San Francisco

Robert Arneson

Richmond Art Center

Clay sculptures and some distinguished pots by one of the West Coast’s most controversial ceramists. Arneson derives a sensual pleasure from the feel and sight of clay. (And apparently accepts the premise that, since man was fashioned from it, it is subject to the same treatment as a person in that it can be used or abused, shaped or broken, toughened or warped, transformed or transfigured.) He transforms far more than he transfigures it. These are not idealized shapes. Rather they suggest life beaten to a pulp and forced to reshape itself along primitive lines as a means of physical survival before spiritual rejuvenation. This feeling is especially evident in his strongest work here—low, zoomorphic sculptures resembling slugs, turtles and other earthbound things. They call to mind an ancient primitive culture, with emphasis on clay and sacrificial blood.

Arneson is no purist. He uses epoxy glue for assembling his works after firing, which allows him to construct very large and intricate pieces, and also allows him an opportunity for devilment. His habit of glazing grooves, orifices and projections (all eye-traps) and of leaving maul marks on his surfaces, while creating great visual excitement, tends to detract from any serious statement he may be trying to make. Unless his point is to rile the parlor psychiatrists; if if is, he does.

E. M. Polley