At the beginning of Vaea’s exhibition at the Berkeley Art Center he stretched a black plastic drop-cloth across the floor and unloaded a truckload of nice damp clay carefully worked and ready for a ceramics operation. He worked on the show each day for the duration of the exhibition, and at the end he cleaned up his clay, dumped it back in the truck and took it away. Firing the clay into more or less permanent ceramic pieces was not part of the idea. Hardness removes from clay its tactile liveliness, and this show was to demonstrate just that: it is easy to work, takes many forms with great plastic adaptability, and holds its form relatively well whether organic or geometric. Some of Vaea’s forms were geometric forms that had become organic. He filled concrete form rolls and produced pillars of clay which were then dumped in a careless way, making them like vast limp noodles; he lined hemispheric forms and turned them over, dumping them out of the forms to produce great bellies, and in turn more complex forms made of several of these bellies put together into a single organism. He stretched strips of canvas and a roll of chicken wire to the ceiling and proceeded to make clay forms climbing the strips. The clay continued up the back wall, and grew out across the black plastic floor like dams or dikes that came out of the floor as if it were the water’s edge. Wood excelsior was added to give the parts hairiness and vary the tactile apprehension. A trough of clay was filled with paper-light plastic puffs of the sort used in commercial packing and shipping; when you thrust your hand to the bottom of this stuff the temperature became much colder because there was sand in the mixture which was heavier and drifted lower and was more conductive. Floating in the stuff were apples which the gallery-goers ate. A couple of the forms were like saddles—not exactly—perhaps more like a great thick-leaved succulent blossom, some of the fleshy petals of which flopped down, giving the thing a saddle-esque quality. These were dimpled with holes which suggested that they had been hit with an instrument with a geometric form. If the clay had been hardened these saddles would have been uncomfortable to ride. Since they were soft, I inquired if the artist would frown on anyone presuming to sit on the saddle and add their form to the piece. He felt that someone would probably do that at the end of the exhibition.

The Berkeley Art Center is a gallery in a park and attracts visitors who might not go to a commercial gallery, including children. Vaea was especially pleased with the reactions of children, also women; he feels that women are naturally more tactile. Vaea is a Frenchman, born in Tahiti and educated in ceramics in Japan where he studied with Kanjiro, one of their modern master potters. The name Vaea is derived from a Polynesian word having to do with volcanoes. On the side of this constantly changing and growing show were several ceramic pieces of sculpture which had been glazed and fired. They were clearly related to the forms that were taking shape in the center of the room. They could be described as closed pots.

Knute Stiles