On view October 14—January 7, 2022
State College, PA
Judd Schiffman’s solo exhibition Mystic Vision is on view at Maake Projects in State College, PA until December 19th.
The show includes seven large ceramic installations and seven smaller individual ceramic works.
Each of the large assembled works consists of fired and glazed stoneware segments arranged and adhered to the wall like ropes of clay. The arrangements—through painstakingly placed according to a schematic drawing—appear to have the possibility, even probability of life, and of movement. Like the skeleton of a serpent, the links of stoneware slither vertebrae by vertebrae, encircling the central figures like prey.
The works are fastened directly into the gallery wall, the hardware obscured by fired clay coins, decorated with an icing of thick gold luster that adorns the segments, like necklaces festooned across the flat surface. The gallery itself mirrors the work—or vice versa—as the majority of the work was made for the show. The arched windows of the gallery are analogs for the sloped tops of the outer frames of each piece. The arches also recall windows from religious structures like churches and temples and other relics of devotional, spiritual realms.
The works morph from snake to necklace to arch—metamorphosis is after all at the heart of the work, inspired by the artist’s own journey through psychological space via ritual or enhanced rite of passage, or dramatic arrival into the vastly different world of a new parent responsible for a young life.
Each work stands on its own, but also becomes entwined with others in a scattered tableau on each wall—in particular the large wall to the left upon entry to the gallery, where three framed works become floating clouds that could bounce from floor to ceiling and each other like sleepy bumper cars.
The works are entirely ceramic, but invoke the language of painting. The outer frames create the edge of a hypothetical support, the boundary within which the narrative takes place. The compositions are constructed of intricately sculpted, carved, and glazed figures, flora, and fauna—characters that act out the stories. The works appear like low relief in photographs, but close up they are quite sculptural—pressing out from the wall in amorphous dimensional bursts, with intricate carving that creates a vastly tactile visual experience. The artist’s background in drawing comes through, as the incised veins, and rivers and valleys of clay covering the surfaces reveal a desire for line.
The negative space between elements mimics a gessoed canvas surface, which is just the white gallery wall, but the shadows cast by the forms and the careful calibration of the power of the composition make the viewer doubt their own eyes. The effect mirrors the mystic and ethereal presence the work imbibes.
Each work sets the stage for a separate miniature drama, complete with tiny sets and actors—from a family of bats framed by an oval-esque cave of fruits and leaves, or a portrait of the artist lying beneath the shade of abstracted tree forms. Sporadically, a child’s mark-making appears, and collaborations with Schiffman’s young daughter appear, most noticeably in the child’s drawing hung with magnets on the gallery door. Journey to the Lower World/Power Animal Retrieval references the psilocybin-laced visions brought on by psychedelic mushrooms, the tiny bodies of which are densely sculpted into a woven mat of fungal forms. The often soft, pastel glazes and myriad animal antagonists evoke an enchanting fairytale mysteriousness. Like many fables and tales, the graceful forms are tinged with danger and darkness from the cracks in the picturesque—a bloodthirsty skunk decapitates a naked figure, snakes prowl parrots, and flames engulf a lone wolf.
Overall, the work is enchanting. The viewer is seduced—mesmerized—into joining in on the story, to become part of the narrative. It’s easy to become lost in the artist’s imagination where reality blends with an abstract universe and one where Schiffman tries to make sense of his role in a journey in many worlds—as an artist, father, and human being.
Review by Emily Burns