New Work by Magdalene A. N. Odundo DBE
Salon 94 proudly presents acclaimed ceramicist Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE's first solo show in New York City since her exhibition at Anthony Ralph Gallery in 1991.
Salon 94 proudly presents acclaimed ceramicist Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE. This will be Odundo’s first solo show in New York City since her exhibition at Anthony Ralph Gallery in 1991. New Work by Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE features ten large terracotta sculptures made over the last five years, fresh from firings over the beginning months of 2021.
Odundo transcends the worlds of fine art and craft. Both putative vessels and abstract sculptures, her works are ceremonial and hint at the origins of function. Composed in elemental materials of English red clay and water, her seemingly effortless sculptures are months in the making. Odundo does not use a pottery wheel, but rather hand-builds her vessels with coils, an age-old technique she learned in the early 1970s from Nigerian women potters. Through a careful process of smoothing the surface and adding slip of the same clay, the British artist manipulates her medium when the clay is both soft and hard, alternating between symmetrical and asymmetrical forms.
Once the clay is leather-hard, Odundo burnishes its surface with stones, polishing tools, and gourds to obtain a high-gloss finish. These instruments leave their own residue on the surfaces, or a careful cut around the lip. The first pots out of the kiln maintain her trademark orange and display deep, smoky, iridescent blacks that are more painterly in this year’s works than ever before. While the deep red-orange of the clay oxidizes in a single firing, the black effects occur through further reduction firings, wood-burning, and Odundo’s specific, nearly alchemical process, honed through years of ceramic experimentation.
Odundo’s craft expands upon a steady and tightly defined vocabulary of form. The astonishing symmetry of her work could be likened to the production of early Ferraris, whose elegant bodies were handmade so that “no two Ferraris are the same”—their streamlined perfection achieved only by hand. Gus Casely-Hayford OBE writes: “She creates work of such completeness that it gives the uncanny impression of being born and not made. In a single line or shape, dialectical oppositions might be imploded in her hands. Her pots’ small bulges, ripe with possibility, heavy with hunger, sublimate death into life and pain into beauty.”
A constant traveler, student, and teacher, Odundo embraces practices from multiple civilizations and time periods: the ancient Greek and Roman technique of terra sigillata (adding a clay slip to the surface), for one; the burnishing of blackware in both Uganda, where she participated in ethnographic fieldwork, and with the work of women potters of Pueblo and San Ildefonso in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Odundo’s references range from Romanian master Constantin Brâncuși and the unglazed and hand-built pottery of the Nupe peoples of Nigeria, to Attic vases, Cycladic marble figures, the ruffs of Elizabethan dresses in sixteenth-century portraits, and the repose of a Degas dancer and beyond. In her words, “You work with clay fluidly and, once fired, it captures that particular gesture and arrests a stance.” In 2019, at The Hepworth Wakefield and Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, Odundo selected such objects spanning over 3,000 years to exhibit alongside some fifty of her vessels.
Odundo’s containers are swollen with pregnancy. As we move around the pots, there are surprises—sensual punctuations—read at once as nipples on a belly, scarification on an elongated neck, or bumps on a smoothly carved gourd. In describing her recent work, Odundo writes, “The form is a development of the asymmetric vessels. For every new exhibition, my intention is always to push for a centerpiece that gives thought to future progression of the concept of symmetry or asymmetry…The work was made after being very ill. I was more concerned with encapsulating the power of healing that can be contained in a clay vessel.”
Odundo prioritizes shape. Metaphorical, her vessels invite us to see bodies and facial silhouettes, and serve as a multicultural touchstone, bridging centuries of ceramics and art history. Gus Casely-Hayford OBE notes: “She forges living, beautiful form from fragmented anthropologies – some ancient, some contemporary, but all exquisitely synthesized with thought and finesse.” An alchemist of sticky earth, her works are proof of the spiritual.
"I’ve always equated clay with the humanity that’s within us, fragile like our bodies. It can tip over. You have it on its toes, but if you push just slightly on the wrong pivot, it will break your heart." — Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE
Odundo was born in Nairobi (1950), raised in India, then educated in Kenya and England. Traversing the world, her vessels contain this biography, as well as the history of pot-making. At Cambridge College of Art in England, she studied African culture and art.Following training in graphic design, Odundo received her BA from the West Surrey College of Art and Design and earned an MA from the Royal College of Art in London in 1982. She has taught ceramics at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design and currently serves as both the Chancellor and Professor Emerita at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), Surrey and Kent.
In 2008, she was appointed Office of the Order of the British Empire, and in 2020 was appointed a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the Arts. She was also awarded the African Art Recognition Award by the Detroit Art Institute’s Friends of African and African American Art. In 2011, she was appointed a Patron & Trustee of the National Society for Education of Art & Design, NSEAD. Her work is in the collections of many international museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Stedelijk Museum Voor Hedendaagst Kunst, Hertogenbosh, Netherlands; The British Museum, London; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; and the Frankfurt Museum for Applied Arts, Frankfurt, Germany. Odundo lives and works in Farnham, Surrey.
Curated by Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Anthony Slayter-Ralph, there will be a full publication to include essays by Gus Casely-Hayford, OBE and Barbara Thompson. The exhibition is in association with Anthony Slayter-Ralph Fine Art.
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