Assembling California: Imprinted

Assembling California: Imprinted

Published on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Jon Spayde
Artist Ashwini Bhat making a clay imprint of tree roots in Armstrong Redwoods Reserve in Sonoma, California

Ashwini Bhat in Armstrong Redwoods Reserve in Sonoma, California. Photo courtesy of Ashwini Bhat and Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

The American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) in downtown Pomona, California, has a special relationship with the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, located about five miles away on the campus of Scripps College. For 77 years the gallery has been running the Scripps College Ceramic Annual, and since 2016, AMOCA has given the curator of the Annual a one-person show during the run of the multi-artist showcase.

Curating the latest Annual, which COVID delayed for a year till this coming January, is the Bay Area–based ceramic artist Ashwini Bhat, who will show around a dozen small ceramic objects under the rubric Imprinted—literally imprints in clay of tree branches and other natural elements—plus photographs of her at work in the wild, and a video.

Assembling California: Imprinted

American Museum of Ceramic Art
Pomona, California
January 8 – May 1, 2022

ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat
ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat
ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat

TOP LEFT: Imprint, Petrified Sequoia Langsdorfii, 2021, glazed ceramic sculpture, 8 x 4 x 2 in. TOP RIGHT: Imprint, Laurel Oak Hollow, 2021, glazed ceramic sculpture, 10 x 5 x 1.5 in. BOTTOM LEFT: Imprint, Redwood Elbow, 2021, glazed ceramic sculpture, 9.5 x 7.5 x 3 in. Photos courtesy of Ashwini Bhat and Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

The artist was born in a village in South India, a place where, she says, “I was used to knowing the name of every plant and animal. When I moved to California, everything was very new to me—I knew I wanted to know the region better.”

On weekend hikes with her partner, the poet Forrest Gander, Bhat documented aspects of the Northern California landscape, including trails, tracts of land burned by recent wildfires, and species threatened with extinction. The artistic result was the Assembling California series of individual works, each named after a trail, fire, or endangered species, or as “liquid earth.” The earthy monumentality of these pieces comes alive with twists and off-balance moves, signs of the dynamism of natural and human-authored change. Then Bhat created Assembling California: Imprinted, a set of smaller works that are records in clay of the more intimate surface details of natural objects.

“AMOCA’s building was once a bank, and my show will be in what used to be the bank’s vault,” Bhat says. “It’s an interesting and intimate space, and the small Imprinted works are at the right scale to take advantage of it.”

Earlier Works From Ashwini Bhat’s Assembling California Series

ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat

TOP LEFT: Monk Seal, 2020, is one of Bhat’s endangered species works. TOP RIGHT: Kincade Fire, 2020, clay, underglaze, glaze, and feldspar, 23 x 20 x 15 in. BOTTOM RIGHT: Liquid Earth #2, 2021, clay and glaze, 4 x 7.5 x 2.5 in. BOTTOM LEFT: Earthquake Trail, 2020, clay, underglaze, glaze, feldspar, paint, 22 x 19 x 13 in. Photos courtesy of Ashwini Bhat and Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat ceramic sculpture by ashwini bhat

For AMOCA Executive Director Beth-Ann Gerstein, showing an artist she has known for years as a restless experimenter with ceramic form and an advocate for environmental health and justice is right in line with the mission of the museum, which displays functional and artistic ceramics from all periods, and whose one-person shows often have a strong conceptual component.

“If it’s a concept worth sharing with the public, and it includes clay and tells a story, it fits our mission,” she says. “Ashwini sharing moments of connection with the natural world, and documenting her process with photos and videos, is her way of talking about what we’re potentially losing through climate change. That is a story worth sharing.” | @ashwinibhat

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