A material in its innate form, untouched and unscathed by assumptions, inclines towards certain expressions and silhouettes—as if they call to its inherent materiality. Although the shapes a material can assume are innumerable, the shapes that are authentic derivatives of its character are not too many. We often come across objects conceived through a process wherein the hands are puppeteered by pre-defined thoughts and ideas, leaving little or no leeway for intuitive responses. But once in a while, we encounter a sculptural entity where the sheer nature of the material is the creator, while the sculptor, is a mere medium. A whimsical body ensues from such a process, speaking of the beauty that is born from letting go of control and its power to stir the emotions of the onlooker. Then again, what is art if not the courageous act of surrendering?
Continuing its expedition to platform new dialogues between ancient and modern fine art and design, the Guild Gallery presented Maggie Wells: On the Nature of Things, the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York. A native of New York City, Wells sculpts an oeuvre of biomorphic, intimately scaled sculptures, infused with the human touch for an effect that is both quaint and organic. On the Nature of Things showcased over 60 new and recent clay sculptures by the artist, alongside ink drawings that enunciate her intuitive approach towards materials and her exploration of undulating shapes that provoke an emotional response from the viewer. Warmth, rich surfaces and wonder became protagonists of the intimate ceramic art that adorned the exhibition space from February 9 to March 25, 2023.
With expertise in painting, Wells has refined her creative process over the last six decades, dabbling with a range of mediums and materials. Her work, which is rooted in abstraction and the continuous evolution of composition and form, spotlights her fascination with Abstract Expressionism. Post her graduation, Wells moved to San Francisco to pursue a career as an artist. She returned to Manhattan 12 years later, and moved into a loft off Canal Street where she partook in the first wave of artists of her generation to settle in Tribeca. Her ceaseless search for new forms led her to ceramics and sculptural art. As of today, Wells paints and draws, primarily in ink and gouache, and makes ceramics at Greenwich House Pottery. Her forms are organic abstractions—limbs, heads, and torsos—culminating from a journey free from conscious intention. In her ceramics, Wells refrains from emphasising technical expertise and chooses unassuming surfaces to make an emotional impact through their form.
The shapes that Wells brings to life in her clay sculptures and her drawings are guided purely by cognitive responses to the materials and their raw expression. Each sculpture originates from an inspiration drawn from natural surroundings, later translated into a sketch on paper. Wells then employs her coiling technique to animate abstract compositions and morph them into three-dimensional shapes. For her distinctive surfaces, she picks from two finishes: terra sigillata, which shrinks in the bisque fire and results in a crackled surface, and majolica with a shiny glazed finish. She evokes the language of abstraction, channelling it sensitively across all her work with a sanguine use of line and surface texture. Handcrafting her sculptures, she forms and reforms a shape as it transforms from something arbitrary and intricate to a work that is simple yet whole. For this solo show, Wells unveiled pieces that actuate an experience, teeming with a sense of delight as one moves around the artwork. “I am constantly turning the piece to make a form that is interesting from all angles—thus the experience of looking at them can always be refreshed,” states Wells.
Founded by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, Guild Gallery is an offshoot of Roman and Williams Guild. The gallery honours the legacy of decorative arts through exhibitions of contemporary artists and designers and respective media. With the spotlight on natural materials such as clay, wood, and stone, Guild Gallery brings artists and exquisite craftsmanship to the forefront. This time around, the exhibition space resounded with Wells’s creative melodies emanating from her paintings, drawings and sculptures. A selection of Wells’s ink and gouache drawings found their place beside her sculptures to further shed light on the artist’s diverse practice—and pursuit of creativity in both art and life. With On the Nature of Things at Guild Gallery, located at 321 Canal, it is almost like Wells made a homecoming to her early artistic roots on Canal Street.