Nebraska Now: Michael Strand, Ceramics

April 17– July 3, 2010 —

Michael Strand’s recent body of work titled Mantra is a contemplative and methodical “marking of time” as expressed through the creation of slick, subtle, variously shaped and sized ceramic wall pieces. Twenty works comprise this exhibition and range from singular, primarily monochromatic clay slabs to a large work entitled Code made up of 30 small, glossily glazed and colorful organic “squares.” While these two types of work seem to diverge, they are a visual dichotomy of the artist’s world view. The artworks, in effect, become artifacts of this thought process and the resolve often found within.

Trained as a sculptor, painter, and ceramicist, Strand draws on his background to create work that walks the line between three dimensional, two dimensional, and even interactive. With Mantra, the artist crosses boundaries between painting and ceramics with a concentration on surfaces through use – or absence – of texture and color. Shapes such as three-foot oblong forms or asymmetrical squares are cut free-form out of wedges of clay by the artist or his studio assistant or, as in Code, forms are punched out from small amounts of clay to create thick square-like mounds. The intent is to create as “natural” a contour as possible – to mimic the idea of a found object. Atop the surfaces, the artist draws lines, mild patterns, and objects loosely reminiscent of kites, constellations, or other meaningful imagery. After glazes are applied, more lines are drawn and the resulting surface is one that submits to chance. Previously “covered up” lines become prominent after firing and areas once smooth now contain dimples or appear scored. Surfaces are now complex and have a weathered and aged effect. The marks, whether through the use of colorful glazes or through the etching on top of the clay, are what the viewer is drawn to and what the artist seeks in his work.

Strand’s emphasis on the making of marks is inspired from a 17th century table in England. The table was used everyday on a ship which, when not in use, was fastened to the side of the ship by hooks. When the hooks were not attached, they wore an arc into the surface of the wood by the continuous rocking of the waves. These “marks” tell a story and contain a history. Strand’s story is his questions and ultimate resolve of his place in this world, those around him, as found within his faith. Coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective, Strand’s work seems to search for the “hand of God” within all that is around him, yet it also seems that his own “hand” has a place and a role to further and express those beliefs. He is marking his time through his own personal creation as, within Christianity, a greater Creator has marked this earth and continues to mark time. Strand’s marks then lead to touch &ndash the surfaces call out to viewers since they are extremely tactile. Human touch and connection to something great is what is sought through the work.

In 1994, Michael Strand completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics at St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota, followed two years later with a Master of Arts in painting/sculpture from the same institution. In 1999, he received his Master of Fine Arts in ceramics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied with Pete Pinnell and Gail Kendall. In the same year, he completed an artist’s residency at the Artigas-Miro Foundation in Barcelona, Spain. His work is found in various public and private collections including: Hilton Hotels International, General Mills Corporation, New York; Alnwick Castle, Duke of Northumberland Collection, Northumberland, England; Artigas-Miro Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; Kirov Ballet Company, St. Petersburg, Russia; and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Strand previously taught at Midland Lutheran College, Fremont, Nebraska, and Concordia University, Seward, Nebraska, where he was also served as Chair of the Department of Art and the Director of the Center for Liturgical Arts. Strand recently relocated to Fargo, North Dakota, where he is head of the Visual Arts Department at North Dakota State University.