Sophisticated Folk

Bill Stewart at  Axom Gallery

The complex character of the folk art inspired ceramic creations of Bill Stewart, on view now at the Axom Gallery, can be quite funny and demanding at the same time.  I have one of his little pieces at home (it is a clown) and I am always amused by its outward expressiveness and its determined nature to go against art world trends.   I am all for going against the demands of the system, I like to challenge the norms as well, and so in part I am attracted to Bill Stewart’s art because of the freedom he has to be himself and to let things develop, without always having to look over his shoulder at what should  be done.
Totemic figures by Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart, in this outing at the Axom Gallery, brings a darker side to the party – and not just because the majority of the glazes he now uses are blackish to begin with.  The closest thing I have seen to this art (from my point of view) are the figurative ( and funereal ) painted wood works from New Ireland, an island chain in Papua, New Guinea.  This thought struck me as I looked at the two figures (above) that Stewart combines in a little boat.
The ceramic figures sometimes hide their faces under a hat, or curls of black hair, or sometimes a form that just looks like a mudpie, and this once again conjures up images of body painting and head-gear that I associate with art of New Guinea.
Bill Stewarts’ artwork is popular with people and a whole horde of them came out to hear him speak about his process as an artist and a teacher.  Listening to his introduction, one could understand where he was coming from – the vital period of the early 1960’s when many ways of doing things were being challenged.  Bill said that he was enamored of children who “can take disparate objects and put them together” and all the elements would play as an ensemble.
His continuity of artwork is really amazing, and it has the stamp of an American original and his work has had an influence on many people, and other artists for certain.  If you only know the airport figures that greet you at the terminal, you don’t know that he has made many more interesting things during his decades long career.  He makes a spiritual, cultural, and political statement in many of his standing totemic figures, some of which are just plain wacky, and others will bite just like a badger.
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