Clay’s a popping

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When I stopped in to see Rain Harris’s “Gilding the Lily” last Tuesday at Temple’s Tyler Gallery the artist’s work was in the middle of a photo shoot. The ambiance was perfect. The pop, pop, popping and flashing of lights seemed just right for work that’s sexy as a starlet preening on the catwalk. (See detail from “Ebb”)

Harris’s porcelain poison bottles, enthroned on matching porcelain shelves surrounded by matching porcelain medallions and backgrounded by matching wallpaper — are beyond gorgeous.

They’re gorgeous taking a nose dive into kitsch — Jeff Koons without the hard on or Kate Moss in a Calvin Klein Poison perfume ad. But unlike kitsch, which aspires to comfort and the quick telescoping of an idea, Harris’s new work is a complex mix that stings as it sings.

It’s the deathly dark side of pleasure.

Harris, a Clay Studio resident artist and Leeway award winner, was dressed like the antithesis of her work — a worker bee in bib overalls and a t-shirt. She told me that the wall pieces grew out of her frustration with pedestals as showcases for her work. A truly extreme reaction but one that makes sense for work that has moved from the floor (in large pieces that resembled botanical forms ) to the wall with subject matter shifting from the garden (and the origins of poison in deadly flowers) to the boudoir’s receptacles that house the poison oils.

There’s always been an anthropomorphic quality to the work. These highly-charged, female or in some cases hermaphrodite forms (neither teapots nor vessels), all non-functional except in the realm of symbol — are a royal court of characters — and another echo of Versailles on the local scene.

Millenial longing for the past or perhaps just a rummaging around in old stuff to find a way to the future, either way installations like Harris’s insinuate more than broadcast, their message a jumble as complicated as today’s front page with its warm fuzzy human interest story and news of the latest car bombings from Iraq. It’s must reading.

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