High Point’s “Terra Incognita” Exhibition Explores the Current State of Ceramics

Christina Pérez

North Carolina’s long history of furniture production tends to garner plenty of attention. But the region’s legacy as an epicenter for ceramics—which dates back at least 500 years—is equally significant.

“There exists an amazing industry of clay-working across the state, with a vernacular rooted in the use of local clays and salt or ash glazing,” Lila Allen, curator of “Terra Incognita,” the upcoming ceramics exhibition staged during High Point Market, tells AD PRO. “Even in early examples of Carolina pottery, a deft sense of firing, materiality, and form were at play.”

It is the far-reaching influence of this rich heritage that the show, which opens April 6 in the 2,000-square-foot gallery at Plant Seven, aims to examine. “I asked: How are ceramic artists today—in the Carolinas and beyond—reinventing form, clay body, and surface?” says Allen. “What new aesthetics are forming? And in what ways are they still manipulating traditional elements?”

To illustrate this exploration, Allen focused her search on pieces that emphasize experimentation, finally settling on the abstract and functional works of 24 American artists. “I kept an eye out for works that pushed the limits in terms of form and construction, and glazing or ornamentation,” she explains.

Jeremy Brooks’ tea bowl.
Photo: Courtesy of Plant Seven

Among Allen’s favorites are a delicate, candy-colored piece by Texas artist Angel Oloshove; a textural, freestanding collage by Washington-born artist Luke Armitstead; and a series of knit tea bowls by South Carolina artist Jeremy Brooks. “He extrudes a highly elastic clay material for his work,” Allen says. “This stretch allows him to knot the clay without breakage. Using this technique, he actually crochets or knits the material together, and adds extra ornament through color and beading.”

But though the overall theme of the show relies mostly on the merits of joyful innovation, there are a few somber notes as well. One such moment comes from Atlanta artist Robert Chamberlin, who uses an extrusion technique to create freewheeling swirls of frostinglike decorations on his vessels. “In the work he’s sent to Plant Seven, Collapse 20, the vessel is broken, intentionally,” says Allen. “In my opinion, it is one of the more emotionally evocative works in the show.”

The wide-ranging span of feelings that modern ceramics can trigger is exactly what Allen, who is also the managing editor of Metropolis magazine, ultimately hopes her viewers take away. “I hope that it will inspire curiosity and a desire to learn more about the breadth of ceramic art being made today,” she says. “I hope that this show can introduce viewers to the wide range of approaches, and the experimentation, that ceramicists are now embracing.”

And besides, as Allen points out, ceramics are a great entry point for those wishing to start collecting. “They’re generally affordable, can be functional, and add a nice level of texture and interest to a space,” she says. “There are so many artists out there making great work, often with interesting process stories behind them; I hope that a few of the artists [in “Terra Incognita”] will resonate with buyers and other designers, too.”

Virginia Scotchie’s turquoise-color vessel is another work that will be on display.
Photo: Courtesy of Plant Seven