Selected from the artist’s personal collection and recent studio production, “John Gill: Architecting Color, Pots From Four Decades” features 34 works. Together it represents a singular voice in contemporary ceramics, one not only highly aware of the history of ceramics and Modern painting, but of the broadest range of structure. His idiosyncratic mix of references and his celebration of odd juxtapositions propelled a new vision for pottery that continues to influence generations of artists.
In an issue of “American Ceramics” from the early 1980’s, Michael McTwigan, a noted writer and critic of ceramics at the time, wrote of Gill’s work:
“Gill is a tireless fabricator of forms, much in the manner of that master tinkerer, Alexander Calder. Just when we’re getting used to his current infatuation, he pulls another out of his hat. And like the folk artist who turns trash into treasure, Gill blithely assembles dissimilar elements as if he were, indeed, working out of his garage—that uniquely American place of invention where Calder and the folk artist fashioned their sculptures, where the Wright Brothers built their airplane, where Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak assembled the Apple computer.”
For the exhibition catalog that accompanied the exhibition Alfred Now: Contemporary American Ceramics at Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion in 1995, the renowned art critic and writer, Donald Kuspit, wrote the following on John Gill’s work:
“John Gill stretches the vessel…to the limit. It metamorphosizes into an extraordinary abstract expressionist sculpture, seemingly completely free form but not without a certain geometrical balance—even as it seems unbalanced. Michael McTwigan says that “Gill’s pots contain an inner force that is not the sacred energy of the Vessel, but just the plain old feistiness of an artist trying to box his way out of an enclosed form.” I think Gill’s vessels are more complicated. They are a somewhat tense dialectic between the receptacle as an enclosure and its openness and, more ultimately, between fixed, stable form and unfixable, unstable force.
“Gill’s vessels seem to be in a perpetual protean state of exploratory evolution…Gill’s mastery of complexity is simply amazing, in the sense that one would not believe the combinations—and contradictions—he creates unless one saw them. He brings together, in the same sculpture, different primary colors and different earth colors, as well as irregular, free and regular vessel forms. His surfaces are handmarked and smoothly polished all at once. He is an incredible virtuoso of difference, twisting and turning the vessel form—his hands seem omnipresent and omnipotent—until it seem like a wry force.
“The more extreme Gill’s force-forms, the more I admire them…Indeed, overreaching—stretching the limits until there seem to be none—is what Gill’s sculpture is ultimately about. It is heroic, in its belligerent transgression of the vessel, even while acknowledging it as a viable point of departure. Indeed Gill shows that it retains a certain credibility as a form by using it dramatically—dramatizing its divisions, so that they become emphatic as it strains its “composition.”…a striking example of his tendency toward absurdity, an effect of his seeming to rip the vessel apart. In fact, strange as it may seem to say, his sculptures are a kind of miniature theater of the absurd. They are about the struggle between the rationality of the vessel form the irrationality of the impulse to shape.”
“John Gill: Architecting Color” begins with a terracotta vessel from 1980, which appears as a tall square pot until you explore its interior. A cylinder pops up through its center recalling the stamina of a flower, a phallus, or a bunt pan. The cylinder on the inside is glazed with lively green dots brushed onto a layer of white decorating slip; the exterior is a highly expressionistic combination of slips and glazes, a painting in the round that encloses a decorative core. Perhaps this pot is personal narrative. Gill’s journey in ceramics was traditional, forming functional pots with pottery decoration, but his fascination with Modern painting by such artists as Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove and Milton Avery and his unrivaled use of slab construction and darting (as one would dart fabric to construct a garment) would unleash forms yet unseen in the ten thousand-plus year history of ceramics. The exhibition includes his interpretations of wine ewers, bowls, platters, teapots, vases and cups. It concludes with ruggedly formed vases of planar slabs joined so that slip, the substance that helps keep the parts together, oozes out like mortar from bricks before it is wiped clean. His pots’ highly complex shifts of form and color and their highly defined painterly skins invite a 360-degree experience.
John Gill’s work has been exhibited internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions and is included in many private and public collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Newark Museum, Newark, NY, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan; Victoria and Albert Museum, UK; LA County Museum of Art; Icheon World Ceramic Center, Republic of South Korea; Crocker Art Museum, Sausalito, CA and Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, MI. John Gill has recently been awarded the American Craft Council Award for “demonstrated outstanding artistic achievement, leadership and service in the field of craft.” He has also been the recipient of many other awards and honors including those from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Council and Young Americans Show. Gill was one of the keynote speakers at the 7th Gyneoggi International Ceramics Biennale in Icheon, Korea. He is member of the Council of the International Academy of Ceramic and has travelled and lectured throughout the United States, Canada and China. John Gill is Professor of Art at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.