Louie Villanueva

Nickle Gallery showcases Albertan clay paintings

By Rachel Woodward, October 20 2015 —
The University of Calgary’s Nickle Galleries is presenting Surface Tension, a series of “clay paintings” by functional potter and artist John Chalke until Dec. 19. The exhibit is the gallery’s latest and is located on the main floor of the TFDL.
Chalke, who passed away early last year, specialized in mixtures of painting and sculpture, particularly textured and glazed clay art partially based on Albertan landscapes. The collection’s pieces focus on finding intimacy and subtlety in everyday objects.
Exhibit curator Michele Hardy believes Chalke’s pieces provide insight into his artistic style.

Louie Villanueva

Louie Villanueva

“He takes the normal, takes the daily, and turns it upside down. It makes you slow down and look at these things in a different way,” she says.
Throughout his career, Chalke experimented with glazing techniques in order to achieve texture and detail. Many of his glaze tests are on display in the exhibit.
“He has literally thousands and thousands and thousands of glaze tests. Every time he would fire his kiln, he would fire a few more,” Hardy says. “He had this wonderful quote about how not firing glaze tests was like going to a party without beer. It was something he was kind of obsessive about — he called himself a ‘glaze monk.’”
Surface Tension is a comprehensive overview of Chalke’s career, with featured works dating back to the early ‘70s. A section of the exhibit is dedicated to Chalke’s work mapping out Albertan landscapes and culture, while another portion shows works created by using a slingshot to shoot paint onto a glazed surface, achieving a meteor-like effect.
Quotes from Chalke describing his work accompany pieces throughout the exhibit.
“The outline of Alberta is not pretty, nor better than other shapes, but familiar,” reads a quote near the exhibit’s entrance. “It’s a symbol, a metaphor, a device from the past and a constantly unfolding future.”
Hardy says this exhibition is unique to the Nickle Galleries, and that nothing similar has been shown for at least eight years. He believes Chalke’s attention to detail provides geological insight.
“He is a historian. He is very informed and knowledgeable about ceramic history and plays with that,” Hardy says. “He takes a vintage plate, but cuts it and re-mounts it and glazes it to create something entirely different, entirely new. It’s about the layers.
Entrance to the Nickle Galleries is free for students.

For more information about Surface Tension, visit nickle.ucalgary.ca

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