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by Kathy Zimmerer

(Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood) Otto and Gertrud Natzler were one of the leading couples of the modern ceramic movement, and longtime residents of Los Angeles. Famous for their jewel-like colors suspended in rich, luminous glazes, the Natzlers worked collaboratively until Gertrud’s death in 1971. Trained as a textile designer in Vienna, Otto Natzler met Gertrud Amon in 1933, and she introduced him to clay. In 1938, the couple, by then married, immigrated to the United States after the annexation of Austria by Germany. Arriving with one potter’s wheel and a small kiln, the couple made ends meet by teaching, and worked steadily on their ceramics. They perfected their glazes and refined forms over three decades, from 1939 to 1971. After Gertrud’s death, Otto continued to work with clay, and his handbuilt slab constructions from the 1970’s through the 1990’s are also on view in this superb exhibition.

While Gertrud worked as the master potter, Otto was the master chemist of the glazes and the wizard of the kiln. Gertrud’s elegant forms echo the art nouveau elements of the Vienna Secessionist movement and are the epitome of weightless grace and refinement. Otto perfected over 2,000 glazes, which he invented to imbue each particular vessel with its unique color and texture. Among his creations are the crater and lava glazes. In these pieces, layers of color bubble up through the surface, as in one bowl where a jade green hue emerges from a deep ochre ground. Others include a crystalline glaze that shimmers with tiny veins of color, a hare-fur glaze with layers of luminous hues, and a variety of lustrous glazes that shine with an inner light.

The deep turquoise green of a bronze patina is replicated in another glaze, and it reinforces the beauty of the bowl’s shape. The intense burnt orange glaze of a slender vase adds depth and luster to the surface, complementing the elongated neck and sleek body. Another beautifully crafted bowl has a moss green interior that is interrupted by shimmering blue patterns in the glaze. As in many of the Natzlers’ works, this bowl is a subtle vision of form and color, close to the fragile beauty of Japanese and Chinese ceramics.

In another noteworthy work a deep turquoise iridescence gleams on the surface of Gertrud’s finely tuned vessel, while deep reds and blues peek out from the container’s interior. A more somber palette is realized in a small bowl with a charcoal black glaze that still glows with reflected light. Deep gold alternates with terracotta in a delicate bowl whose edges are finished with a dark brown line. Another vessel has a deep ruby red interior that is surrounded by a black glaze that shimmers with red undertones. This vessel encapsulates the Natzlers’ utmost refinement of form, color and surface. It’s pristine shape only enhances the luminosity of the glaze, and as such, it is a self-contained study in ceramic perfection.

While traditional in format, the Natzlers’ vessels are subtly modulated and orchestrated to create poetic objects of rare beauty and visual eloquence.

"Bowl with Lip", tiger-eye
reduction glaze, 5.25"
diam x 4.5" high, 1958.

"Bottle", 9 3/4 x 4", 1958.

"Vase", 3 3/4 x 5 7/8", 1965.

"Massive Bowl", yellow
matte alkaline glaze, 5"
diam x 2.5" high, 1960.