The Clay Studio hosts special ‘Figuring Space’ programming & workshops

-Courtesy of En Route Marketing
featuring photo by artist Sergei Isupov

The Clay Studio (1425 N. American St), Philadelphia’s preeminent center for ceramic arts will present Figuring Space, a new exhibition comprised of full-scale, figurative sculptures by 12 leading artists based in the United States. Each of the artists explores their  individual cultural identity and what it means to be human through their figurative sculptures. The  powerful figures will serve as a body of evidence to lay bare the issues that permeate American art and social culture. Figuring Space will open on January 12, 2023, and will be on display in The Clay Studio’s Jill Bonovitz Gallery through April 16, 2023. 

The body, as a concept, is intimately tied to ceramic art. Clay is often used as a proxy for the physicality of flesh and has the capacity to articulate cultural perspectives, social engagement, and artistic intention. Figurative sculptures have been at the center of public debate as monuments honoring  individuals with dark histories are being reexamined and sometimes removed. Figuring Space uses that conversation – who gets to be seen and celebrated – as the backdrop to present a collection of works  used to usurp the painful history of bodies on display in American history. Together, the artists will  assert their autonomy and subjectivity by presenting cultural critiques through lenses of their own  choosing, including race, gender, class, and anti-war ideas as inspiration for their own powerful stories. 

Each of the artists selected for Figuring Space is known for creating contemporary, representational work that incorporates concepts and designs inspired by their cultural heritage. Multi-media sculpture artist Jonathan Christensen Caballero layers Pre-Columbian imagery on contemporary Latin American  figures at work, asking who benefits from the American dream. He depicts people who contribute to  society through physical labor, often at the cost of their health and safety. Philadelphia-based potter Roberto Lugo combines historical decorative arts motifs with elements of modern urban graffiti. His work often features portraits of individuals whose faces are historically absent from luxury contemporary craft items, such as Sojourner Truth, Dr. Cornell West, and The Notorious BIG.  

Seattle-based, Philadelphia native Tip Toland’s hyper-realistic figures reveal what it means to be human,  living inside our varied bodies. Native American sculptor Roxanne Swentzell creates full-scale clay figures that represent the complete spectrum of the human spirit, and hopes her expressive characters will help viewers to fully connect with their surroundings and feelings. Korean-American artist Kyungmin Park contrasts the darker emotions and restricted psyche of adulthood with the boundless  consciousness of youth through her sculptures depicting children at play and at rest. Figuring Space also features works by Cristina Cordova, Sergei Isupov, Chris Rodgers, George Rodriguez, Christina West, Kensuke Yamada, and a to-be-announced twelfth artist.  

Co-Curator Dr. Kelli Morgan, Professor of the Practice and Director of Cultural Studies at Tufts University, adds her integral knowledge of the historical use of the figure in American art over the last  200 years to the exhibition. Dr. Morgan is a curator, educator, and social justice activist who specializes in American art and visual culture. Her scholarly and activist work combine to make her incredibly  qualified to examine the issues of racial politics and the artistic use of the figure in this exhibition. Dr.  Morgan is working with The Clay Studio’s Curator and Director of Artistic Programs Jennifer Zwilling to make Figuring Space relevant to audiences and the art historical record.  

The Clay Studio will host a special opening reception to launch Figuring Space on Thursday, January 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. Guests are required to RSVP to attend the exhibition’s free opening reception here. To further expand on the ideas and themes of this exhibition, The Clay Studio will host a special Figuring Space symposium on January 13, where guests can hear lectures and panel discussions from the artists  and curators. From 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., attendees will hear from the twelve featured artists about what making full-scale figurative sculptures means to their art practice. The co-curators, Dr. Morgan and  Zwilling, will also share their ideas about figurative sculpture in contemporary art through the lens of  social activism as well as the form’s evolution throughout American art history. There will also be a talk  on historical ceramic figure sculptures led by Leslie Grigsby, Curator of Ceramics and Glass at Winterthur Museum. Both of these events are free and open to the public. Click here to register for free to attend the Figuring Space Symposium in-person or virtually via Zoom. 

For those looking for an in-depth look at Figuring Space, The Clay Studio will host Creating Facial Features in Clay, a special workshop led by featured artists Sergei Isupov and Jonathan Christensen Caballero. On Friday, January 13, from 1 to 4 p.m., participants of all skill levels will watch the two  highly-acclaimed figurative artists give demonstrations as they explain their techniques for creating  expressive facial features in clay. The Creating Facial Features in Clay workshop is an in-person-only event. Tickets to attend are $100 each and available for purchase here. Please contact Josie Bockelman  (josie@theclaystudio.org) for discount information for this workshop. 

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