Critic’s Choice: Kathy Butterly’s rapturous little reckonings in clay at Shoshana Wayne

Share via

The 15 standard-issue white pedestals in the main gallery at Shoshana Wayne stand in a neat grid, like a well-disciplined regiment. Their orderly anonymity is the perfect foil for the exuberant disorder of Kathy Butterly’s small sculptures, intimate not just in scale but in the nature of their self-presentation.

Each is a gesture of exposure -- a confession, a boast, an inquiry, a rant. If the assignment of personality to these clay objects feels extreme or retrograde, a lazy lapse into pathetic fallacy, just take a look. Note the glossy curves and sensuous folds in fleshy pink skin tones, the private, narrow openings.

Remember too the historical assumption of ceramic vessels as anthropomorphic. It’s written into pottery nomenclature: lip, neck, shoulders, waist, foot.


SIGN UP for the free Essential Arts & Culture newsletter >>

Butterly’s rapturous little works (none measures more than 7 1/2 inches in any direction) are -- and sometimes all at once -- smart, seductive, silly, sexy, shy, shameless.

Each began as a conventional vessel shape that Butterly pinched and squeezed to make the walls buckle and collapse in on themselves, like the outrageous, pioneering pots of George Ohr.

She ornaments and glazes fearlessly, mixing manners so that each piece has complexities that can’t be gleaned at a glance. The sculptures are dressed up and on display, but whisper of interiority too.

“Frill Seeker” (yes, the serious fun extends to titles) has a gorgeous sea-green outer glaze and a mouth pinched nearly to a close. Out of each side of the pursed lips dangles a length of what looks like ruffled ribbon, tipped in hazard orange. Decorous meets daring.

“The Weight of Color,” which lends the show its name, is glossy dark chocolate on the outside and wet flesh within, the border between them a polite chain of tiny white beads. Its two lanky arms hang stiffly on either side, ending in thick, cracked rounds of red, yellow and blue.


Butterly is as much painter as sculptor. She summons from her materials a rich range of textures -- crusty, granular, matte and shiny -- to match an extraordinary spectrum of colors: tangerine, brick, emerald, scarlet, mustard, blood orange, egg yolk, aqua, raspberry. Surface and form are passionately wedded.

For all their opulent color and riffs on fancy ornamentation, these pieces bespeak a certain humility. They abound in irregularities and asymmetries, deviations from the conventionally harmonious, the typically graceful. The looping handles of “Tough Patty” look like boneless arms, so vulnerable, but suggesting a hands-on-hips confrontational defiance.

Every piece in this tremendous show resounds with just such humor and pathos. Each exudes weight and whimsy, fierceness and delicacy. Each is an earnest performance of the multiplicity inherent in the human condition, a tender reckoning.

Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Dec. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


‘UH-OH: Frances Stark, 1991-2015’ at Hammer Museum is an enthralling midcareer survey


Bill Cosby art collection: How the National Museum of African Art shot itself in the foot

LACMA’s ‘Rain Room,’ technology’s hot-ticket riff on Mother Nature