September 24 – October 3, 2021
The Art Incubator Gallery
Presented for the 2021 Design Week at Harcourt House and Alberta Culture Days
The Canadian Prairies have produced more world-class ceramic artists than any other region in the country. The leading role in Canadian contemporary ceramics has been played by artists from Alberta, many of whom have been influenced by Bernard Leach’s “English School of Pottery”, Abstract Expressionism movement of Peter Voulkos, “Funk Movement” led by Robert Arneson, as well as Minimalist and Post-Minimalist artistic doctrines. Their art consists of more than just mugs, pots or bowls – as for the decades their works have embraced aspects of painting, sculpture, and even architecture. Their innovative technical methods combined with well-thought conceptual elements and visual vocabulary have won many Albertan ceramic artists a well-deserved place on the regional, national, and international scene. Today, contemporary ceramic art in Alberta is a pluralistic phenomenon, identifiable by a rich diversity and a broad spectrum of artistic styles, individual goals, and innovative studio practices.
The unique contribution of ceramics to Minimalist and Post-Minimalist principles is demonstrated in the ceramic works by Ruta Nichol, a Lithuanian-born and educated graphic designer and ceramic artist currently based in Edmonton.
Although Minimalism as an art movement prevailed only for a brief period between the 1960s and 1970s and was more associated with sculpture and painting, it had a great impact on the art world. Fifty years later, Minimalism along with its more refined Post-Minimalism principles continues to appear in new forms in various media, including ceramics. In the latter, we observe a major shift from the fundamental idea of pottery being centered as a form of personal expression toward it being the design and construction of an arrangement where each element is of equal importance.
The ceramic works by Ruta Nichol are deeply rooted in the principles of design. For Ruta, design serves – through development and application of the simple form combined with symbolic vocabulary derived from a repository of Lithuanian and Baltic fairy tales and folk art – as a quiet and personal expression of the elegant as well as the ordinary. To be successful, functional ceramics must be of simple, elegant form and appeal to both form and function. In other words, a truly superior piece must not only perform well as a “tool”, but also have a pleasing shape, colour, and balance in our hands. Ruta’s keen eye and ability to successfully resolve design ideas and create final products that are both traditional and modern, have gained her an undisputed place in Alberta’s contemporary ceramic milieu.
Ruta Nichol’s charismatic sculptural pieces and functional ceramics are the products of impeccable technical ability that unify contemporary energy with age-old ceramic traditions. Primarily formed out of eggshell white clay and embellished with subtle mark-making, Ruta’s work celebrates natural clay tones, subtle surface design, and gently nourished minimalist aesthetics. Ruta’s ceramics are hand-built using a medium temperature clay – M370 (a white semi-vitreous stoneware – about 1% porosity after cone 6 firing). She uses basic hand-building techniques such as methodical pinching and slab construction process or a combination of both.
Ceramic sculptures take form out of a basic pinched pot or a stiff-slab shape that is merged with other leather-hard clay components and decorative elements (motifs of trees, stars, or flying birds in their simplified forms). After blemishes are removed and a light burnishing is complete, a subtle mark is applied. A simple pattern is pressed-in or carved out using repetitive lines and dots over the selected area. This is followed by a final burnishing to get a slight sheen post firing. Clear glaze is applied to the functional work and some later sculptural work while keeping most of the piece in a natural eggshell clay finish.
The exhibition “Beyond Minimalism” showcases a wide gamut of Ruta Nichol’s signature ceramic designs beginning with her anthropo-and biomorphic “architectural” forms (2018-2020), her charismatic sculptural-lidded containers (2018-2021), various decorative vessels, and her intimate in size, 4-leg pinch pots (a simple form of hand-made pottery produced since antiquity) – a series which the artist begun in 2007 while still in Lithuania and continues to this day. Featuring simple, ordinary objects with elegant modernist lines, this exhibition illustrates how Ruta’s functional and rational ceramics have contributed to Minimalist and Post-Minimalist aesthetics. By fusing modern sensibility with traditional ideas Ruta Nichol intelligently and effectively creates an impressive body of ceramic works that accommodate changing ideas, needs, living standards, and tastes.
Ruta Nichol is a Lithuanian-born and Edmonton-based ceramic artist and graphic designer. She studied Graphic Design at the Vilnius College of Technologies + Design in Vilnius, Lithuania, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Ceramics from the Vilnius Academy of Arts. Ruta maintains a part-time studio practice at Harcourt House Artist Run Centre and The Shop Art and Ceramic Studio in Edmonton. Ruta’s solo exhibition “Tickle” participated in the 2019 WORKS Art + Design Festival in Edmonton and her ceramic work was featured around Edmonton in the 2020 “YEGCanvas in Transit Temporary Art Project”, “Influence/Confluence” Showcase in 2019 at the Alberta Branded Gallery at the Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre in Edmonton, and in “The Buter Dish” (2019) at the Alberta Craft Council Gallery in Edmonton.
Top Image: awaken, ceramic
Image courtesy of the artist