On April 17, 2017 I attended the gallery talk of Alchemy Juice in the Robert C. Turner Gallery at Alfred University. The talk was given by the artist of the work presented, Alex Zablocki. Zablocki’s work here was several vessel-inspired ceramic pieces. He tried to deconstruct the traditional form of a ceramic vessel into it’s individual parts (the foot, the handle, the clay, etc.) and reassemble them into new, humorous forms. This interest in analyzing functional ceramics stems from Zablocki’s childhood growing up around them. His father is a ceramic artist and would travel to different ceramicists’ studios with his son. Zablocki was also inspired by watching his father throw on the pottery wheel.
This exhibition was not Zablocki’s first experience with non-functional ceramics. He shared a story from his time working in the studio at Alfred University when he sculpted two pieces with 600 pounds of clay. He worked with this enormous amount of material for two days straight, really wanting to get to know and understand the medium through wrestling with it. When he finished, he covered the pieces and didn’t look at them for two weeks. When he did finally look at them again, he was upset at how serious and dark they were. He realized that he had been working towards being a “serious” ceramicist, but he wanted to put more humor and his sarcastic personality into his work. This inspired him to begin dissecting the forms of functional ceramics.
While working on this Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition, Zablocki discovered the range and potential of ceramics and even glaze. He said that he tried to let his work evolve naturally, sometimes putting pieces into the kiln to be fired without know what the result would be. He especially focused on using glaze in a nontraditional way. He saw it as it’s own object, and would think about it sculpturally when applying it to his work. Instead of painting it on or dipping a piece in it, Zablocki used a technique of casting the glaze to make it more interesting. He really enjoyed the unpredictability of the results he would get, and really liked how the clay and glaze would melt into more engaging forms than he had put into the kiln.
Zablocki’s goal of making humorous reconstructions was very effective. One of his pieces (which are all untitled) that really shows this features what looks like green glaze melting off of a small table. The sarcasm here seems to stem from how separate the glaze is to the actual form, melting and pouring over the edge and leaving it exposed instead of adhering to it. Another piece is more effective in the exploration of the different parts of a functional ceramic piece. The black and white shape looks like it was meant to be a handle, but does not look attached firmly enough to lift the whole piece by it. It bends to a small rectangular prism to a concave cylinder, which is reminiscent of the part of a vessel meant to hold water. This part is turned on its side, which also makes it useless for it’s usually intended use.
Zablocki’s work in Alchemy Juice seems to fit into Abstract Expressionism. The focus on what the medium can do rather than the purpose of the finished piece relates Zablocki’s ceramics to Abstract Expressionism, even though it is usually thought of as a painterly movement. His free and unpredictable use of the clay and glaze supports this as well. Zablocki stated himself that his work here was similar to Dadaist art, since it deconstructed a form of art and put it back together in a nonsensical and illogical way. Even the way he named the exhibition seems Dadaist. Zablocki put the words from the six or seven titles he had for the exhibition into an online word randomizer. He chose “alchemy juice” from the middle of one of the generated sentences because it really popped out to him. Zablocki felt the odd combination of the words fit the oddly structured ceramics he was presenting for the gallery. Alchemy Juice does fit perfectly for the amusing and entertaining theme of the work presented within.