Surface Library ceramist embraces a new aesthetic

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Potter Bob Bachler has always had a serious practical streak when it comes to his ceramics. For decades, he’s created bowls, platters, plates, teapots, cups and more. He even developed his own chopstick bowls that are fitted for an inverted plate on top featuring notches to hold the eating utensils.

He formed a company and traveled the tri-state area presenting his work at craft fairs. For 40 weekends a year, from spring to Christmas, he’d exhibit at events like the Lincoln Center Craft Fair in Manhattan, the Annual Art & Craft Show in Norwich, Connecticut, and juried craft shows in New Jersey. When he lost the lease on his New York studio, he decided to take a hiatus.

In a sense, he never went back. Now, he divides his creations between functional pottery and more and more art pieces that might have more practical origins.

Mr. Bachler began pushing aesthetic envelope after he and the painter James Kennedy opened Surface Library in Springs several years ago. In changing exhibitions, the gallery puts on view art made with unusual materials. The space is divided between gallery and studio, where Mr. Bachler makes his ceramics and Mr. Kennedy makes his paintings.

While he still creates sushi sets, plates and platters, Mr. Bachler began branching out to furniture. In some pieces, clay is transformed into art pieces that form the legs under tabletops. In others, the ceramic is fused with wood or other material to form stools, tables and other fine art pieces. This kind of creativity was part of the plan when the two men envisioned an atelier with an exhibition space.

Now, Mr. Bachler has ventured even further into the art arena. He decided to create a body of new work that retains his penchant for the practical but falls firmly in the realm of art. These new pieces are part of the current show, “Fire + Smoke,” at Surface Library.

Also on view are pieces by seven other clay artists who use fire and smoke to create fine art ceramics. The artists include Bob Brisley, Diane Giardi, Phyllis Hammond, Jack W. Laney, Peter Langmack, Pat Swyler and Jana Hayden. The show officially kicks off the exhibition season for Surface Library.

Each piece by Mr. Bachler launches from the practical and leaps into his artistic vision. One metallic-looking work, for example, is actually a gong that takes the shape of an armour vest, which cropped up during a collaborative series with Mr. Kennedy several years ago.

Once Mr. Bachler began wending his way into the creative process, he discovered his own vision which combines the tribal with a futuristic feel. That same piece conjures imaginings of secret ceremonies held in the jungle by a forgotten culture or an Asian welcoming ritual. Amid the ancient is a futuristic zing with a heavy dose of “The Matrix” woven into the mix.

While the gong appears to be one solid piece suspended from a pole that links two angular columns, the bell’s body is made up of clay pieces that were wheel-thrown, cut apart and assembled together. Afterward, the clay is manipulated and can be layered with different materials to give a unique surface texture to the piece.

“I’m basically a potter,” Mr. Bachler said. “My work is wheel thrown and altered by hand.”

A series of egg-like sculptures in gray and tan colors created by a smoldering fire can look like dinosaur eggs, or gigantic river rocks in a range of colors, or even Buddhist prayer beads. The shapes evolved from an oval-shaped vase Mr. Bachler had created in his recent work.

The sculptures have a slick surface and feel silky smooth to the touch. After picking one up, it seems to cry out to be cradled and gives comfort. The sculptures are designed to be visually appealing and inviting to the touch, he said.

“I want them to be touched and to be held,” Mr. Bachler said during an interview before most of the work was finished. “I like something of the practical. I made functional pottery for most of my life so it’s what I’m most comfortable with.”

After he got used to the flow of creativity, making art from ceramics proved to be satisfying. He said nothing beats the feeling of manipulating clay or working on a wheel, with the possible exception of seeing the joy and satisfaction his ceramics bring to those who make them part of their daily life.

“That’s the best part—when people have bought a bowl or a cup and come back to buy another piece and tell me how much they enjoy my pottery,” he said. “There’s something special about using something that’s made by hand. You can’t get the same feeling from ceramics that are factory-made.”

Mr. Bachler exhibits primarily at Surface Library, where he creates pottery and accepts commissions. He is part of the Spring Pottery Sale at Celadon Gallery in Water Mill that runs weekends only through May 18.

“Fire + Smoke” will remain on view through May 25 at Surface Library, 845 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. For information, visit www.surfacelibrary.com or call 291-9061.

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