Shadow May’s new exhibit at the AVA Gallery is a tipping point.
Take a long look at “Emerge,” the largest sculpture in Shadow May’s new exhibit at AVA. At more than three feet tall, the clay piece is impressive simply for its size—but there’s much more to the story than that.
“Emerge” might well be the best word to describe the artist’s own journey. It’s always fascinating to watch an artist’s evolution over the years. As many in the community know, May began as a potter, creating beautiful, functional wares that surely adorn many kitchens and dining rooms in the area.
Yet there was always something beyond pure function in his designs, some abstraction, some thoughtful construction. And he began more experimentation in clay, using the plastic but difficult and delicate medium to create sculptural forms. In “Ephemeral Forms: Works by Shadow May,” we see his best work yet.
The word “ephemeral” is an apt choice, meaning “transitory” and “impermanent.” The sculptures themselves seem to be morphing as we view them, and clay is the choice of an artist that accepts its potential damage or disintegration.
Last year, May won “Best in Show” in AVA’s annual Juried Members show, which meant he would get his own exhibit this year. The pieces shown here represent several series of ideas, along with stand-alone sculptures such as “Emerge.”
There are three “Nucleus” pieces, smaller sculptures featuring May’s rounded and overlapping forms, which as he has expressed, seem to have been formed by nature rather than man—until you notice, as in “Nucleus Series #3,” the “tabbing” of the forms together, with no attempt by the artist to hide the linkage. May has described this as “emphasizing the seams.”
In the “Crayola” series, May plays with brilliant color, a stark contrast to the light, textured glazes used on most of his pieces. Thick, slick color coats the bright red “Crayola Series #4,” “Crayola Series #1” is the blue of a high-school band uniform, and the piece AVA has chosen to display in its window, “Crayola Series #1,” which against the light appears black, on closer inspection is actually a deep purple.
This last sculpture again combines some of May’s signature details, such as whorls, evoking a cross-section of a nautilus shell, and openings or orifices (which can remind viewers of the spouts and openings of the functional pieces) with long tube shapes, as though several found objects had been sealed together by a long immersion in the sea.
“Voidology,” though in shapes and colors closer to the “natural” pieces, builds a bridge between the two series with its heavy, creamy glaze, which looks as if it was poured over the clay, slightly obscuring the incised markings.
The name of “Bronto” is likely a sly joke on May’s part. The piece does in fact evoke a dinosaur’s skull—but as Prof. Disbrow would remind us, science has debunked the existence of an actual Brontosaurus; the bones once considered the specie’s skeleton having been reassigned to other dinosaurs. The implication would seem to be that although nature might be the inspiration for May’s work, it is also an imaginative act, creating, rather than copying, form.
And so we come round again to the stunning “Emerge.” A sweeping semi-circle of clay—might it be part of a platter?—thrusts its torn edge away from a curved, geometric slab. Both are mounted on a series of shapes that contains what resembles a vase, and the entire structure, dwindling to a point, needs its metal mount to sustain its balance. Beautiful, classical and modern all at once, this is the star of this exhibit.
Collectors, take note: Shadow May’s work is already featured in galleries in Knoxville, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois and in California’s Santa Barbara Museum of Art. This would be the time to acquire one of his sculptures.
“Ephemeral Forms: Works by Shadow May,” through Nov. 25,
AVA Gallery, 30 Frazier Ave,
(423) 265-4282, avarts.org