CONCORD — Thousands of years ago, Ancient Greeks and Mayans knew the myths depicted on their pottery — they were cultural touchstones. Today, ceramics tell more perplexing tales. In “Clay Has Its Say: Narrative Ceramics,” a delightful show at Concord Center for the Visual Arts, curator David Duddy assembles some of the region’s best ceramic storytellers.
Artists here hearken back to clay’s deep history as a vessel for stories. Some, such as Frank Ozereko, allude in format directly to their classical forebears, surrounding vessels with dynamic figures. His “Pruning Deadwood” reads like poetry, one verse after the next: a dog with a fish in its mouth, a flying bird with a lily, and a grim, barefoot man in a tie and dress shirt holding a saw before a potted tree — images of hunting, beauty, and death.
Francine Trearchis Ozereko (Frank’s wife) uses gentler images and less spinning narrative force — images you can settle into, which set a scene with dancing forms and angled lines. “Birds and Laundry,” a series of three porcelain plates, features simplified blackbirds pacing along laundry lines as black clothes with splashes of color wave and dangle.
Angela Cunningham’s works are so formally abstract some might wonder why she’s here. But they swell and blush; their contours are vaguely fleshy, their textures silken, speckled, or ribbed. “Emerge” is nearly frightening — peachily voluptuous but alien, half-covered with barnacles and sprouting a rosy, spiked bud. There is indeed a story in its disturbing contrasts, which prompt reactions of lust and disgust.
There’s something equally uneasy going on in Claudia Olds Goldie’s exquisite sculptures of conflicted women. In “Letting Go,” a woman wearing a striped bikini and an expression of weary confusion holds the end of her long, gray braid in one open hand like an offering, and clutches a pink stuffed rabbit in the other.
Clay abides, and so does storytelling, but the artist’s role has shifted since the 19th century from the bearer of legacies to the questioner of them. That makes the art more intrinsically personal. It places more responsibility on viewers. “Clay Has Its Say,” then, asks a lot of us, but its rewards are plenty.
CLAY HAS ITS SAY: Narrative Ceramics
At Concord Center for the Visual Arts, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through Dec. 13. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.