Art Review: 'Silver' celebrates Robert Sunday's 25 years as an artist

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Robert Sunday is celebrating his 25th year as an artist and consummate craftsman in an exhibition at the Kortman Gallery. You have until just Oct. 2 to experience the Oriental atmosphere that his raku pottery projects.

Raku, an ancient Japanese technique, depends on serendipity as well as Sunday’s obvious skill and experience. His pots are wheel-thrown, then bisque fired. After glazing, the second firing gets really exciting. By pulling the red-hot pot out of the kiln and plunging it into a container of organic materials, serendipity takes over, and lustrous, at times iridescent, glazes emerge.

Esthetically, Sunday’s work is awash with contradictions. Years ago, the world of ceramics was embroiled in a debate about “funk versus function.” Funky ceramics made you think, laugh or reflect, while functional ones held your coffee. Sunday’s pots and urns do both. They are both functional and beautifully sculptural. His traditional forms and 25 years of experience are also contrasted by the chance occurrence of the raku firing. While his geometric Art Deco details contrast, the supple curves of the urns and abstract sections contrast traces of realism.

“Atlantis” is a satisfyingly-shaped jar with a landscape feel to it. The sun (or is it the moon?) sets (or is it rising?) over “water” created with his deep mat-finished glaze. There is a ruffle of treelike brushwork that rests along the horizon with a pale green sky.

This glaze, which signifies Sunday’s skies, takes a marvelous turn in the raku procedure. In the Tuscany Series of tiles, three are placed on a shelf in the gallery. Here, the land is rich, red and brown, and at times, lustrous. The Cyprus trees identify the landscape, but the greenish cast to the sky and the circular crazing of its glaze gives the piece a mysterious tribute to Van Gogh.

Sunday’s tall urns have a unique structure to them. These seem to be thrown very tall, and then the top several inches are folded back onto the pot. This creates a soft-looking pillow of a lip, which extends down the sides of the piece, where it is cut with gentle arches or geometric forms. These tall pieces spectacularly show off his glazing technique, while giving him the space to decorate with silver balls and glossy black geometry.

I can’t finish this article without gushing about the copper glaze in a couple of these works. “Circle of Life” is a wide, shallow piece with a majestic interior. The copper glaze here has depth and a wide variety of shades and markings. It truly looks like an old gong that has seen centuries of use. This bowl may be functional, but its function appears to be that of a gong. Does that make it “funky”?

Any of us who have tried to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel—and we are many—will fully appreciate Robert Sunday’s talent, creativity, experience and, yes, serendipity. This exhibition will be open to the public through Oct. 2 at Kortman Gallery, upstairs from the J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St., in downtown Rockford. They are open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Susan Webb Tregay is a Rockford artist and author. Her book, Master Disaster, 5 Ways to Rescue Desperate Watercolors, was just placed on and will be out in April 2007.

Editor’s note: The photo accompanying this article was taken by Susan Webb Tregay.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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