As if dredged from the depths of the oceanic floor, the large-scale ceramic sculptures of “Shamrock Edelweiss Seaweed,” by Seattle-based artist Jeffry Mitchell, bask in hues of brine-like turquoise, mustard and muddy brown yet sparkle with a glossy luster. The intricate forms assumed by the glazed earthenware sculptures reveal themselves over time and become more sophisticated and intricate as the viewer stands before them, as if our gaze and presence activates their complexity. Perched on re-purposed plywood stands (perhaps the same wood used to contain the objects from the artist’s studio), five large-scale sculptures playfully communicate hand gestures, wide-eyed glances and written messages but we very quickly understand that the playful engagement of the figures is Mitchell’s way of luring us into a more complex narrative riddled with religious ideology and identity.
As guardians of the exhibition, Hello Hello and Pad Pad (all works 2012) are bolstered by heavy chain link, and confront our arrival with an unflinching gaze and outstretched hand holding the peace sign. Imagined from forms of neither of land or sea, the creatures are covered in barnacle debris yet convey an innocence in their sunken eyes. They greet us with a simple “Hello,” which is spelled out before them in freestanding letters. The works communicate to each other and to the viewer who happens to walk in between them. In declaring a greeting, the sculptures point to Mitchell’s urgency in his creations as literal chains bind the forms but possess a spirit that is buoyant and optimistic. In the west gallery, 18 small sculptures line a modest L-shaped plywood shelf. In its presentation, this modest collection of objects seem to grant us access to the artist’s workshop, where smaller works are created and manipulated to serve as models for larger sculptures. A pudgy and misshapen hand appears five times in the sequence revealing each digit and serves as a study for the hand in Pad Pad. A scene titled The Carpenter depicts a figure hammering on a plank of wood in a workshop. The ambiguous figure seems a stand-in for Mitchell’s practice, wherein artworks are born from the imagination and his own hands, and reference the influence of religion on his development. A large cast foot, which appears toward the end of the shelf, indicates the artist is symbolically putting his foot down, and like Hello Hello, that he will no longer allow any chains to weigh down his spirit.
Cover Image: Jeffry Mitchell “Not Waving, but Drowning” view 2012 Glazed Earthenware. Photo Courtesy of Ambach and Rice