Art Review: Beauty and function entwined in exhibition

For centuries, artists and critics have argued the merits of form versus function in not only the art world, but in everyday life. It is often difficult to determine the specific role that art plays in our society when many pieces found in museums lack any discernible practicality. While aesthetic choices almost always play a role in which sculptures or paintings become priceless works of art and which are labeled junk, artist David D. Gilbaugh of La Crescenta has discovered a way to ensure that his work is appreciated beyond merely pleasing the eye.

Gilbaugh is a sculptor who works primarily in paper clay, a forgiving type of clay that lends itself generously to a broad range of movements and positions. Another benefit to using paper clay is that the finished product develops a natural, earthy tone. This is perfect for sculpting items that resemble rock formations, stone carvings or even battered tree stumps. Gilbaugh's ceramics are incredible examples of paper clay's natural earthiness. They are also indicative of the artist's penchant for emphasizing function as much as form, though.

One of the most fascinating features of Gilbaugh's already beautiful sculptures is that most of the pieces actually serve a function. Many of his larger works were built to incorporate wiring for lamps or fountain pumps, though these features are concealed in such a way as to enable the pieces to exist ornamentally, if the owner so chooses. His true genius, however, is displayed in his teapots.

Teapot sculpting is often the most creative — and most lucrative — area of ceramics. There are several major competitions held each year that award points based on originality and practicality. Gilbaugh's teapots, most of which uncannily resemble tree stumps or natural rock formations, are exceptional in the way they marry form with function to create beautiful, practical pieces.

His work is not only about introducing function into art, though. Gilbaugh uses what he describes as the "Tectonic Method" to create sculptures that are inspirational and organic. Not organic in the way that most green-loving, eco-friendly people use the term, but organic in the sense that all of his pieces evoke natural forms.

"Imagination," one of his largest pieces, seems to tell the story of life's evolution on the planet as it rises from a cracking, earthy base through a flowing, natural stem, and up to a smooth, spiritual pinnacle. Gilbaugh notes the sculpture as a perfect example of his "Tectonic Method," where he "captures the creative instance while simultaneously injecting a measure of depth."

"It's an evolutionary piece," he said. "Especially where it's more porous. The negative space is an opportunity to get out of myself. It's an object. The piece becomes more cerebral as you travel up from the base."

It's also simply mesmerizing to see. Gilbaugh's collection, on display now through July 30 at Whites Art, Framing & Restoration in Montrose, is a spectacular exhibition of patience, skill and artistic ingenuity. Even if you aren't a major art enthusiast, it's incredible to witness the things that Gilbaugh is able to accomplish. This is one show you shouldn't miss.

Brian McGackin is an alumnus of USC's graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.

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Who: David D. Gilbaugh

What: "Tectonic Forms in Clay" ceramics sculpture exhibition

Where: Whites Art, Framing & Restoration, 2414 Honolulu Ave., Montrose

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, until July 30

Admission: Free

Contact: Miguel Perez (818) 957-4071 for more information or appointments for Sunday/Monday viewings

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