Don’t miss the chance to see Kathy Smith and Bonilyn Parker at Bunnell

Both of these artists present unforgettable, powerful, emotionally complex pieces that reach out to grab the viewer

Art lovers will be rewarded by an exciting new show at the Bunnell Street Arts Center on view until July 3.

Kathy Smith is a local encaustic artist who deals in Rothko-like emotionally resonant color, and Bonilyn Parker is a Juneau-based ceramist who gives us a cheeky, unique take on porcelain. Although these two artists have very different approaches to their media, Smith working with quick spontaneity and Parker meticulously planning her thematically complex pieces, their points of view are broadly compatible, which makes for a harmonious gallery show. Both artists appeared at the gallery on June 7, speaking to a packed house of friends and admirers.

Encaustic is a wax medium that endows paintings with sculptural depth. It is a difficult medium, often heavy and murky looking, but Smith’s work is energetic and vibrant. Akin to achieving pie crust that is both tender and flaky, Smith’s encaustic work is both light and deep, an artistic feat.

Smith’s work is generated organically through process rather than intellectually from concept. She works on a heated printing plate, transferring her spontaneous compositions onto panel or printing paper rather than canvas.

One of Smith’s wall statements explains that her “artistic focus is on the Alaskan landscape and climate change, as well as … painterly color,” but when asked if her paintings had a narrative, Smith modestly replied that she would rather the viewer find their own.

Overall Kathy Smith’s work is a dynamic synthesis of joy in materials and passionate subject matter that brings the viewer a rich experience.

Bonilyn Parker also works in a tremendously difficult medium. Porcelain is a fine-grained clay with a high glass content that is mostly slip-cast (in which liquid white clay is poured in molds). On the wheel, porcelain feels like velvet spinning through your hands; every other clay feels crude in comparison. But the clay-to-water ratio while working it has to be precisely right: a bit too dry and it refuses to be shaped; a tad too wet and it collapses into a centrifugal mess. As for hand building, or “slab work,” one almost never sees it in porcelain, the queen of clays. It’s a bit like tearing up silk to make a grunge evening gown.

Parker’s pieces combine slip-casting, wheel throwing, and hand-building in witty, culture-critiques that are not simple to construct because each method dries at a different rate. If the components of these pieces are not joined together at just the right time, they will crack apart before firing.

Note Parker’s “Place Setting 4”: whereas traditional porcelain place settings are delicate and refined compared to, say, stoneware, a stack of which will break your back, Parker surprises — and challenges — us with a four-piece place setting that looks, well, like a pile of garbage … until you get close enough to observe its gleam, its many textures, its in-your-face hand-made nature. How much more interesting and precious is this hand-built porcelain compared to mass produced, boring old plates and bowls? With all the crevices, cleaning them might not be easy, but they can be displayed as art when not otherwise in use. In fact, I feel that all these pieces should be cherished and doted upon, not used for consumption, even the coffee mugs with their dilapidated bellies and squat little feet.

Both of these artists present unforgettable, powerful, emotionally complex pieces that reach out to grab the viewer, so get over to Bunnell Street Arts Center to see the show.

July 3 is the last day of the display at the gallery.

April Wilson is a retired advisor and assistant professor of political science (at UAA and UAS) with a PhD in American Studies and an ABD BA in Art History from Purdue University.