CHICAGO — Most artists can relate to the mixed feelings that arise over the course of a longterm or large-scale project. The intensity of focus and consistency of attention required to execute a work over the course of multiple years can be as draining as it is fulfilling. Art, at best, is an experimental process; projects that take on huge dimension can either feel like huge risks or huge burdens.
It makes sense, then, that in the midst of wrapping up the massive undertaking of his Unit 1: 3583 Dubois project, ceramic artist Anders Ruhwald began to move in an entirely different direction. Unit 1, which involved buying and rehabilitating a turn-of-the-century apartment building in Detroit, and reconstructing one of the units — first in part at Volume Gallery in Chicago, and then in its entirety at MOCA Cleveland — then populating it with a number of large ceramic forms, represents the kind of masterwork that can eat an artist’s entire life and practice.
Since then, Ruhwald has turned away from extremely dense and solid forms to lighter ones in Glasur Stykker, which debuted at Volume Gallery’s booth at Design Miami in December of last year, and is on display for the first time this month at its Chicago location. The title roughly translates from Danish as “glaze piece,” and the show is an assemblage of experiments in small, glazed forms. After literally immersing himself and his viewers in a world of matte and monochrome black in Unit 1, these new works by Ruhwald are the ceramicist equivalent of running through a field of wildflowers — or, in his words, creating a sketchbook.
“I think of it as similar to that of a drawing practice — a body of work where I can explore, discover and find material potential that may or may not find itself into the larger installations that I do, ” said Ruhwald. “This is a way for me to address one of the core pillars of my practice — that which has to do with material, exploration and discovery through making. Normally this process happens in the studio and does not leave this threshold, but I recently have begun to feel it more important to exhibit this part of my process.”
Individually, each work is a little microcosm on a pedestal, with the gallery completely gridded into an obstacle course of these colorful objects. There is a real desire to sink into the variegated surfaces of each piece, explore the dimensions of its form, giving the viewer the sensation of examining tide pools along the shoreline — each a world unto itself. Ruhwald pushes the capacity of different glazes to their maximum capacity for texture and accumulation, creating finishes that are visceral and alluring. Never has the verboten act of touching art been such a tormenting temptation.
Here, Ruhwald’s sketchy ideas have become substantial objects. Though they lack the immersive shock-and-awe of Ruhwald’s last installation, they make for a satisfying thought experiment to imagine how these small, colorful forms might evolve into something larger.
Glasur Stykker continues at Volume Gallery (1709 W Chicago Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago) through May 27.