At his first solo show in Los Angeles in over 10 years, San Pedro based arist Tony Marsh presents eleven ceramic works from an ongoing series called Crucible and Cauldron. Some of the tankard-like objects appear to be bubbling over with one dominant color that is breaking up into other color strains while others seem to be more subdued and wavering with changing sheens of color. Globs and irregular chunks of matter are typical of ceramic glazes, but in these works, they are carried to a lumpy tactile extreme. The forms are rudimentary and similar in size. The configuration nearly identical: all arranged at the same height on a simple pedestal consisting in steel tube legs on which a simple piece of wood is placed. So all of the tension is placed on the way in which these clay objects configure themselves as differently and brightly colored inert things. That seems precisely the point of Tony Marsh’s new and entirely untitled work. They all have intrinsic visual interest and tug at the sense of the haptic, jaggedly soothing the need to go beyond the impenetrably smooth surfaces of the digital.
All of these ceramic works are put through multiple stages of kiln firing: glazed then fired, then, possibly, exploding or breaking apart, then being fired in the kiln again. The crucibles are distinguished by the fact that they sit upright throughout this process, with the opening at the top, like a vessel. Therefore, all of the glaze firing and the sparkling and sprinkling of different chemicals that make up the glazes are dripping down from top to bottom. The cauldrons, on the other hand, have been inverted during the entire firing process so the direction of the glazing and accumulated clay debris on the surface of each is going in the opposite direction of where they are when they are placed in the gallery upright. This relationship is the source of the title of the exhibition: Like Water Uphill.
Inside a number of the works, there is kiln debris that underscores this ongoing process of ceramic making and undoing. With Untitled, 2019, a difference enters into play. On the outside, this vessel is colored in an amalgamate of light blue, a kind of aqua green-blue and yellows highlighted by chunks of violet that are balanced around the lip like meteors crashing into it. At the bottom of this receptacle, however, along with the usual castoffs is something that appears to be an almost quarts-like blue crystal. It proves an odd and interesting counterpoint to the adamantly material understanding that a viewer has deduced about the way in which these works live in the world. It’s almost as though the artist were alluding to a more spiritual dimension in the otherwise entirely agnostic presentation. The idea that material like fired clay and colored glazes would be used to express some kind of philosophical event is an interesting twist in a craft-based process and, in this, may lie the anti-gravitational proposition of the exhibition.