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Robert Hudson and Richard Shaw create sculptures that would do Lewis Carroll proud.

Tease for Two


The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings ..."

Why does Lewis Carroll pop to mind upon entering the ceramic world of Robert Hudson and Richard Shaw? Could it be because these two men are having such serious fun overturning logic and extracting from the etiquette and architecture of the parlor to parlay it into the most absurd and delightful things?

Hudson and Shaw have created a "contrariwise" tea service for a topsy-turvy society set. They have also created some troublesome bottles — bottles, which, if put into use, would certainly transform any ordinary fluid into an unstable elixir that might make the unwary user very small, or very large, or in need of radical deprogramming. Devout collectors of domestic porcelain treasures should be forewarned: the cat planter, and Blue Boy and Pinky figurines have been appropriated.

Hudson and Shaw met in the early 1970s and began a 30-year collaboration that has generated hundreds of amalgamated sculptural forms from porcelain, helping to spearhead the "crossover" evolution of craft. Shaw was the first of the two to explore clay as a medium for sculpture. Deviating from his graduate work in earthenware at the State University of New York at Alfred, he was beginning to experiment with porcelain when he invited his friend Hudson, a painter and sculptor, to consider a joint project. The extraordinary work that began to emerge from the collaboration inspired Suzanne Foley, then the curator at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now curator at the Bayly Museum in Charlottesville) to arrange an exhibition around this groundbreaking collaboration. In 1996, the two artists relocated to Andover, Mass., to begin a residence program at Phillips Academy. It would culminate in this exhibition which first opened at the Addison Gallery of American Art and has been brought to the Hand Workshop galleries by curator Ashley Kistler.

Kistler invited David Noyes, installation designer for the Virginia Museum, into the early plans for the show, and he has designed a cheerful environment of display tableaux supported by the type of bases usually found on those particleboard "decorator" tables that inevitably monopolize the furniture section of the thrift store. Viewed from above, they look like a busy day at the San Andreas fault. Shaw's and Hudson's colorful porcelain constructions mingle upon these elevated platforms as if they were emptying busloads of agitated tourists. "Blue Boy," a popularized figure taken from a Thomas Gainsborough painting, makes some repeat appearances throughout. In "Red Feather Box" he's been drawn and quartered. Polarized into halves, he is part human zebra of high-contrast black and white on a faux-wood keepsake box. "Blue Red Line" has him balancing on a jury-rigged axis, foot to foot with a found china figurine dressed in a red kimono. And the incredibly wonderful "Whispering Jar" has just his head suspended midway up and facing in toward the strange vessel to which he appends, confessing his deep blue secret.

Several favored icons are bantered back and forth between Shaw and Hudson to endless imaginative result. The Ionic column, dice, a deconstructed violin, the doggy barbell and target color wheels are incorporated in both artists' mixed-metaphor constructions that pretend to be vases or teapots — or rather, "teasepots." It's often hard to tell who made what in the jumble of gesturing shapes. As you look around, guessing, it will help to know that Shaw is the one who inclines towards decal ornamentation and casting from culture's castoffs. Hudson takes a more painterly approach to his surfaces and will add a found object now and then. Taking turns, these two co-conspirators give each other the floor to be awkward, courtly, silly, sublime and totally madcap.

G.K. Chesterton, writer, theorist and proponent of Lewis Carroll, is quoted as saying that nonsense is a way of looking at existence that is akin to religious humility and wonder. I don't know whether this is the perspective of Hudson or Shaw, but for those who are skeptical of the significance of nonsense, it is an outlook to consider.

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