Clay Sculptures Inspired by Man and Nature

AVARA LEODAS of Santa Fe, N.M., makes objects in clay - weighty, solid, mysterious, elegant sculptures. Her simple forms may at first glance appear to spring from nature, but many have been inspired by man-made objects. The surface textures sometimes resemble stone and sometimes steel, echoing the balance she achieves between nature-made and human-made inspiration. But the surfaces of these archetypal shapes also suggest ancient civilizations - an evocation of the history of human life on earth.

In fact, the artist herself says that they remind her of artifacts found in an archaeological dig. The analogy becomes clear when looking at her current installation at the Robischon Gallery in Denver. As single items, the shapes are marvelous small sculptures. But placed in relationship to each other, the metaphors they evoke are endless - depending only on the imagination of the viewer. The fact that the objects remind us of tools as much as they do of organic and aesthetic objects reinforces the archaeological metaphor.

``This work is a tremendous departure from what I've been doing for the last 17 years,'' Leodas says. ``There are a lot of connections, but the transitions are really important to me. I was doing these large vessels up to three feet in diameter. There are some similarities [between the old and the new work] in what the forms are about - classic, simple, elegant, unadorned work. The vessels, though, are intensely glazed in jewel-like tones.

``People like to make reference to my Aegean heritage - the deep underwater blue and green. For me, it was a process of refinement, trying to make the perfect one. I worked with only six or seven forms, and I dealt with balance and proportion. For example, if I was working with an oval shape, I would do it tall and narrow or wide and short - playing with proportion that way.''

There came a point, however, when she reached the end of her experiments with vessels, when she had done everything she needed to do with that application of her medium.

``I knew I had to change what I was doing, but I had no idea how. After the buildup of my reputation, it was just like being a baby....

``These new forms are all closed - as opposed to a vessel, where I am thinking about inside-outside, containing space. This body of work was a tremendous outpouring I did not plan at all. I did not plan or think about how one was leading to the next one. I just made them....''

Leodas says these objects have been influenced by her love of tools. ``When I was thinking about the new work, I went to a blacksmith friend's shop, pulled out his tools, and photographed them. There is just something about the well-made tool that really does its job....'' There is a piece that ended up looking like a tire rib, another that resembles a blacksmith's hammerhead, and another whose form derives from the disc between the vertebrae of a whale.

In the end, she believes (and the viewer can plainly see) that the forms are both very personal and at the same time universal. The artist's passion for clay is as plain as her exquisite formal achievements, her sense of fun as apparent as her expertise in the medium.

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