: ‘White and Shadows’ opening reception
When: 6-8 p.m. today (exhibit on display through Aug. 27)
Where: CMC ArtShare Gallery in downtown Glenwood Springs
How Much: Free
Woody Creek artist Michael Wisner creates vessels inspired by Southwest American Indian and Mexican pottery in a variety of colors, but his solo exhibition at the CMC ArtShare Gallery consists solely of his white, intricately patterned work.
“I always wanted to do that,” Wisner said. “I do many colors, but there’s something very subtle and beautiful about just white alone. The colors aren’t splashing out at you; it’s more about light and shadow.”
An opening reception for “White and Shadows” will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the ArtShare Gallery in downtown Glenwood Springs. The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 27.
Wisner’s pots are inspired by nature in a variety of ways: He often digs his own clay by his Woody Creek studio, and the patterns he impresses into his pots are reflections of patterns he sees in nature.
“I really love the idea of rhythm, pattern and geometry in pieces,” he said. “So I started looking at nature — pine cones, artichokes, there’s so much. I started taking those ideas and coming back to the studio. Sometimes I’ll use ideas directly from nature, but other times it’s also fun to say, ‘How can I collaborate with nature and take one more step in the design?’”
Wisner creates his own tools or experiments with existing tools to make impressions in his handbuilt pieces when the clay is at the right consistency: not so wet that his marks are messy, but damp enough to still take manipulation.
“I’m always playing with different tools, but this morning I thought, I like the idea of bubbles that graduate from small to large. What tools do I have that will work for that?” Wisner said. “A lot of times I’ll just make my own tools — I’ll grind them — but here I just went to my tool set with drill bits. The butt ends of drill bits are a nice foundation, and they graduate in size. So I press in like the divots on a golf ball and make them grow.”
Although it may not immediately appear so to a viewer new to Wisner’s work, his pieces are heavily inspired by the work of Southwest American Indian and Mexican potters. In fact, Wisner studied for years with acclaimed Mexican potter Juan Quezada. He learned and gained an appreciation for truly handmade vessels; this is where he learned to dig clay and create his forms by hand, without an electric wheel.
These traditional Southwest forms still serve as the foundation for Wisner’s work; the simple shapes keep viewers from becoming overwhelmed by his detailed patterns.
Wisner first became interested in pottery in the mid-’80s, he said. He was taking his mother on a road trip through the Southwest to thank her for putting him through college, and he fell in love with traditional pots by the American Indians there.
“I just fell in love with them, especially because of the heavy design quality and the geometric patterning,” he said.
Though he was working in pharmaceuticals at the time, Wisner returned from that vacation and decided to take night classes in ceramics.
“I lasted another year at my pharmaceutical job, and then I decided I really loved artwork, and I’d rather do what I want to do and make less money than be in a career that I felt was secure,” he said.
So he moved west to pursue summer apprenticeships with American Indian potters. That’s when he learned about Juan Quezada.
“All of them were talking about this one person — Juan Quezada,” Wisner said. “He was a self-taught potter from northern Mexico. They were all very inspired by the fact that he was a self-taught genius.
“So I went down and worked with him, and I just fell in love with it. He was such a genius, and he was so generous with his information. He wasn’t threatened by anyone taking what he knew, and then he would have nothing left. He had too many ideas.”
Wisner worked for about 10 years in this traditional Southwest style, where he would paint patterns onto his pots. And although people in the world of Southwest painted pottery knew he was coming up with unique patterns on his own, outsiders who wanted to purchase his pots would ask him questions like, “What tribe are you from?”
“So I thought, this isn’t different enough,” he said. “Even though people on the inside see the difference, people out there don’t. I didn’t like the feeling. So I said, well, I really have a lot more ideas, so why don’t I keep the good part, keep the bits that I like, and try to move into something else?”
That’s when he began impressing patterns onto his pots. He still maintains the traditional forms and the traditional ways of creating his pieces, but instead of painting patterns, he creates 3-dimensional patterns that are still inspired by nature but are much more in his own personal style.
Throughout his career, Wisner’s connection to nature is what he’s loved most about his process.
“I think the beauty of a well-done art piece is something that the artist really connected with, and they were present, and it spoke to them,” he said. “Then it goes out into the world and continues speaking to other people. And it’s not to give the artist any egotistical credit; I think a lot of artwork is kind of mindlessly created. I have some friends that are incredibly gifted artists, and they say that when they get out of the way, their best art happens. It moves through them. Not to be too mystical or anything, but there is something that happens.”
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