In her ceramic work, Jessica Jackson Hutchins eschews technically rigorous craft in favor of subtle imperfections that speak about human frailty. Just as the slightest disruptions in the kiln result in visible flaws in her vessels, our bodies are indelibly marked by the incidental, often dramatic misfires of daily life. Thus the Portland-based artist’s bowls and urns exhibit a bodily vulnerability: they bulge, slouch and generally expose their failure to live up to a formal ideal. In a pair of concurrent exhibitions, Hutchins (who was also included in this year’s Whitney Biennial) situated her ceramics in the familiar context of domestic furniture, some from her own home—a kitchen table, chairs, sofas—in an apparent response to Rauschenberg’s dictum to act in the gap between art and life.
For a series of monoprints with collage (2009-10), distributed between the two exhibitions, Hutchins applied ink to the surface of her family’s kitchen table and used it like a woodblock, letting its nicks and scratches tell the physical story of its daily use. Such scarring is especially important to the artist’s idea of family: that the people we are closest to are seldom treated with a light touch. It’s fascinating, then, that Hutchins embellishes these prints with a homemaker’s flair, adhering a teacup, a paperback novel, scrawled drawings of silverware and collaged photographs of opulent bouquets. The unavoidable mark-making of life and the literal damage enacted on the table are mitigated by the prettifying ornamentation.
At Eller, the table itself asserted a motherly presence, in Kitchen Table Allegory (2010); a number of the prints, hung on surrounding walls, orbited like children. Its role in “birthing” the monoprints was suggested by the table’s leaves parted like labia to reveal a symbolic vagina at its center: a rustic bowl with a bright red interior.
Couple (2010) presents a hulking plaster form atop a paint-smeared sofa, whose cushions sag beneath the weight. The plaster sculpture is abstract and its surface strangely mummified, but it suggests a couple frozen in an embrace, balancing between their faces one of Hutchins’s characteristically misshapen ceramic works, with a mottled, dripping glaze. Messy and grotesque, Couple makes no concessions to conventional beauty yet exudes a paradoxical sweetness. In spite of the couple’s seeming disfiguration and dysfunction, their faces are precisely calibrated to stabilize the vessel. This is art that embroils itself in the unwieldy psychology of life and family with a high degree of emotional candor and intellectual sophistication.
Photo: View of Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s Kitchen Table Allegory, 2010, table, ink, ceramic, 391⁄2 by
79 by 42 inches; at Derek Eller.