I’ve always had a special affinity for South American and Spanish contemporary artists; their emphasis on material textures and idiosyncratic ways of rendering the human form are a constant fascination. Small wonder then that visiting Couturier Gallery on La Brea, a gallery often displaying works from southern hemisphere artists, is a treat. Some favorites are the sculpture of Jorge Marin,the pottery of Rose Cabat and Jay Kvapil, the prints of David Smith Harrison and Ibrahim Miranda, and the fantastic manipulated photographs from Aimee Garcia, Craig Cowan, Victor Vazques, and Rene Pena.
Finding gallery owners whose aesthetic sensibilities resemble one’s own and who hang artists’ work akin to one’s own art is immensely reassuring. Yoram Gil’s former gallery, which showed the artist Gustavo Lopez Armentia, used to be one such haven. Today Couturier Gallery is another brick and mortar gallery that doesn’t disappoint. Couturier’s latest exhibit is entitled “Encuentro,” (in translation “Meeting”) and signifies the artistic relationship between two current Puerto Rican ceramicists, Susana Espinosa (originally from Buenos Aires) and Toni Hambleton (originally from Mexico City).
With half the exhibition pieces figurative and half geometric shapes, the visitor can be easily forgiven for imagining it the product of a single artist; indeed that was my first reaction to the remarkable similarities in technique and surface finish. Both artists rely on fire and oxides for surface effects rather than glazes, and both have broken away from functional vessel forms.
Espinosa’s ceramic figures, of modest size, exude great presence while mixing a graceful delicacy with bold gestures, particularly in the penetrating gazes of pensive faces. These works, both faces and bodies, remind one of Minoan sculptures, seeming to exist in the present but also possessing an otherworldliness that has no end. Her bust “Un pasado real” is a successful blending of realism and abstraction that’s held together with a variety of slabs of differing surface treatment. The two figures, “Pensando en Ayer I & II,” rendered to the waist as if embedded in a body vase, are more stylized and show off a brilliant rust coloration on white. All of Espinosa’s faces are white and to her credit, she avoids making them a cliché by subtly tinting select facial areas. Interestingly, on the head entitled “Cabeza de Mujer,” the treatment of the hair resembles one of my works currently being produced.
Toni Hambelton’s ceramic pieces actually resemble abstracted figures in themselves. All have a central rectangular body section with a smaller section on top, which is either square or crescent shaped, that suggests a head. For the artist, these forms are pueblo structures, not unlike the idea behind Ken Price’s New Mexico adobe-derived ceramic series. Etched within the similarly white and red patina surfaces, as those of Espinosa, are delicate playful forms reminiscent of Klee or Miro. Both artists imagine their works as representing a community; let us say the people of Espinosa and the buildings of Hambelton. Interestingly enough, such an imaginary family concept has been part of my own work with the creation of a series entitled “Flemish Heads.”
Together, Espinosa and Hambleton have been significant partners in co-founding “Casa Candina” which provides Puerto Rico with a top ceramic school and gallery. This exhibit is highly recommended and will remain on view through July 13. Don’t miss it.