In Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 52, 2003, p. 67-69.
by Christopher Leitch
Used with permission.
beautiful 3-page 4-color layout four of Lighton's sculptures were highlighted.
Ceramics by Linda Lighton and David Furman
Male/Female was a modest exhibition of small-scaled works and ambivalent ambitions. Such a title suggest thematic references to Freudian analysis or sex politics. The work shown, however, had less in common with the pop psychologists of 'Men are from Mars, Women are form Venus' than with the simple facts of the artists' sexes and the exaggerated anthropomorphisms of their respective teapots and sculptures. While each potter's forms call into question some assumptions of sex role stereotyping, any 'message' is discrete, idiosyncratic or autobiographical.
David Furman is known for his trompe-l'oeil still-lifes of pencil cans and other such desk-top views, as well as humorous literary and philosophical quotations in content and title. He brings his smart-alecky character and notable technique to bear in a series of teapots seemingly got together of various squashes, root vegetables, melons and peppers. All the clay veggies are aptly proportioned to the actual items they reference and are strikingly crafted to resemble it. Furman cleverly composes the pots to take best advantage of the joining between leaves, stems and sepals. They are impeccably well made and include many surprise elements, such as root shapes dangling from lids into the pots, unseen except for the curious or the collector. The painstakings of Furman's hand building make more amusingly deadpan the enormous vegetable-phalluses erupting as spouts, handles or both, on all of the pots on view. Each throbbing squash is more suggestive of and more accurately scaled to the human than the last.
There are echoes of British maiolica and the stately prurience of some Greek craters. But they ring most truly as good old shallow West Coast Pop and seem to take pride in their simple novelty. The dicks are delightful but they don't do anything.
For all the evocation and evidence of desire, they are too amusing to be taken sexually seriously. They are not erotic, or even pornographic. Furman's randy roots and tumescent tubers arise from the tradition of every schoolboy who has held a banana up to his trousers for a laugh.
Linda Lighton's florid sculptures are realised in animated hues and mutagenic forms. Early in her career Lighton addressed the structural possibilities of clay, her first mature works life-sized expressionistic self-portraiture with almost no added colour. The qualities of raw stoneware and rugged sculpting corresponded to their rough emotion. She embraced representation of the visceral, observable world, combining careful studies with brawny construction just intact enough to demonstrate the acuity of her perception. In time the figures were supplanted (pun intended) by similarly scaled floral forms reclining or elevating themselves in organic choreography. They were often unglazed and began to introduce colour as expressive accessories on stamens, pistils and petals.
Lighton's works in Male/Female differ markedly. They partner botanical quotes with a vivid palette in baroque contortions. The simple obvious floral evocations of the vagina have, swollen by some personal or social animus, morphed into phantasmagoric vulvas. They are spiky and thorny, open jaws filled with pointed teeth and exposing cavernous maws, writhing leaf-arms held menacingly akimbo.
Lighton maintains her candid building methods in these works, intensely crude workmanship likened to a brutality of feeling as in her original larger sculptures. Many of the works are named after famous women and local luminaries, and are all recognised as 'Divas' in their titles. A case could be made for these works' heritage among Hindu temple sculpture and various ancient scantily-clad snake-wielding Etruscan priestess figurines.
The pat contemporary reading would be that they speak to feminine self-empowerment through ferociously emblemised female genitals. Yet again, as in Furman's case, the scale and colouring of the work, and the scarcity of juicy anatomical detail, present an entertaining, not a sexually fearsome countenance.
The courage of Linda Lighton is in making deliberately ugly and clumsy work. The example set for her by successful contemporary female ceramists --
Warashina, Lysohir, Woodman -- espouse stereotypical feminalia, the precious colours and lilting themes that don't threaten or intimidate men or otherwise indicate the women wouldn't want to keep their places. Lighton obstreperously ignores the realpolitik of such a course and charts her own. Her naif handbuilding is a rejection of the preening delicacy and over-refinement of much historical women's clay. Mixing, wedging, kiln-loading, and crating all are challenges that many women artists meet readily and with dispatch, and Lighton has resisted efforts from the 'boy's club' as she calls it to push her quietly into a polite china-painting corner. Her robust, gorgeously coloured forms are testament to her veracity, if they are, politically, 20 years tardy.
A similar effort could yield deeper interpretation of the works of Furman. Let us see: vessels ('wombs') in the form of phalluses ('phalluses') are lively commentary on the mutability of sex identity and social role. And, vegetables themselves are the products of sexual reproduction. Rather a stretch, yes? It is more interesting to consider, per Lighton's protestations, why the dainty efforts of the likes of Richard Notkin, Ron Nagle, Victor Babu or David Furman aren't more often read as emanating from the self-same traditions of refinement and frailty. They could well be understood as rejections of confining, restrictive masculine personae, opening to the softness and vulnerability of a traditionally sequestered femininity. Well, maybe, but that is even stretchier.
The works of Linda Lighton and David Furman are delightful and engaging. However, to weight them with the admittedly tiresome millstone of sex war psychology is sending a pony to a horse's job.
Christopher Leitch is a curator and writer from Kansas City. The exhibition, Male/Female, was held at Morgan Gallery, Kansas City, during NCECA, 2002.
Linda Lighton. Diva. Clay, glaze, China paint, lustre. 50 x 27.5 x 22.5 cm.
Linda Lighton. Diva. Clay, glaze, China paint. 42.5 x 22.5 x 18 cm.
Linda Lighton. Diva, Marilyn. Clay, glaze, China paint. 44 x 29 x 15 cm.
Linda Lighton. Bulb with Beetle. Clay, Glaze, China paint. 25 x 16 x 16 cm.
David Furman. Room Service. 2000. 29 x 12.5 x 37.5 cm.
David Furman. The Lascivious Libertine. 2001. 31 x 14 x 41 cm.
David Furman. Take it Like a Man, Frank/Adrian's Affordable Aladdin. 2002. 31 x 16 x 49 cm.