A tangle of rusted metal beside the door to Polly Whitcomb's studio provokes twinges of nostalgia. A heavy 50's bike rim, bed springs, rake tines and other familiar junk, oxidized and dull, are remnants of an era past. These are the materials and soul of Whitcomb's assemblages. Combining rusty scrap with clay elements of her own fabrication, she constructs beautifully composed assemblages for the wall.
Her rustic home and studio in a rural New Mexico village is just down the road from the Pecos River. The studio is a former schoolhouse, then dance hall, then mechanic's garage. In the dance hall days it was called La Sala and a primitive sign above the door announces it still. It feels like a place frozen in a time, redolent of the old days, a time when the trucks, bikes and tools, whose rusted parts now enrich her works, were bright and new.
Whitcomb uses stoneware to create simple, voluminous forms to add another quality of surface and volume to her assemblages. Her vocabulary of shapes is deliberately small, spheroids, pods, and disks and she glazes them in muted tones to complement the aged surfaces of her found materials. Her palette is specific, too. Shades of ochre, grey and blue provide important contrast and dimension to the found elements she combines.
Whitcomb has been creating these assemblages for almost eight years and brings twenty new wall pieces to this exhibit. She has recently been experimenting with a larger format. "With a larger playground there is greater scope for more complexity and more clear space. In general, I'm not a proponent of 'bigger is better' but in this case there is a feeling of freedom, of disregarding issues of weight and simply following where the materials lead...."
She talks excitedly about the new trove of junk she recently discovered and in particular, rolls of old roofing tin. The surfaces are mottled with rust and a white patina she can't identify. Broken passages of tar stain the backside. This is creative gold and has made possible a whole new vocabulary of expression. "It's a partnership between my sensibilities and what I find."
Patina has exclusive representation of her large assemblages and Ivan Barnett, gallery director, is as excited now by her work as when he first saw it five years ago. "Polly has such a brilliant design sense and she's so sensitive to the nuance of surfaces. Her work has wit, humor and sophistication. Her juxtaposition of the clay pieces she fabricates with found objects creates a totally harmonious marriage of materials and ideas."
For years, Whitcomb has supported herself with production pottery, selling tableware and tiles in one or two small galleries. She has a degree in painting but hasn't really painted since college. Nonetheless, she has lived and worked among artists all her life, having lived previously in San Francisco and New York. Shortly after her Patina exhibition opens, she will move her studio to Vermont, bringing an end to more than forty years in New Mexico.
There will be two receptions for Whitcomb's exhbition. The first is July 29, from 4:00 to 7:00. On August 5, Whitcomb will present a gallery talk beginning at 4:00. A public reception and going away party will follow.