SEE FEEL EXPERIENCE


"See, Feel, Experience" - that is the title of this year's exposition of Gerdi Gutperle's works. She shows us paintings and ceramic works that, for the most part, were created during the past two years.

It's only four years ago that Gerdi Gutperle started to experiment with clay as a material for her sculptures. That is a remarkably short time when you consider the large array of different shaping techniques she has mastered. From the very beginning, she leaned towards large sizes and volumes, and she was not afraid to experiment, taking setbacks in her stroll. She knows no fear when confronted with new materials. She is always fascinated by the new, the unknown; she strives to try it out, master it, to finally be able to shape and control it.

Thus during the past two years she created numerous vases and bowls, small and gracile stelæ and large, voluminous sculptures. Her works being mostly abstract, they come to life mostly thanks to the intensive surface processing. Stamping, scoring, notching, deep furrows and grooves lie beneath a glaze that is in consonance with the expressive composition of the clay. The clay is not merely a carrier for the glaze, but enters into a symbiotic relationship with it. Clay, shape and glaze result in the work of art. Not all ceramic artists strive for this kind of union.

If you now look at Gerdi Gutperle's paintings, you can see, in spite of the obvious variety in materials, a common thread in her work. She keeps surprising us with ever new creations, things she had never done before, and she achieves this even though she only started her work as an artist towards the end of the nineties. Her paintings undergo a process of change in stages. Out of paintings in mixed technique - i.e. made from photographs, digital processing and over-painting - she creates new works by applying new materials over them. The artist finishes her works, only to bring them forth years later and re-process them. This can happen once, twice or even three times, and each editing is neatly noted on the rear. Most of the time, the reworking is performed to achieve a livelier surface texture. And so we arrive at a common element between her paintings and her ceramics works: the haptics of her reworked paintings remind of her ceramics. But also the motifs and shapes can be recognised both in her two-, as well as in her three-dimensional works. Figures, movements, floral and abstract motifs - these subjects occupy the artist's mind and intuitively find their way into her artworks.

Clay is soft and yet offers a good grip. It clings to the artist's hand and allows itself to be shaped, felt and experienced. This can be a very immersive, intense physical and mental experience for an artist. While working with clay, the artist feels connected to the Earth, he grounds himself through contact with the material and brings forth something new. Gerdi Gutperle calls this "volcanic activity".

But clay is a wilful material, and the artist does not always achieve what he set out to do. Stability is especially important with large sized works. If the drying process and the first firing were successful, then the piece is glazed or painted. At this stage, the artist can exert much control over the final look of the work of art, but the fire always adds an element of randomness and surprise. That is precisely what makes Gerdi Gutperle's works in the Terra Sigillata technique so interesting. She draws from this technique developed by the Romans, which is over 2.000 years old, and yet she succeeds in giving her works a completely new look. The ancient Romans' shaped their tableware on the potter's wheel, and the more ornate pieces were embellished with relief on the walls. The dark red or orange engobe - a thin, runny preparation of clay mineral used to provide colour to ceramic products -, was applied to the clay dishes once they reached the consistency of leather. After a long, costly firing process which lasted several days, the ovens released delicate, slightly glossy vessels. They can still be admired in numerous museums throughout Europe.

Gerdi Gutperle subjects some of her cubiform sculptures to this costly and time-consuming technique. The items, which are made from fine white clay, are polished with glass stones until they attain a beautiful, smooth surface. Then they are packed in palm bark, metal shavings, cotton wool and sawdust and left to the whims of the fire. The resulting works show a lively, and yet harmonic surface. The colour wraps itself around the object in brown-red, soft gray and dark black clouds. The subtle shine lends the compositions a noble look.

 

By sheer chance Gerdi Gutperle discovered that it is possible to draw with horsehair onto a ceramic substrate. Small slabs of fine white clay are fired at 1600 ºC (2900ºF). Then the artist draws onto the still hot ceramic with horsehair. The hair burns up, and what remains are abstract drawings with soft brown lines and surfaces.

 

Working with clay and fire requires a lot of patience and technical skills. The artist must learn about materials, techniques, chemistry, fire and their interactions. Only in this way the result is a valuable work of art. Sometimes, though, the unexpected happens. For example, the sculpture "La Reunión" resulted when several independent works unintentionally fused on a common substrate. Chance conspired to take away from the artist's will even the colour composition, leaving it up to the "new friends".

Let's take a short detour and revisit the history of pottery and ceramics. Objects made of clay are among humanity's oldest artificial articles. Earthenware has been in households for a very, very long time. Pottery, whether for everyday use of for ornamentation, became very popular, especially after the Second World War, and underwent a constant evolution regarding shape and colouring. The use of clay as a material for free sculpting was only developed towards the middle of the 20th century. Up until then, objects made of clay were primarily cast, and very rarely were they freely shaped. Even then, it was only as three-dimensional models (so-called Bozzetti) for larger works to be made from bronze. Great ceramists created ever new shapes and the most unusual glazings. Walter Popp wanted to break with this tradition and created sculptures which, while they borrowed from the shape of traditional vessels, were devoid of purpose. His pupils at the Kasseler Gesamthochschule further developed his ideas and influenced future generations. Up until the mid-nineties of the previous century, ceramics enjoyed a high status among the general public. Numerous ceramic museums were opened up; both private and public collections were created and ceramic awards were granted; and many exhibitions showed vessel ceramic and ceramic sculptures side by side. Suddenly all that ended. I can only explain it by a sudden change in consumer behaviour. The fact remains, though, that the creation of ceramic and china artworks goes on, albeit sometimes nearly in secret. This art form is fascinating and diverse - and completely underrated.

Gerdi Gutperle through her art makes an important contribution to the continuation of a forgotten art form. As an artist, she will surely continue surprising us with some of her creations.

The title of the exhibition, "To see, to feel, to experience", can be viewed from a different angle, namely the humanitarian commitment of Gerdi and Werner Gutperle. In 2002, they brought into being the Gerdi Gutperle Foundation, with the stated goal of helping ill children and provide them with an improved quality of life. In 2008 the Gerdi Gutperle Agasthiyar Muni Child Care Centre accepted the first stationary child patients for treatment.

The complete proceeds from the sale of Gerdi Gutperle’s works of art goes towards financing - at least part of - the cost of this humanitarian project.

You can also support this project by acquiring one of these valuable works of art.

Dr. Bettina Broxtermann, November 2014