Chicago

Tom Rose

Walter Kelly Gallery

Tom Rose’s porcelain sculptures are mostly white, giving innocence and enchantment to their small scale. Their smallness concentrates the images, so that their imaginary spaces are intensified. But this “skin” of white masks other, less pristine, things below its surface—odd items such as shells, thread, chickenwire, glass, jacks, cuttlebone.

Rose’s work is largely about its own material. An initial wet substance is pinched, split, creased, bent, rolled, and penetrated to compose platforms, objects on the platforms, and complex substructures. To make little tracks, pieces of glass, wire, or bone are impressed in the clay while soft, and then are anchored and fired with the porcelain. Often the platform supports are glass walls—frosted, charred, and etched into tiny Abstract Expressionist “paintings.” Poles poke through the porcelain, wire shows itself on the inside of white facades, and rope or thread dangles from the corners. The sculpture is architectural: struts and walls define sculptural volumes and passages.

A combination of pseudo-poetic titles—Some birthdays just seem to have more meaning than others, for her it did, anyway.—and components, such as seashells, imply picturesque anecdotes. A puzzle: four chickenwire walls support a shaggy-edged platform on the edge of which is a bed. On the bed, a tiny shell is attached to red thread which ends atop a chair on a wire column. Inside the column is a ladder whose rungs are looped with yellow and white thread—but such “scenarios” are the least significant part of the work. If any single theme were repeated throughout the sculptures, Rose would encourage an experience enlarged over time. But as it is, the docile stories only make specific references and end right there.

The two most recent works in this exhibition are transitional. They abandon the self-made sculptural architectural space and actually limit or interact with gallery space. Porcelain ledges jut out from glass fragments affixed to the wall. In one case, a rope ladder dangles down to the gallery floor; in another case, a broken plywood ladder sits obliquely between ledge and glass. These works sacrifice much of that anecdote business, but, unfortunately, they lose the unique tension between insubstantial material and architectonic form. Then too, it is difficult to see how the sorts of finespun substance that Rose engineers with such talent could ever dominate human-scale space.

Finally, it cannot be overlooked that Rose’s environments-on-a-platform seem a bit “trendy,” capitalizing on the recent interest on the part of many artists in the miniaturized environment. But still, Rose’s solutions are different from other adaptations of the genre. Other makers of the environment-on-a-platform have had to avoid his trait of “white” preciousness, but Rose makes it his own, setting storyish trivialities in a gracefully tasteful esthetic.

C. L. Morrison