Judy Collischan, Ph.D., Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, Neuberger Museum, NY
The sinister aspect of work by Zimmerman contrasts with the fairy-tale like quality of tableaux by Barry Bartlett. This artist relates units placed on the floor with the purpose of creating what the artist has called a "dialogue." He has also written about his "non-linear" intention that allows viewers, in turn, to develop their own relationships with the work. Partially, his absorption with figuration has been influenced by the vignettes present in Staffordshire china.
In the 1990s, Bartlett has consistently dealt with shapes that are abstract, yet suggestive of a representational motif. At times these have been juxtaposed as a pair, trio or cluster. Using terra cotta, Bartlett fashions shapes that are largely abstract with subtle indications of an animal, figure or flower. The form is covered with glaze, adding a color, a shiny surface texture and the possibility of light reflections highlighting certain parts.
Generally, the shapes are blob-like; that is, there are softened con- tours and attention paid to overall configuration rather than specifications. They seem melted, as though heat had made one area soften and dissolve into another. Bartlett's avoidance of individualizing detail maximizes the abstract presence and spirit of each body.
His use of multiple parts spread over the floor emerged last year with a piece that consisted of thirty figures set atop plinths arranged in square. Each unit was monochromatic so that the general effect was one of a chessboard covered with brightly colored "men." There was also the sensation of an unruly crowd, as figures shifted and appeared to move in aggressive relationships to one another. This work, called Action/Reaction (1998) influenced the multiple unit concept of the two pieces in this exhibition.
Drift (1999), consists of five "penguins" lying on their backs on a blue latex patch. The latter represents a watery, probably icy expanse. The amorphic-Iooking birds are set on a horizontal plane seemingly adrift. The environment he creates, connected as it is to surrounding space, allows viewers to become directly involved with the scene. This type of presentation might be compared to "theater-in-the-round," wherein an audience is offered the familiarity of approximate engagement with performers.
With this exhibition, Bartlett has moved from arranging his entire work parallel to the floor to the addition of a vertical emphasis.
Landscape (1999) has a lyrical, fairy-tale like quality. It consists of clay units representing a bear, a tree trunk, brick, log and clapboard houses, and flowers placed on a green plane. Multi-colored snakes range up a wall. The artist thinks of this work as a kind of "psychological landscape," intended to pique viewers' imaginative associations. The variety of imagery executed in about the same size has particular references-the bear with the wilderness, houses with shelter, and flowers with domesticity. This grouping, as it is flat and colored, bears a relationship with painting, while the artist's arrangement of parts might be compared to sculpture or painting. There is a folk art element in the simple, direct delineation of objects as well as a meaning seemingly flavored by folklore.
The work of each of these artists extends the possibilities inherent in the clay medium as it is able to give life to concept. In the case of Peter Gourfain, there is an actualization of personal beliefs; Arnie Zimmerman manifests a moral significance; and Barry Bartlett embodies a romantic, open-ended story. These artists invest clay bodies with human nature as well as form.