Clay Under A Cloud

New Works by Alex Kosmas at Australian Galleries

Clay has been under a cloud, as a preferred material in the making of art. Using it has been difficult because the material has been exhaustively used through time. It has been squashed and torn, pummelled, coiled and turned. It has been delicately squeezed and fondled. It gives like flesh, purrs to being stroked.  It is amenable to being shaped and in return the results shape the minds of its viewers.

We all turned away from it in fear that all of what had been done with it would rise like a ghost to  mock our attempts to make our own mark. "You will be nothing but history's puppet," clay declared.

That was true until recently. Clay has returned. Perhaps because of the duration of its absence we are suddenly shocked by the languages it can speak. We are shocked by its unfamiliarity in relation to what the new media have done to us by way of denying experiences of materiality. The smell of it, its wetness, its agreeable nature in accepting a line of argument presented by the user's fingers, clay is new again.

The pleasures we find in it in its new appearances on the art stage please us and they also blind us.

In order to find the new pleasure in it, we need to forget the ways in which clay has been used.

Much of the new clay work is unshaped, as if made by the blind. It is all a blob. Deviate from the blob and you will stumble into history, is what is implicated in the new clay work.

Such a pleasure and such a treat therefore, to find the new clay sculptures by Alex Kosmas at Australian Galleries in Paddington (5th September - October, 2015), which provide an exception to this tendency.

Terra 5, 2015 Ceramic, c.80 x 70 x 35cm

These works are 'shaped.' They are like mountains, memories, imaginings. Are they large objects viewed from a distance? The works appear in clusters of separately modelled parts. The units are autonomous and simultaneously interdependent. Families of mountains. They seem to be eroded, certainly un-vegetated. They are as high as the clay will tolerate. They are the expression of a force of human nature. They are the like The Opera House, reconfigured, rendered Gothicly.

Their shaping is unforced, natural and legitimate. By being uniformly aspirational, there is never a height advantage. They seek no advantage against each other. They are like no Australian range, except in this aspect of their temperament.

Terra 6, Ceramic, 2015

They are like teeth, there is a certain threat in them, menacing, black teeth. Smiling ranges, ominous.

There is an applied horizontal texture on the surface that slows their ascent, that slows the eye in looking at them, that gives a sense of layering over time. They might be mountains. They might also be ant's nests, or some thing of a human scale, rising out of the ground, surprised to find themselves suddenly revealed. They are all hiding from the viewer, huddling. "Don't look at me!"

The works are made from these aspects and also the conversation of shapes that define their character. The shapes are not meandering benignly. The shapes cut and dip, turn and reveal. They are playing a game of hide and seek in which the viewer is compelled to play.

Terra 4, Ceramic, 2015

Alex Kosmas has a wide experience over a range of materials and processes over many years. His original training in ceramics has left a legacy now fruitfully employed. Congratulations!

We look forward to the continuing re-enlivenment of clay in sculpture, and to more shaping.