The Neoclassical Figure in 21st Century Ceramics

by Susannah Israel.

CAA artist Michelle Gregor brings together world influences.”

Michelle Gregor recently traveled throughout Europe on a well-developed itinerary to see important work from periods and cultures that historically supported sculpture, especially the figure.  Gregor’s take on this time-honored style of representation is beautiful, fluid work that celebrates humanity in the 21st century. The power of the work lies in its beauty and its connection to figurative art across time and around the world.  It is a rare pleasure to engage with.

Gregor is a neoclassic ceramic sculptor with a contemporary flavor, inspired by the urban diversity of the San Francisco bay area, and informed by previous travel to Bali and southeast Asia. The profiles of her lovely early works show kinship with the Gandhara stone temple figures of the 4th century.  Interestingly, Gregor makes not even a nod to ceramic Funk traditions; showing in the very heart of California funk town, she is doing her own thing with grace and quiet power.  The artist’s figurative work is distinctly heroic and robust, with sensuous volumes, lively muscularity and soft areas of vivid local color.

Gregor’s new pieces make a visionary leap from her previous series.  The new figures form a harmonious group, with proportions, gesture and surface beautifully unified.  Gregor has applied the glaze more freely, with exuberant brushwork.  Her palette has expanded with more reds, orange, and light yellow, with delicate shading from light to darker values.  This artist has always been bold in her definitive use of black, which she uses to advantage here again.   A subtle smoothness of the facial features combines with a soft, consistent surface, acting as a perfect canvas for the application of color and value to define each piece as an individual. The life-size figures steal the show completely, despite the appeal and strong composition of their smaller companions in repose. They are distinctly European in sensibility. Their sense of motion is created by full, abstracted drapery that stands in for legs and feet and carries the movement visually down to the floor. There is direction in their gait and purpose in their walk. They are fully self-aware and celebrate that fact. These women are going places, and they know what to do when they get there. We can see them in a plaza in Italy doing the marketing, buying bread in France, or debating the virtues of the newest play in Barcelona.  They are strong and confident, with a sense of their place in the world.

Michelle Gregor distills the best of figurative art traditions worldwide, mixed with contemporary influences, to give us the personal expression of an artist whose first allegiance is to beauty.


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