Christopher Russell, Tall Tortoise Vessel, USA, 2020
In a career spanning over 30 years, New York City artist Christopher Russell has devoted himself to creating unique works of art, functional design, custom architectural elements, and large-scale commissions in an ever-expanding exploration of clay, his principal medium. Originally focused on painting and drawing, Russell was attracted to the malleable properties and endless possibilities of clay, which can traverse the divide between functional and purely aesthetic. Initially translating his draftsmanship to decorative graphic tiles, his work eventually progressed into hand-built sculpture, and most recently decorative vessels.
His latest works are dynamic in structure and decoration. With a concentration on hand-building, something the artist attributes to a familial connection to architecture, engineering, and contracting, Russell eschews throwing pots “on the wheel”. While his geometrically rigid vessels look meticulously planned, the process is generally spontaneous. Process dictates the abstracted forms, but the ultimate goal is largely towards harmony, balance, and symmetry.
Most notable in the recent works is Russell’s energetic surface ornamentation. Patchworks of simple shapes, in hues ranging from natural to artificial, jostle and hug to create cubist patterns akin to pictographs. A combination of black and white underglazes acts as a ground for his precise application of colored glazes, each individually developed by the artist. Employing stencil resists and decorative sgraffito results in work with an unexpected sense of depth.
Equally varied are the competing textures that converge across each surface. Russell affirms that “Texture is the most visceral element in ceramics. It’s the thing that makes you want to touch. There’s design, color and form, but it’s texture that gives a piece its physical life.”
Conclusively the agony and joy in his ceramic practice comes from what is left to chance. Best laid plans are at the mercy of the kiln, making each work a risky venture and each success a treasurable object.
Russell has been the subject of solo shows at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse NY, and the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalie WI. His work has also been exhibited widely in group exhibitions, including at The Bernardaud Foundation in Limoges, France, the Royal West Academy in Bristol, England, the Paul Robeson Gallery at Rutgers University, and WaveHill, the prestigious public gardens in The Bronx, New York. Among numerous private collections his work is also in the collection of Longhouse Reserve: The Jack Lenor Larsen Estate. Notable commissions include a large-scale ceramic wall mural for NYU Langone Hospital, as well as a commission by New York City’s Metro Transit Authority of two sets of cast bronze gates and sculpted finials for the fences that surround the Ninth Avenue subway station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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