Friday, March 6, 2009

Armstrong Gallery

Art can be found in the strangest places. The city of Pomona might be in the news more for crime-related incidents, but the downtown area also has a bevy of sophisticated and impressive art galleries. The Armstrong Gallery, at 150 East Third Street, offers exhibits of fine-art ceramics by nationally recognized artists. Although the space is small, with only one room to present all of the work, it is a remarkable gallery. David Armstrong, who is an enthusiastic collector of ceramics, runs the space.

The current show, “Patchwork,” is an eclectic display of works by several artists well known for exploring the use of various textures. The exhibit, which will run through April 4, showcases art from Bennett Bean, Geoffrey Swindell, Peter Kuntzel, Thomas Hoadley, Bevelry Crist, and many others.

Bean created some of the most impressive pieces in the exhibit. He has created several pieces through pit-firing and painting on gold earthenware. His “Untitled Vessels” look like abalone structures, with colorful details. Bean is known for “creating complex and overlapping patterns,” which is evident in the pieces that run from the $16,000 to $24,000 range.

A current favorite on display is Steve Tobin’s art. Tobin, an artist from Pennyslvania, starts out with various materials (like clay), then places firecrackers inside the structures. He sets them off, and then uses the fragments as his pieces of art. They often look like geodes you would find in a store, but the intricate colors are inspiring.

Another artist on display at Armstrong’s is Coeleen Kiebert from Santa Cruz. She is a sculptor who works with ceramics and bronze. Part of her “Navigator Series” is in the gallery. Her pieces explore levels of enlightenment, including Bardo (or the period between this life and the next.) The artwork features ideas of how time passes, and they include remnants of actual machines, like spark plugs, a SLR camera that still works and a pair of headphones. The pieces “Sparked” and “Recorder” range from $3,200 to $4,800. Kiebert says in her artist statement that “with this work, I try to face into my own naturally impending death and seek to see it as starkly and with as much truth as possible.”

One of the most impressive pieces at Armstrong’s is Margaret Keelan’s “Red Dress, Blue Bird.” The piece, which is going for $3,900, is a ceramic piece that has been treated so that it looks exactly like wood. The doll looks creepily like an old, wooden figure you would find in an attic somewhere. Instead, the piece was crafted through a ceramic process, in which the clay is textured and stained. The faces are press molded, and the hair is taken from other dolls. Keelan says that “as I make these sculptures my mind lingers on images of Greek classical figures, those ones that been incomplete, but beautiful, or, African tribal wood sculpture and their practical purposes of honoring ancestors, and connecting with the spirit world.” Her piece surprises viewers with its authenticity.

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