Alchemy art in Red Deer

Alchemy art in Red Deer

Some artistic alchemy is brewing at the Harris-Warke Gallery.

Some artistic alchemy is brewing at the Harris-Warke Gallery.

Red Deer-based Matthew Boyd and Jennifer Kalika-Kivinen are each showing their solo ceramic projects in the Contemplation + Transformation exhibit. While each artist drew on different inspirations, they created organic art pieces that are complementary in design and also share a certain transformative quality.

Externally, the strange vessels made by Kalika-Kivinen look like large-scale chess pieces that have been surgically cut in half. But their interiors are astoundingly intricate. How this mirror-image symmetry was achieved is confounding since the works were created on the potter’s wheel.

Kalika-Kivinen explained her earthenware vessels — the terracotta Sun Stone and the off-white Moon Stone — were each made in three parts and later stacked and cemented together. The curvaceous interiors were achieved, by “throwing a wall of clay, then sectioning some off,” and adding more clay “doughnuts” as needed.

The end effect is like bisecting a seashell and discovering unexpected beauty.

In another display, Kalika-Kivinen rolled thousands of tiny shell-like pieces with a pencil of out bits of clay. “They might have been occupied by a snail, or some other soft-bodied creature, and then abandoned,” said the artist, who’s always been fascinated by natural history.

Kalika-Kivinen likes that shells contained life before ending up empty in a beachcomber’s pail. Essentially, they morph from a functional to aesthetic purpose.

The Olds native met her partner, Boyd, of Sylvan Lake, while they were students at the Red Deer College visual arts program.

Both artists later continued their studies and graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Boyd’s artwork also has something to do with transformation.

But unlike Kalika-Kivinen’s pieces, which show off their insides, his ceramic objects leave viewers wondering about their mysterious inner workings.

His large Steam Whistle was loosely inspired by the saxophone he played in high school band class. The three-piece artwork is made up of different sized vessels — each with three or five chambers. By blowing air from a generator into the chambers, he can create an “eerie. dissonant sound,” like a lower register train whistle.

His Distillation Apparatus, which resembles a cross between a steampunk instrument and insect-like alien life form, was inspired by the transformative, wine-making process. As someone who brews mead at home, Boyd created Apparatus with an imaginative look, but experimental functionality.

He said the ceramic vessel actually managed to produce a drop of brandy when wine was heated in a lower chamber, and then allowed to condense and drip from an upper opening shaped like a teapot’s spout.

Boyd hopes for better output from a tall ceramic piece that looks like a fountain made of bricks. He tried to recreate in clay the Nepalese process used to make honey brandy. Does this artwork actually function as a distillery? “I don’t know yet,” said the artist.

But a limited number of viewers who come to the First Friday reception on Sept. 2, can take home some small, handmade cups. “If they hang onto the vessels, they can come see if it works,” said the artist, who hopes to fill them with honey brandy when he puts his artistic distillery to the test at his place later this year.

“I like playing with the idea of alchemy,” Boyd confessed, because experimentation can lead to innovation. He notes the mythical process of trying to turn lead into gold actually yielded some happy results: “The first European to make porcelain was an alchemist…”

The Contemplation + Transformation exhibit continues to Sept. 10 in the gallery upstairs at Sunworks in Red Deer. There’s a First Friday reception from 6-8 p.m.


Alchemy art in Red Deer