JAN 01, 2022

Rick Hintze: Born of the Soil at Guild Gallery, New York City


About the Show

As its second exhibition, this new gallery brought in Wisconsin potter Rick Hintze for a show consisting entirely of sizeable stoneware vessels, each cryptically dated 2010-2021. Hintze has been making functional pottery since the 1970s, and while he is not confined to a signature style, all his work over the years - functional, vessels or sculpture - has had a consistent character of modesty yet persuasiveness. The works on view here have not abandoned that low-key harmony in favor of exaggerated form, vivid colour, savage surface or sociopolitical content, the usual routes to ceramic celebrity today. Instead, they made me think of the late Warren MacKenzie's description of his own work as being the product of the quiet midwestern landscape. Hintze shares that recessive assurance.


With the exception of two white vessels, the entire show has a palette in the yellow/ burnt orange/brown spectrum (iron stain and ochre or wood-ash slip). Surfaces are generally matte, and marks are small. A first view from the doorway of this narrow and deep storefront gallery might make one think that everything is too much alike. But moving through the space, past the elegant beige scrims that divide it, reveals the contrary: the longer one looks, the more distinctive each work seems and the more one perceives the artist's deliberation and touch. The absence of dazzle makes every subtlety more apparent.


Hintze has a gift for form. Most of the works make the usual pottery allusion to the human body, but in this larger scale (typically about 17 inches or 43.2cm tall) they equate to the torso. Many seem to invite an embrace. Except for five cylinders - two of which are the tallest works in the show at nearly 4 feet or 1.2m tall - Hintze distinguishes most forms with the appearance of stacking, although they are entirely coil-built. The swelling of the pot may consist of pneumatic curves but just as often somewhat sharper in-and-out profiles. True necks show up only a couple of times. Although usually taller than they are wide, the majority have large mouths, allowing a view of an interior that has, in the smaller pieces, a glossy and dark tenmoku glaze.


Overall, the works' predominant effect is softness — in color, in profile, in casually imperfect lips. This description is most true of the surface. The two white vessels are brothers but not identical twins. Both are marked with horizontal incisions that return about a quarter inch (or 0.6cm) off their departure point and are finished with two tiny vertical lines that together with the horizontals make a box. A box is also an occasional inflection in the surface — stamped — along with an incised right triangle, or a square standing on point, or a brief zigzag or other such code-like marks, which, on the non-white works, hide amid the streaky or mottled colouration. It seems necessary to ponder these clues. Are they map markings? The same invitation to "read" is present when marks are not stamped or incised but brushed. There are some X marks. The loose placement of all the marks makes them seem to drift in space, as if wind-blown or otherwise eroded; only the few horizontal lines like those on the white vessels have a clear orientation toward the structure of the pot or the stabilising orientation of the pedestal. (And one might note that Guild's pedestals are beautiful custom- made white oak boxes.) Once or twice a ladder motif is inscribed or painted. Two vessels are covered with understated vertical lines, roughly parallel, that might evoke a plowed field.


The exhibition title, the colour of the works, and the map insinuation all point toward landscape as the visual motivation. It's curious, then, that the colour is more akin to a desert landscape than to the rich farmland and dairy land of Wisconsin - although of course, different colours of clay can appear elsewhere, and artists can be inspired by a visited landscape as much as that of home. But I'm inclined to think they are a dream of a place rather than an evocation of one. The combination of allusion to land and the body scale gives them a gentle but compelling aura, a kind of charismatic introversion, if such a thing is possible. The vessels are less often the exterior definition of a volume and more often presences - steady, stable, stoic. Hintze, who has studied art history as well as ceramics, acknowledges interest in ancient Chinese pottery and African constructive methods. Yet his works are not weakened by a great debt to either. Like the best pots, they seem to exist out of time, and so do those markings, which are familiar as much from prehistory as from computer screens. This is a satisfying and comforting achievement.