As buyer for the Barnes Shop, I look for products that fit the homes and lifestyles of our visitors, while reinforcing the visual experience they have had in our galleries. Our current exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall introduced a look that is, at first glance, entirely new to the Barnes. A primary focus of the shop is handmade work crafted by local, regional, and national artists, so I set about finding artists whose work reflected (deliberately or inadvertently) Kelly’s influence on contemporary art and design. I wanted the ideas of his large-scale, abstract sculptures translated into functional or decorative objects on a domestic scale.
One of the resulting finds featured in our Shop this summer is the ceramic work of artist Jennifer Fisher, from Berkeley, California. Jennifer works in slip-cast clay, producing simple, geometric designs, adorned with flat planes of glaze in primary colors. My favorite is her four-part "Silhouette Vase," a classic vase shape segmented into quarters. She leaves bare the natural white clay on one side (either on the inside panels or the outside curve) and glazes the other side in a solid, bright color. The pieces can be arranged to create repeating rhythms of multiple vases, or full or demi vases of various colors and patterns. Jennifer’s simplified, reduced forms take the easily recognizable shape of a familiar domestic object but introduce unexpected lines, curves, negative space, and variations, through the many possible arrangements of the pieces. They make you look twice.
JFish Designs, Silhouette Vase variations
This is what I saw immediately when I discovered Jennifer’s work at the San Francisco Gift Fair last winter: a contemporary craftsperson, who takes a very simple line or curve and creates new forms and patterns with repeating variations of that line. I thought of the sloping aluminum panels of Kelly’s Sculpture for a Large Wall, some straight-edged, some curved, some colored, some left plain, and all the harmonies and rhythms a simplified form can take, repeated over a large surface. Many people may enjoy these vases as attractive, contemporary decorations for the home or office, but to me they say, “Look again!” And that’s something else they have in common with Ellsworth Kelly’s work: its most fun element is that it looks simple, but the more you look, the more you see.
Ellsworth Kelly. Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1956–1957 (detail). Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 1998