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.
Pots and cups don’t seem like much to behold, until you consider the craftsmanship requisite in the creation of such domestic objects, and the ideas of communion and intimacy they signify. During his lecture last Thursday evening in Lang Performing Arts Center (LPAC) Cinema before the opening of his List Gallery exhibit, ceramicist Peter Beasecker spoke of his fascination with the utter wealth of meaning and artistry hidden in the simplicity of household objects.
“It’s not just the objects but the spaces around and between the objects that I find fascinating,” said Beasecker, while describing the evolution of his interest in the creation of seemingly run-of-the-mill ceramics. Indeed, both object and space in Beasecker’s work are contemplated, as in his series of ceramic nesting bowls which “live together or apart” as individual bowls or one collective piece, and align with perfectly symmetrical slices of space between them.
Beasecker set up his exhibit in such a way that visitors felt free to touch and closely inspect his works. “Pots are obviously […] domestic thing[s] and they’re meant for a domestic environment,” he said, “and it’s always a challenge in terms of how you bring some of the sensibility into a gallery situation where they can be seen easier.” Beasecker had low tables specially made for this List Gallery exhibit, such that his pieces are “a little bit more disarming and invite the touch a little bit more.” With the adjusted height, visitors could easily reach out and pick up the individual cups to inspect the details of his work more closely.
Pots and cups are practical things we take for granted, but their essentiality to home life is what gives them potential as a very intimate and human art form. “One of the magical things about using a pot […] is that the shape of the liquid changes as you drink more out of it, […] as well as the color,” said Beasecker, “ and that change […] can be a pretty dynamic experience. And I think if at a particular moment […] you reach for a particular item because of what it does to the experience of using it, that’s a pretty profound act. If a pot can do that, then that rivals any of the other […] ways in which art can transport you to a different place. It initiates ritual, and I think that in and of itself is a pretty special act.”
The most striking aspect of Beasecker’s work is its marriage of simplicity and artistry. “What you see here is work that is exquisitely crafted, almost easy, and yet it has a rightness about it,” said List Gallery curator Andrea Packard, pointing out one piece from Beasecker’s Mt. Alban Series, a series of round stoneware containers, or “carriers” that displayed sets of porcelain cups. In all of these pieces, the cups fit perfectly in the triangular and circular spaces of the carriers, showing off the pristine geometry of Beasecker’s design. “One could argue that’s incredibly challenging to create this impression of simplicity and clarity,” Packard said.
When one looks past the simple forms of Beasecker’s art, the intricacies of the individual parts of a piece become apparent. In one piece from the Mt. Alban Series, the faceted porcelain cups seem uniform, yet they are each unique in the way the glaze on them has settled and thickened on the cups’ seams and edges, and also the way in which their facets are misaligned. “One thing I appreciate in his art is that tension between simplicity and complexity,” said Packard, “and because the forms are so classic and simple […] it allows your attention to go to the mysteries of the way the glazes emerge from the firing process.”
An important facet of Beasecker’s porcelain work is its suggestion of human gatherings, as the round nature of the carriers and the number of the cups brings to mind the communion of a large group of people. “What I see is invitation to community,” Packard said, which makes the piece “singular and collective at the same time.”
A contrast to the practicality and accessibility to the cups is the weight and density of the stone carriers themselves. For Beasecker, the weight of the carrier points to the significance of its contents, such that they are not taken for granted as regular storage. In an interview with The Daily Gazette, he said, “I want you to be really aware that you’re picking up something heavy, such that when you pick up something that heavy, you take a different attitude about it and care for it in a different way. You don’t sling it around in the same way […] I think that that level of commitment to picking up a heavy object is important.”
An intriguing series from Beasecker’s repertoire is the String Series Portraits, a set of ceramic square tablets that each curves up gracefully at the corners and features on its face a distorted string “portrait.” Each of these portraits was once a recognizable picture of a human face drawn in string and glaze, which after firing in a kiln alters into an abstract shape, almost akin to a doodle.
“All ceramicists, in a way, rely on the process to complete the work to a degree” said Beasecker during the interview. “I’m allowing [the process] to not only complete the work, but also to have a more active voice.” When asked about why the distortion was important to him, he said, “Why I’m so attracted to it here, is that [the portrait] goes from the known to the unknown, and […] I have no say in how that language becomes reinterpreted from something very known and very literal to something that becomes very abstract.”
All of Beasecker’s work, while simple at first glance, is profoundly thought-provoking in the way it carries ideas of unity and familiarity beneath its surface. His art reminds us that within even ordinary objects of our everyday lives resides a realm of possibility.
Photos by Elena Ruyter/The Daily Gazette