Kathy Butterly at Portland Museum of Art (PMA)

Guided by intuition and process, Kathy Butterly sculpts boundless variations of cup and vase forms, each with their own unique complexity. Her exhibition here, “Out of one, many / Headscapes,” presents three decades of ceramics whose material plasticity makes visual the experience of being in a body.

Rather than using a potter’s wheel, Butterly pours wet clay into plaster casts of molds taken from store-bought vessels. While the clay is workable, she twists and pulls the objects until satisfying shapes are found. She adds improvised forms once the objects are dried, building vivid colors through layers of glaze and repeated firings. Some works are pint-size and humorous, while more recent pieces are head-size and solemn.

Fixer, 2018, is pinched and turned to create wiggly undulations at its center. The vessel’s many large handles are loosely angular and call to mind melting windows. Their drooping lobes, dotted with crimson glaze, appear as though they’ve been dipped in a sugary-red sludge. A ring of beads encircles the sculpture’s base like a tiny string of pearls. Butterly’s genius is in combining and harmonizing unexpected elements such as these, representing the unwieldy and excessive states of the body.

I was particularly struck by Core, 2021. As my eyes pored over the sculpture’s bulging surface, slackened handles, and crackled base, my eyes fixed on a kernel of dried clay hidden under the vessel’s midsection. Staring at this point, I was reminded of touching my partner’s body for the first time, my hands discovering an unseen birthmark and feeling surprise and wonder.

Butterly’s vessels evoke the dynamism and imperfection of the human body, yet they don’t adhere to a stoic ideal. Instead, the works are heavily touched, negotiating their environment and embracing the pleasure and ungainliness of our physical world. I found this discovery instructive; it’s in awkwardness that we find each other, where our pretenses are broken down and the possibility for connection emerges.

More from author

Related posts

Latest posts