Fe Gallery, now in its fifth year, has become a significant presence on the Pittsburgh art scene, having shown the work of more than 200 local artists and an impressive list of national and international artists. In conjunction with the recent National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference, Fe's director, Jill Larson, has curated From the Ground Up, a magnificent show of work by nine artists who use ceramics, although not always in a traditional manner.
Suggestively displayed side-by-side at Fe are the contrasting works of Satoru Hoshino and Matthew Paul Isaacson. Hoshino, a prodigious Japanese ceramist, created three stoneware "pinch pots," the largest about 3½ feet high, covered in black slip. He allows the clay to maintain its disorderly nature, as the imperfectly coiled spirals take on fluid, loose forms. An artist statement notes that Hoshino's approach to clay changed after he experienced a landslide; subsequently, the natural force of the clay became foremost in his mind.
In stark contrast is Isaacson's "Twisted Paraboloid: a. b. & c." Isaacson, from Richmond, Va., uses one-foot squares of manufactured porcelain tile in tones of gray and black to create skyscraper-like stacks, one taking on a twisting form inside the gallery's front window, the other two on the floor below. They reference architecture, but also suggest such natural patterns as strands of DNA. The pre-existing pattern on the tiles, the repetition of the stacks and the perfectly formed, pre-fabricated materials combine to create a work that is, ultimately, ordered and precise.
Akiko Jackson, meanwhile, plays with repetition in her "The Nipple Project: Another Projection of Days." Nearly 600 perfectly crafted slip-cast baby-bottle nipples are delicately airbrushed to suggest natural skin tones. The work oscillates between the sexual and the mechanical, managing to be simultaneously appealing and repulsive. Jackson, also from Richmond, has exhibited at venues including 2007's prestigious Fourth World Ceramic Biennale, in Korea.
Hidden in Fe's dramatically lit basement is a beguiling mixed-medium work consisting of two enlarged ceramic heads attached to baby-like bodies; both lie on pillows on the floor, facing one another as if in (stilted?) conversation. In an artist statement, Debbie Quick discusses her interest in visual narratives exploring the discomfort of social interactions.
Finally, the captivating works of Karen Rich Beall and Rebecca Hutchinson rely on mixed media that contrast the inherent rigidity of fired clay. Beall combines ceramic, steel and wool into abstractions based on microscopic forms taken from plants -- objects suggestive of their source, but not excessively literal. Similarly, in Hutchinson's installation, porcelain bud-like forms are entwined in six strands of organic fiber that hang from the high ceiling, dangling to within a few feet of the floor. An artist statement indicates Hutchison's interest in the architecture and engineering inherent in nature, as well as its resilience. These themes are evident in the twisting, complicated forms that seem delicate yet sturdy.
Other works, by Brooke Hine, Alexandra Watrous and Hyun Kyung Yoon, are equally intriguing. The exhibition as a whole inspires a dialogue between artists using ceramic media whose unique works complement one another beautifully.
From the Ground Up continues through April 18. Fe Gallery, 4102 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-860-6028