“Emulsion” is a collaboration in clay by Simon Levin and Amy Smith, a study in contrasts that places cold elegance against warm roughness in the same piece, each part reflecting one of the creators.
The exhibition on view at the Eisentrager/Howard Gallery opens with examples of each artist’s works. Wisconsin’s Levin presenting a rough-hewn earthenware “House” with windows across from a series of exquisite lavender porcelain bowls -- one large, seven small from Lincoln’s Smith.
Then the works are paired, most often with Smith’s vessels sitting atop bases created by Levin.
Her cups and plates are smooth surfaced, bright and cool. His trivets are rougher (I touched the art), earth-toned and warm. Placed together, they’re eye-catching.
Working with and against each other, they function as a vessel and its base, giving a kind of priority to Smith’s contributions. But each piece is also a whole made of two components that provide variety and contrasts in color, style and technique to where they hold repeat visual interest.
In their artists’ statement, Smith and Levin talk about the work being a collaborative dialogue on earth and water. In the paired vessel-based pieces, Smith’s cool work is ice, Levin’s warmer pieces are earth, right down to the tones.
Other pieces, however, take that concept in different directions. “Rise Fall,” for example, is one of a series of carved plates with the inner surface suggesting waves crashing against a stone, while in the wall piece “Move,” 18 of Smith’s rimmed plates wash up against and break around 14 of Levin’s flat tivets as if you’re looking at a series of islands from above.
But the theme isn’t needed to appreciate beautifully crafted work like “Warm,” a series of four bluish bowls that sit on a brown tray. “Warm” and similar pieces are utilitarian; the bowls could be used and the tray a fine way to present them. But they’re also art objects in and of themselves.
I can’t recall seeing any similar collaboration in ceramics, which makes “Emulsion” of even more interest. Smith and Levin found a way not only to effectively combine their contrasting styles, techniques and material, but also create dynamic, resonant pieces that would be diminished if one part was separated from the other.
There’s even a bit of study of scale in the show. A long shelf holds 20 pairings of small vessels and bases in all kinds of colors and styles. While alone they might not have the presence of the larger pieces, together they’re impressive.
“Emulsion” is only on view through Tuesday at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Art and Art History’s gallery. It’s a must-see show.