The ‘White’ Stuff

“Topography of White,” the title of Jack N. Mohr’s exhibition at Delphine Gallery sounds minimalist. Despite the fact that all of the artist’s ceramic pieces are white and all are the same size, they are not minimalist at all. Instead, each one is a unique exploration of light and shadow, rhythm, design and the relationship of shapes.

The format is an 11-inch square mounted on a white 22-inch square hollow box frame. Each composition is made of white high-fired stoneware, porcelain or a mix of both, with a high-gloss glaze. Using clay sheets, strips, hand-rolled balls and free-form pieces, Mohr creates studies in light and form. Some of the work has a conceptual edge.

The pieces are arranged in series, each grouping based on a different artistic approach. In a series called “Rhythm,” a sheet of clay is placed over another, then cut into squares or strips. Each square or strip is turned up at the edges to create a play of light, shadow and texture over the shiny surface.

The pattern is different in each piece. Some patterns are vertical, others horizontal. There is an underlying mathematical logic in the design, but also a sense of movement, especially as the viewer sees the piece from different angles and the shadows shift.

The artist also uses strips of clay in a series titled “Eruption,” but the effect is much different. In these pieces, the top layer is broken open to reveal small balls like marbles or peas which appear to be emerging from inside. In some of these pieces, the strips are curled back, creating a play of deep shadows on the surface. In others, the strips appear torn and in one composition, a row of nails adds a different shadow dimension.

In the “Variation” series, Mohr uses the same basic elements — a curved layer, a grouping of balls and vertical strips — varying them in each construction to create a different effect. The artist’s strong design sense underlies all of the work.

“Obstruction” is a more conceptual series. In these, rod-shaped pieces appear to be held onto the surface by a horizontal strip. One or a few nails are arranged on these more geometric pieces. The most free-form group is “Organic” and like its title, each composition in this series appears to have evolved from the material - unlike the more precisely arranged pieces in some of the other work. In “Organic #4,” balls appear to be flowing down a curved surface as though being swept down a stream. “Organic #9” is like a topographical study and even incorporates a small square of color. A serene face emerges in “Organic #11.” In several pieces, balls appear to be pressing their way out of the surface through diagonal slits.

The clay takes on a different quality in the “Reduction” pieces, appearing softly folded to create intrinsic vertical shadings. In several of these pieces, a rod or nail pierces the folded clay like a pin holding cloth. Mohr, a German-born artist who had his own graphics studio in Berlin now lives in Santa Barbara. He is a painter and photographer, as well as a ceramic artist.