Curated Ceramics is honored to represent Gary Erickson’s work posthumously. Sadly we lost him in May 2016 at 60 years young.
Keith Williams and Kate Maury have generously provided tributes to their dear friend here. Down the road we hope to add stories told by more of Gary’s friends in the clay community.
A Unique Interest
by Keith Williams, December 2016
Gary Erickson was one of the rare people who knew that it is better to go through life trying to be interested, instead of trying to be interesting. He took interest in so many things as an artist and human being. His interest in people and culture and art was always genuine, gentle and giant-sized. His interests found their way into his artistic voice and his relationships. His work and family and friends all benefitted from his taking a unique interest in this world.
His interest and curiosity led him to lead a unique and fascinating life. His interests ranged from nature, to gardening, to dance, to athletics, (basketball and golf), to travel into unknown cultures, to quality teaching strategies, to ceramic art making and beyond. This list of topics, however does not address the heart of his interests. Gary was ultimately interested in people with interests. When he met someone with an interest beyond his experience he took interest in that person and thereby took interest in their interests. These interests then usually informed either his teaching or his art work.
For his art life, Gary Erickson made clay objects for decades. Lots and lots of objects. On the face of it that is what sculptors traditionally do. Setting aside performance and installation and conceptual work, sculptors make objects. For artists like Gary Erickson their creative impulse compels them to make objects.
As a mature artist Erickson did not wish to make a few rare, individual masterworks. He set out to simply explore making work as a master. His body of work spoke louder than any one piece. The years of taking interest and pursuing his creative practice placed his work in museums and collections worldwide.
Of course one develops technical mastery. Erickson was an absolute master of his chosen genre. He thoroughly understood all the clay and glaze materials and processes needed to embody his vision for the work. If he needed a new glaze he ran the tests and developed it. If he chose to make 24 inch square tiles he solved the material challenges. But technical mastery isn’t what defines a master artist like Erickson.
Arriving at a unique and important voice is what defines a master artist. Gary Erickson’s unique and important creative voice was his ongoing search in directions fingering into and out of his many interests. Erickson always searched as an artist. His many interests as a person would continually inform and stimulate his unique voice. His work continued to be the result of a combination of external and internal forces. He was not simply repeating ‘a look’, but rather his was an ongoing exploration on established themes of deep interest.
One can find parallel furrows in some sculptures related to his youthful interest in the look of planted landscapes combine with his love of clay. One can see organic rhythms inspired by the natural growth of pods or spores. But those abstractions also became informed by the invisible, but very real, rhythms of Latin dance music. The syncopation of the claves in salsa music can be found in a three against two pairings in his sculptures of arrangements of his installations.
The natural textural surfaces featured on his earthenware sculptures takes them far away from functional ceramic traditions like pottery and tiles. The surfaces help the viewer read the work as pure sculpture. Slick, shiny pottery glazes would take the pieces in completely different directions.
His travels to Cuba, then officially closed to the United States, in order to study the island’s ceramic and dance traditions solidified his aesthetic and gave him an understanding of what it means to create in the face of scarcity. The creative impulse improvises and takes new forms. The people appreciated his sincere interest in them, their art and their culture. Lifelong friendships were formed which was a hallmark of Gary Erickson’s life. He never seemed to lose interest once he had taken interest.
His love of Chinese ceramic materials and techniques arrive later in his work. The purity and workability of Jingdezhen porcelain is as unique as their 1200 years of tradition. The dazzling scale of production and mastery of the Chinese artisans and artists completely redefines what it means to make objects in the United States. Erickson took interest and inspiration from these artists and redefined how he wished to make art. He introduced so many facets of new art in response to this interest. His tiles arrived. He began slip casting forms and then combining hand building techniques in order to explore further and faster. He took interest in traditions like decal work, including the humorous Chinese communist kitsch imagery. (Subtle humor often infused his work and he hoped the clever among us would get his visual jokes.) The large patterns of his early work became tiny and compulsive making the forms explode with quiet energy. He stacked forms, etched colors, explored multiplied forms and overlaid surfaces. This was done not to find a new direction, but rather to create variations on a theme.
Gary Erickson created unique art, unique friendships and unique connections that lasted his lifetime. He made unique marks on his pieces; his friends and students; his dance partners; his party attendees; his colleagues at Macalester College and beyond. He nurtured his friendships as consistently as his professional production and show record.
Our gain is that he took such a unique interest.
by Kate Maury, March 2017
Jingdezhen is located near the foothills of the mountains where Ming Dynasty porcelains were discovered and produced. Residency programs and the vast amount of ceramics facilities there attract artists from all over the world. This is where Gary Erickson spent the better part of his summers for nine years.
Gary immersed himself in the Chinese culture, learning the language, and documenting numerous techniques used at the historic vase, tile and casting factories. He worked with local artists; fostered relationships with numerous Chinese art students; as well as many established nationally recognized artists.
Upon his return to teaching in America, Gary would eagerly share his love of China with his students at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was truly an advocate for the advancement of ceramic education through travel and foreign residency programs.
Gary was nationally known for his hand-built and cast organic forms.
It was his friendship, integrity, and playful eccentricities above all that are missed. His circle of friends was vast and he would often bring them together for root beer tasting parties, vintage shirt bowling night, or salsa dance sessions.
For myself, Gary will be remembered as a valued friend, artist, and peer.
M.F.A. 1985 New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred, NY
B.A. 1980 Hamline University, St. Paul, MN
A.A. 1978 Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids, MN
2015 Keck Faculty/Student Collaboration Grant, Macalester College, to research techniques for printing on clay.
2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, to support Minnesota exhibitions of porcelain sculpture created in Jingdezhen, China.
2013 Chinese Heritage Foundation, in support of Jingdezhen porcelain exhibition
2009 ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellowship, for travel with three students for 24-days to study contemporary Chinese art.
2009 Keck Faculty/Student Collaboration Grant, Macalaster College, to study Qing Hua decoration on porcelain, Jingdezhen, China.
2007 Freeman Faculty/Student Collaboration Grant, Macalester College, to research porcelain tile making in Jingdezhen, China
2006 Wallace Faculty Travel Grant, Macalester College, for travel to Cuba
2002 Wallace Faculty Travel Grant, Macalester College, for travel to Cuba
1999 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Assistance Fellowship Grant
1999 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Ceramic Artists
1993 Northern Clay Center/Jerome Foundation Artist Project Grant
1991 Minnesota State Arts Board Career Opportunity Grant
1986 National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship Grant
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Harbin International Sister City Museum, Harbin, China
Jingdezhen Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute, Jingdezhen, China
Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), Santiago de Cuba
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Taller Cultural “Luis Diaz Oduardo”, Santiago de Cuba
First National Bank of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN
Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper, WY
Shepparton Art Gallery, Shepparton, Australia
University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND
Macalester College, St. Paul, MN
Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN
Ronald Kuchta, New York, NY
Dr. Igal Silber, Laguna Beach, CA
Robert A. Ellison, New York, NY
Arthur Williams, New York, NY
Robert Pfannebecker, Lancaster, PA
Michael O’Neil, Washington D.C.
Richard P. Tuttle, Syracuse, NY
Ms. Suzanne Sugg, San Antonio, TX
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