NORMAN — The community came together Thursday night to celebrate the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and distinguished artist Christine McHorse whose exhibit “Dark Light: the Micaceous Ceramics of Christine Nofchissey McHorse” will open to the public Sept. 14.
Garth Clark, international art historian, author and founder of the nonprofit group Ceramics Arts Foundation, served as keynote speaker of the Wylodean Saxon Lecture and provided insight and a sense of meaning into McHorse’s exhibit.
McHorse’s works utilize the dynamics of architecture tectonics such as shape, mass, volume and lines. Each piece is radically different, Clark said.
“Her work has an extraordinary feeling of unity,” Clark said. “People do not necessarily see her work as native.”
Although McHorse studied pottery and jewelry at the Institute of American Indian Arts, McHorse did not grow up with a focus on her Navajo heritage. Clark said McHorse’s works show influence of her Navajo roots and the Taos, N.M., area, where she studied pottery under an apprenticeship with Lena Archuleta, but her works have never been confined by taste, tradition or clay.
To create her pieces, McHorse uses mica-rich clay that she harvests from riverbeds in northern New Mexico and fires to a black sheen. The unique nature of the mica-rich clay produces a form with both shadows and highlights that inspired the name “Dark Light.”
With flowing, unbroken lines, most pieces are coiled in one continuous process, making them very different from traditional pottery that is cut and joined.
Clark explained that after many years of creating more traditional cooking vessels, McHorse decided to leave utility and tradition behind to pursue the shapes that had always haunted her.
“Christine feels the clay was her destiny from the outset,” Clark said.
Lecture attendee Brennah Jones, 18, an OCCC student of Norman, said even though she wasn’t particularly interested in ceramics, she was interested in art in general and was excited to hear about McHorse.
Other patrons of the arts agreed with Jones, like Dick Carlson, of Norman, who said he hadn’t seen anything like McHorse’s work before.
By sketching the forms of her work on a blackboard before touching the clay, her pieces may evolve but end up much like they are first imagined, Clark told to attendees.
Movement is a big part of McHorse’s’ sculptures. Clark said everything in her work moves such that it is primordial, a movement of nature.
“Her shapes are determined by enlisting and abstracting, the same way water and air shape the Southwest landscape,” Clark said.
McHorse’s work “Nautilus,” for example, expresses an inner lightness that one can feel as the light passes through the negative space of the coil at the top. Clark said contemporary ceramists see McHorse’s work as modern sculpture similar to Magdalene Oduno, an influential ceramic artist out of London.
“The first impact of the work is the dynamics she uses. Ethnicity is but an echo,” Clark said and went on to suggest that McHorse’s exhibit implies she has just begun to push the limits of the kiln.
Even though McHorse has only cast one piece in bronze, she has not allowed clay or tradition to define her work and in the future something more may develop, Clark said.