“Darkness into Light”: Chris Staley at the List Gallery

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Renowned ceramic artist Chris Staley, Head of Ceramics at Penn State University, is the sole focus of the current exhibition at the List Gallery. Considering that all of the works on display were created in the past year, the depth and variety of the work is astounding.

The works are arranged roughly thematically. From three darkly evocative boxes, we move to beautifully utilitarian cups and bowls, into the small room of rougher and more experimental work, to a grouping of terracotta-colored works, and through to the white still lifes, which are arguably some of the best pieces in the show.

In Staley’s hands, clay can become both a raw chunk of matter and a delightfully smooth ovoid, often both in the same work; although the styles may sound jarringly divergent, Staley invites us to focus on their similarities. There is a sense of stability to even the roughest block of clay; on closer inspection, what seems to be a perfect surface is covered with cuts and scrapes. His best pieces invite the viewer to join him in a meditation on how these objects came into being.

The choice to include paper works was a good one; Staley’s experiments with India ink give us insight into his black-and-white bowls, we see the development of the “Gum Ball” form through both paper and clay, and the charcoal work “Moon Auger,” in the middle of the show, only reaches its full development in “White Auger Still Life,” the last piece in the exhibition.

All in all, this is a deeply resonant exhibition; many of the sculptures appear to be in dialogue with one another, and later pieces invite us to take another look at earlier ones. The show leaves one feeling calm and satisfied, and would make a restful stop in an otherwise busy day. The exhibition will remain at the List Gallery through Feb. 2. List Gallery hours are Weds. 12–4 p.m., Fri. 1–5 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 1–4 p.m.

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