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Art Review: ‘Flow: Recent Iterations in Clay’ at Borelli-Edwards Galleries |
Art & Museums

Art Review: ‘Flow: Recent Iterations in Clay’ at Borelli-Edwards Galleries

The Associated Press
| Wednesday, April 2, 2014 9:07 p.m
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
NEST Laura Jean McLaughlin Borelli-Edwards Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Selected Plates Laura Jean McLaughlin Borelli-Edwards Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gator Wagon Laura Jean McLaughlin Borelli-Edwards Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Phooey Kevin Snipes Borelli-Edwards Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Trapeze Artist Laura Jean McLaughlin Borelli-Edwards Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Wild West Goblet (left) Cat Ride Laura Jean McLaughlin Borelli-Edwards Gallery
“Sugar” by Kevin Snipes

The exhibit “Flow: Recent Iterations in Clay,” on display at Borelli-Edwards Galleries in Lawrenceville, features a perfect pairing — the work of ceramicists Laura Jean McLaughlin and Kevin Snipes.

McLaughlin makes fun and funky ceramic sculptures and platters that feature a cast of characters drawn from her subconscious, and Snipes creates equally quirky pieces that include characters influenced by people he’s met.

Locals may know McLaughlin as the former co-owner of Awesome Books, which had locations on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, and in the storefront of McLaughlin’s studio building on Penn Avenue in Garfield.

But she became a clay artist long before opening the bookstore with co-owner and fellow artist Bob Ziller. And, her work was always of the figural kind.

“I have been making figurative sculptures since I started working with clay, but they have been getting sparser and simplified more recently,” she says of the work in this show.

Here, pieces like “Nest,” which features a seated figure with a bird’s nest for a head, and “Cat Ride,” which features a cityscape filled with cats, show the artist’s surrealistic side.

These pieces, like the larger work “Trapeze Act,” are both precarious and wild-spirited thanks to their subconscious beginnings.

“I go through a similar process with all of my work, where I set up a canvas of clay, be it a platter or a sculpture, and then I draw into the clay, never second-guessing a mark that I make,” she says. “This is how the surrealist artists worked, and I try to stay in that zone or the ‘tacit dimension,’ where you really aren’t thinking at all and your subconscious just takes over.”

McLaughlin says the sculptures typically take a week to about a month to make.

“But I always have a handful of sculptures going at one time, so I work on many of them simultaneously,” McLaughlin says. “The majority of the work in the show was made in the last three months, but almost all of the work in the show was made over the last six months.

“With clay, there are always challenges, things cracking, glazes not doing what you think they are going to do,” she says. “Things crack more and the clay slumps, etc., but the rewards are great because the surface is so much richer and more subtle, which is what I was going for in the show.

“Clay is the best lesson in life,” she says. “You can work on something for a very long time, and then it will blow up or fall and break, so it teaches you supreme patience. It is kind of the underdog in the art world, and I think that this is another reason that I really love it. Endless possibilities but lots of trials and tribulations to get something to work, but nothing else is quite like it. To be able to form your canvas into any shape or form and then to be able to illustrate on this dimensional canvas is thrilling and challenging to get it to work. I never get bored of it.”

The show also includes several pieces by Kevin Snipes of Cleveland, who McLaughlin met about 14 years ago in Chicago while doing a show.

“We collaborated on work in 2001 in Maine at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, in New Castle, Maine, which is a clay residency program where we passed work back and forth, both drawing on the pieces that both of us made,” McLaughlin says. “I still have the one piece that we made together in my living room.”

In January 2013, Snipes was part of a three-person exhibit titled “Bridge” at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District. “When I saw that he was going to be in Pittsburgh, I went to hear him speak … and we have since been collaborating.”

The two have since become a couple and have traveled to Europe together twice this past summer, first to Paris to celebrate Snipes’ 50th birthday. “And to check out all of the amazing galleries and museums at the end of his three-month residencies in France and Rome,” McLaughlin says. “And then we presented at a clay conference in Tolne, Denmark, and did a collaborative workshop in Cork, Ireland, in September.”

Looking at both artists’ works, it’s not hard to conjure a kinship. Like McLaughlin, Snipes combines atypical pottery forms with quirky figurative drawings, and he often uses written text in the form of cartoonlike word bubbles, or notationlike scribbling, to give the viewer clues into the unfolding stories.

In Snipes’ work, people he knows become quirky childlike representations of themselves, as in the piece “Sugar,” which is based on a friend who is an engineer and includes a mathematical equation alluding to that aspect.

“I like to think of my work as ‘sweet and spicy’; not too much of either, with a good dash of humor,” he says. “There is an uncertain sense of edginess or mystery that offers the viewer just enough information, so that they can extrapolate his or her own stories.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

Categories: Museums
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