MEMBERS / PRODUCERS
MEMBER PROFILE: ZANE WILCOX
Written by: Suzanne Stewart
October 02, 2006
Since 2002, Zane has been exhibiting his work at galleries throughout the province: the MacKenzie Art Gallery (Regina), where his work appeared with established ceramists Charley Farrero, Mel Bolen, Anita Rocamora, and Ken Wilkinson in L'Agamine: Portrait of an Anagama Kiln in Saskatchewan; Traditions Handcraft Gallery (Regina); Darrell Bell Gallery (Saskatoon); Handmade House Showcase Gallery (Saskatoon); and Handwave Gallery (Meacham). On several occasions, Wilcox's work has also been selected for the Saskatchewan Craft Council's annual juried exhibition, Dimensions, where he has received a number of honours, including the Award for Excellence in Clay in 2004. Wilcox's work - his functional ware and his sculptural pieces - is characterized by his thoughtful, rational approach to art: the carefully calculated function of line, shape, and form. Working with clay not to display its soft, malleable qualities or to produce rounded, organic shapes, Wilcox, instead, startles viewers with his unorthodox constructions, which are often angular, off-balance, or mis-aligned: rounded bowls reconfigured as cornered objects; circular vases flattened into slim, envelope-like vessels; and solid, wedge-shaped objects that defy the traditional clay-making imperative to sculpt a hollowed-out form. Praising Wilcox's ceramic art, one reviewer recently remarked that "his under-stated, impeccably made,deceptively plain and simple work is... some of the best pottery I have seen... in years." 
Wilcox currently works out of his studio in Saskatoon, but his creative aspirations were first nurtured in Vancouver, where he completed both a Culinary Arts Diploma at the Vancouver Community College (1991) and a Bachelor of Music in composition at the University of British Columbia (1999). In 1999, at a critical juncture in his professional life, Wilcox contemplated a radical shift in his education, weighing the attraction of a more scientific occupation in the field of engineering against his artistic interests. His choice, however, was to pursue a Ceramic Arts Diploma, which he completed in Prince Albert at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (2002). Reflecting on that choice, Wilcox concedes that ceramic art offered him a satisfactory blend of "art and science."  While essentially creative, the ceramic artist also uses physics and chemistry, principally for glazing and firing. Furthermore,Wilcox's unique approach to his art, particularly his sculpture, is characterized by his considered, rational thought: measuring, mathematical problem solving, drafting, spatially conceptualizing, and building wooden moulds. With his apprenticeship years now behind him, Wilcox acknowledges his mentors, naming his former teacher Charley Farrero as particularly encouraging and supportive. He also credits the work of Welsh ceramist Walter Keeler, which Wilcox first encountered while he was still "dabbling in pottery," as a formative influence that pushed his own work in a more "serious"direction. Keeler's work, which "opened my eyes to what is possible in pottery," Wilcox explains, offered an attractive aesthetic to the young prairie potter: clean, classical lines combined with functional simplicity and formal elegance.
Like most ceramists, Wilcox divides his time between producing saleable functional ware and creating more aesthetically demanding sculptural objects. While he increasingly devotes his attention to"sculptural, aesthetic work," which, he admits, brings him "the most joy,"he continues to derive satisfaction from producing functionalware, particularly its discipline and technical demands. Wilcox's domestic pottery—teapots, cups, plates, bowls, pitchers and vases—is characterized by its simplicity: single-coloured glazes, impeccably-smooth surfaces, cleanly- articulated lines, and functionally- uncomplicated shapes. Indeed, he deliberately avoids decorative designs and peripheral appendages in favour of a tranquil emphasis on form, each work announcing the self-sufficiency of its unpretentious shape. In addition to his production-line pottery, Wilcox creates one-of-a-kind domestic objects that are distinguished for their technical achievement and aesthetic interest: whimsically-shaped teapots; mis-aligned, leaning and stacked vases; and pointed, geometric bowls. Not always thrown on a wheel, these objects are partially or wholly constructed from smooth slabs of clay, hand-built in the tradition of the earliest potters. His Iron Envelope Trio, for example, challenges the conventional notion of a vase as a round, hollow vessel. Wilcox asserts the capacity of the vase to be flattened, as if ironed into a slim envelope: each vase is constructed from two slabs of clay prominently joined at either end by a hard-edged seam, the resulting slim, narrow opening closing off the vessel's interior to all but minute particles of light. Equally intriguing, Wilcox's Tri-pointed Bowl similarly defies the conception of a bowl as a rounded, thrown piece, finished on the wheel; instead, he "throws and alters" the object, presenting it as a "constructed" piece: cut into three sections, which are subsequently rejoined but not lined up, the outcome is a triangular, pointed bowl that, while technically finished, also exposes its component parts, each articulated by the crisp, uneven seams.
Visibly different, Wilcox's sculptural works are large, conceptually-based objects, but they similarly reflect his predominant interest in artistic form. His recent series Planar Intersections, supported by a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, showcases his work with large, solid bodies of clay. Pushing the boundariesof traditional ceramic technique (the expectations for a hollow, light-weight vessel that dries without cracking), Wilcox has developed a method of forming his sculptures from solid clay rammed into a wooden mould. With sections up to twelve inches thick, these pieces require an extended drying period after being removed from their mould, taking up to three months to fully dry. The finished piece, with its cracking left intact, is covered in a matt surface, which enables the oddly-angled and intersecting planes to variously absorb the surrounding light. The pieces in this series, along with his other large-scale sculptural works, begin with a week-long period of preparatory drafting and structural problem solving, a mathematical foundation that Wilcox relishes. Rejecting representational art for abstract works that are "complete unto themselves," Wilcox seeks in his sculpture a "quiet, self-contained energy that is focused inward" rather than connected to the world. Other series, such as his Portal and Key pieces, which are similarly characterized by large, angular planes, also reflect Wilcox's interest in punctuating flat surfaces with small focal points - narrow, vertical piercings, or circular incisions - that create dark, intriguing negative spaces and release some of the energy otherwise contained within the impressive solidity of the work as a whole. In all of his sculptural work, Wilcox admirably engages the viewer's eye, mind and, indeed, the body, for his works demand that we move around their entire circumference, experiencing the spatial complexity of both the object's own form and its assertive presence in the space that surrounds it.
Assessing the pleasures and challenges of being a ceramist, Wilcox acknowledges its inherent tensions: the satisfaction of running his "own business," having control of his time, and creatively doing what he wants with it, while attending to the discipline, long hours, and physical challenges to the body that this profession entails. Still, he refers to his work as immensely "gratifying," and finds particular pleasure in the combined exertion of "physical skill and creative energy." The public, too, is enchanted with Wilcox's work, praising it, as viewers of a recent exhibition in Saskatoon noted, as "sleek and elegant," "very sculptural," "beautifully linear," and wonderfully "meditative." Looking ahead, Wilcox remarks simply that he will continue to work in his "clean, modern style." His viewers, however, will undoubtedly witness a blossoming of much grander proportions than this modest ceramist is willing to admit.