Francesca Dimattio’s ceramic sculptures and paintings give a merry nod to abstract expressionism, especially such clunky medium-fetishists as Peter Voulkos and Philip Guston. But she’s too aware of the vast history of her medium(s) to fret over that boys’ club for too long. The sculptures offer lively riffs on ceramic tropes: there’s a quirky little Wedgwood blue teapot-like form, and sinewy animal and human figures curl as graciously as any Han dynasty dragon along the edges of several of the sculptures. But it’s her simultaneous mastery of these historical bits and her wacky irreverance that make these works so breathtakingly contemporary.
Two pairs of overweight, overwrought sculptures balance daintily in the main upstairs gallery: a bit like Disney’s tutu-ed hippopotomi frozen in place. The lovingly sculpted figurines on their surface are in some places so globbed with multiple glazes as to be barely recognizable. (I have to admit it was Clementine who pointed out a small “doggy” to me)
The largest single work in the show is a three-thousand-pound chandelier hoisted in the middle of the smaller upstairs gallery. Like Dimattio’s tiny teapots, the chandelier winks at the idea of “function,” a deeply fraught issue among all ceramicists/potters/ceramists/academics with a focus on ceramics. We know she knows about all that malarkey, (she shows us by perching single Edison bulbs on the end of each impossibly heavy arm of the chandelier) but she’s commiserating slyly us. Sure, this “light fixture” alleviates the dimness in the room, but the primary function of those piddly bulbs is to illuminate the splashy, gorgeous ceramics on which they are perched. There are candy-cane striped ropes, delicate chinoiserie, and brutally chunky slabs mingling in the golden light.
Dimattio’s paintings are really good, too, but don’t embrace the wild abandon as freely as her three-dimensional works. The patterns and references just aren’t as twistedly specific as the ceramic pieces. Her real strength is letting loose the staid conventions of a medium that’s possibly older than painting. It’s as if Dimattio were throwing a really great party, and all the grumpy set-in-their-ways opposing camps finally let loose and ended up dancing with lampshades on their heads.