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Water themed exhibit of works by Chris Tyllia, Lisa Nappa and others opens at Saranac

Local ceramicist Lisa Nappa is passionate about water. Any kind of water. From oceans and lakes to puddles and droplets.

While discussing her upcoming water-themed show, “Displace” at Saranac Art Gallery with the exhibition’s co-organizer Chris Tyllia, Nappa couldn’t help but veer off-topic to show water pics on her phone. Of a gutter.

“I was like on the ground, flipping out about this gutter, and these joggers are running by, going: ‘That lady’s crazy!” Nappa said, bent over her phone. “I don’t know if I captured it, but the reflective quality was amazing.”

“Right, right,” chuckled Tyllia, “Water is mesmerizing.”

Tyllia is a former student of Nappa’s at Eastern Washington University in Cheney where Nappa teaches ceramics. Tyllia later earned a MFA in ceramics at Ohio State University before returning to his hometown of Spokane eight years ago. He also now teaches at EWU.

“(Tyllia) was one of the top ten students I’ve ever had,” Nappa said.

The two artists also work together as members of the non-profit arts cooperative Saranac Art Projects. The show they’ve organized at the Saranac gallery, DISPLACE, opens this First Friday, with an artists’ reception from 5-8 p.m. The works on display will include ceramics by three other artists from diverse areas – Linda Casbon, Linda Swanson and Sandra Trujillo.

“Displace” first opened in Portland last month as part of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference. The theme of the conference was “future flux,” so the subject of water was a natural fit. “It was very successful,” Nappa said. “We’re glad that the timing worked out to bring the show to Spokane.”

“Displace” focuses on water as a resource, a material, and a metaphor. “Water is change, movement and flux,” Tyllia said. “Once water is gone, the clay is frozen in time, it becomes an immutable history and tradition from which to study and evolve.”

Tyllia’s pieces in the show include “Immiscible,” a cast clay with little bubbles of white glaze seemingly floating in a dense mass of molten black glaze. Tyllia cut through the rough piece and polished parts of it to highlight the look of different types of liquids refusing to mix.

“I’m playing with casts almost as if they are water in a liquid state,” Tyllia explained.

Another ceramic exploration by Tyllia is “Desiccation Cracks.” It features multiple layers of underglaze and overglaze decoration, using computer cut vinyl stencils on a silicon carbon kiln shelf fragment. The effect is almost a parched earthscape. Tyllia’s question with the piece is “What happens when water leaves?” he said.

Tyllia’s pieces are typically technically difficult and often labor intensive. He is drawn to exploring the phenomenology of his own artistic methods. “This is where the science and the art blend,” Nappa said. “You can witness his understanding of the materials.”

“I do approach it somewhat scientifically. I want to know what the water will do in the work I’m creating,” Tyllia said. “I’m trying to flash-freeze those moments of water so we can look at it, and figure out what we can learn.”

Nappa’s pieces convey the impermanence of water through the necessarily permanent medium of earth, or ceramics. In “Displace,” Nappa’s water is represented by bundles of hand-rolled translucent porcelain pipes that she made on a wooden dowel. She painted the hollow pipes in the green and blue combinations found in various bodies of water, and laid them on a bed of glass. The glass creates reflections that constantly move as you walk around the piece.

“Every time I set up these loose bundles of pipes it will be different than the last time,” Nappa said. “They change, like water. You can’t ever really control it.”

Nappa’s fascination with water began when she took a vacation to Lake Chelan in 2007. At the time, she was aware that the Burlington Northern’s train refueling depot near Rathdrum was fighting safety regulations designed to protect the source of drinking water for the region.

“It was like a perfect storm, seeing that water and being in love with the beauty of it, while at the same time it was being threatened,” Nappa said.

Nappa’s art has continued to explore the qualities of water ever since. From her ceramic and sculptural works to her window installations and paper pieces, Nappa has conveyed the fleeting beauty and endless changeability of water. The political message is never overt, but it’s always there.

“I don’t want to make one political statement that is only important for one moment, because it is an ongoing thing,” Nappa said. “We need to appreciate our water and take care of it.”

The other “Displace” artists come from various parts of the country and have their own diverse approaches.

New York-based ceramicist Casbon’s wall pieces have multiple associations with cages, leaves, shadows and reflections. “I view the work in the Spokane exhibit, ‘Untitled/Tides’ as a kind of tide marker,” Casbon wrote in her artist’s statement. “I am interested in how the moon, so far away and so constant, engages with the ocean, leaving marks of its passage behind.”

Georgia-based Trujillo’s pieces make the loudest political statement of the show. Her slip cast jar caddies depict the trash and litter she saw along the Gulf Coast. “Cheetos Beach” creates a bright but disturbing narrative.

The final “Displace” artist is Swanson, who teaches ceramics at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Renowned for her large installations, for the Spokane show she will exhibit pieces dealing with the platonic forms of the five elements.

In addition to his ceramic works, Tyllia will also show several drawings and prints he created of rivers and water systems he mapped using data from Google Earth.

“We’ve picked some great artists who bring their different perspectives, some which will resonate with some viewers more than others,” Tyllia said. “We just want people to keep an open mind.”


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