Charach Gallery hosts Pewabic show

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

“Abiogenesis” is the process by which life arises naturally from nonliving matter — the way scientists speculate random chemical reactions generated self-replicating molecules, the first organic building blocks.

In “Abiogenesis: From Clay to Community,” a ceramics show at Janice Charach Gallery through April 21, this phenomenon is applied to the magic a potter can work with a lump of clay. It also touches on the wider sense of community that making art, particularly in a shared studio like Pewabic Pottery, can create.

The Charach Gallery is in the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit in West Bloomfield.

“The 25 artists in the show all have some connection to Pewabic,” says gallery director Kelly Kaatz, “either having trained or worked there. The show’s March 13 opening was a little like a big family reunion,” she adds. “When dropping off art before the opening, everyone was asking, ‘Who else is in the show?’ ”

The answer? A lot of marvelous ceramacists and sculptors, ranging from Arizona State professor Susan Beiner to Paul Kotula, the Ferndale gallerist who’s now on the faculty at Michigan State University.

Take Beiner first, the show’s featured artist, whose coral-like creations have the look of underwater life spinning riotously out of control.

“Susan’s one of the best-known artists in the group,” Kaatz says. “She does workshops all over the country, and has exhibited in the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina, as well as museums in France and the Netherlands.”

You can see why. Beiner’s work, like the blank-white “Unintended Consequences,” is astonishingly intricate, bristling with tiny forms all seemingly struggling to get a foothold in a highly competitive world.

By contrast, Kotula’s place setting — he created the wooden tray, porcelain plates and one elegant glass — conjures up a world of austere, Japanese-style minimalism. Kotula’s work has always been about restraint, and here his trademark precision and subtlety are striking.

One of the most-surprising pieces, however, comes from Barb Whitney, the executive director at the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center who’s a ceramacist moving into new fields.

“Sun-bleached” may look for all the world like a grid-like, ceramic design. But it’s not. It’s painted.

“Everyone goes up and taps it to see if it’s clay,” Kaatz says.

(313) 222-6021

‘Abiogenesis: From Clay to Community’

Through April 21

Janice Charach Gallery, Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thur.; noon-4 p.m. Sun.

(248) 432-5579