The Nature of Clay: 1958 - 2005
June 4 - July 16, 2005
Modernist design is often derided by unsympathetic viewers as being "cold" and "sterile". In truth, some images from the era do seem more concerned with minimalism than comfort. Some warmth was needed, and it developed in a quiet revolution of lifestyle and technique centered in California. This warmth was generated by craftsmen who were consciously rejecting the industrialization and, particularly, the homogenization of American culture. Their wares made both political and aesthetic statements. They created useful items with wood, metal, textile and clay and emphasized the organic, "natural" finishes of these materials. Many of these artisans did their work in remote outposts like Bolinas, Alta Loma, Potrero and Fresno. These were inexpensive places to live and their remoteness promised a relaxation of building and manufacturing codes. From the late 40's through the mid 70's, these craftsmen softened the severity of Modern Design.
In 1958, an 18 year old ceramist and sculptor named Brent Bennett (from the not-so-remote outpost known as Hollywood High) entered this milieu and planted himself under the wing of Raul Coronel. Coronel, well regarded for his ceramic murals as well as his work with Architectural Pottery, mentored Bennett during the young man's summer breaks from UCSB (where he earned a BA in Art in 1962) and UCLA (where his work with Laura Andreson resulted in a 1964 Master's Degree). A session at the legendary Pond Farm in Guerneville with Marguerite Friedländer-Wildenhain furthered his practical education.
But it is Coronel who gets Bennett's deepest appreciation. Their association instilled a high level of discipline and control into the young Bennett's work ethic. This control enabled him to envision objects and execute them without hesitation. Brent's creativity increased in pace with his rising expertise. By 1965, Bennett evolved from acolyte to full partner. He, Coronel, and Walter Schneider formed Stoneware Designs. This relationship lasted through 1967. In 1969, Bennett decided to test his independence and formed Architectural Stoneware. Bennett eventually sold the successful company to pursue other interests. After a lengthy hiatus, Brent returned to his calling and formed BJB Design in 2002.
The lamps, vessels, tables, fountains and wall reliefs in this show represent nearly 40 years of creative output. The primitive shapes that often appear on Bennett's surfaces suggest leaves, sunrays, fruits, and blossoms. There is something of the cave painter in his roots. But Brent consistently turns the cave inside out and warms the walls with his fertile vision. Brent's work is a model distillation of the indoor/outdoor aesthetic that courses through California Modernism. Natural clay meets earthy glaze to form beautiful, useful objects. From the delicately latticed lamp bodies to the strong, sculptural wall reliefs, Brent Bennett's ceramic art reminds the viewer that earth, water, and fire can be transformed by masterful hands. The by-product is beauty. That beauty is worth exploring.
Cardwell May 2005