by Ray Zone

(Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica) There is something in the tractable nature of the ceramic-making process that invites discovery. From the shaping of the clay to the successive firing and glazing of the increasingly finished work there is a constant intervention by forces of accident and felicity or decay. And, in this art form more than any other, the artist never knows what the final art will look like until it is complete.

Philip Cornelius is a willing participant in this blind process of tactility and structure. For thirty years Cornelius has been working in this medium and by now he has learned a great deal about its limits and possibilities, becoming in that time one of our preeminent masters of ceramic art. His work is very much about the for- mal properties of the medium. Though it makes reference to the functionalism often associated with ceramics, his structures are an intriguing blend of the abstract and the representational that forces the viewer to accept the artistic primacy of the object.

In the current exhibit there is an affinity of structure and subject among the various works. But in the gallery context they seem to be timeless totems seized from a dream. They seem to point elegantly in multiple directions at once. But towards what?

Several of the works, such as Two Blind Siren and Double Ender make use of birds poised atop what appear to be watering cans joined at the base. It is easy to imagine the artist receiving his initial inspiration from a moment in the garden when a visiting sparrow transiently alights on a watering can for a quick drink. But this very subject, when forced into the medium of clay which is successively fired and glazed so that it then assumes the artifactual quality of an object which could be millenia old, is transformed. This is the dreamplay of art.

It becomes apparent that the tactile and physical metamorphosis of clay and surface is a poetic analogue for the transforming power of art itself. By its very earthen, solid and grounded nature, the ceramic art form is uniquely suited to express metamorphosis. It is change after all, fluid and volatile, yet ultimately fixed, which is at the heart of the medium. Cornelius seems to have some instinctive understanding of all this. These objects make no attempt to be anything other than what they are. Their glazed surfaces art-lessly refer back to their geological origins and their molten application in the inferno.

These works are like souvenirs of a voyage that the artist has made. It is a journey not made on terra firma. And the destination remains unknown until arrival. But it is a journey well worth taking.

"Two Witches," porcelain,
12 x 11", 1996.


"Polar Incident," porcelain,
13 x 11", 1992-94.



"Two Blind Siren," porcelain,
9 1/4 x 15 3/4", 1996.