There are plenty of ceramics shows around town, including “Form Over Function” at Winston Wachter. Also of note: Michael Kenna’s photographs and Mark Thompson’s paintings at G. Gibson and recent etchings and sculpture by John Grade at Davidson.

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March seems to be ceramic-sculpture month in Seattle art galleries. Solo shows by Akio Takamori (at James Harris Gallery), Crystal Morey (Abmeyer & Wood Fine Art) and George Rodriguez (Foster/White Gallery) all feature remarkable figurative work well worth investigating. “Narratives in Clay,” a group show at Gallery IǀMǀA, ranges provocatively from tastily macabre fantasy to polished abstract whimsy.

But “Form Over Function” at Winston Wächter Fine Art, in some ways, is the most curious.

It gets you wondering where, exactly, the cutting edge in ceramic art is. If you think it’s the trompe l’oeil ingenuity of Dirk Staschke, Steven Young Lee or Zemer Peled, are you really going to have any patience with the faux-naif work of Andrew Casto or Jeffry Mitchell?

Personally, I lean toward trompe l’oeil ingenuity.

Staschke’s “Fold” and “Fold #2,” for instance, play ingeniously with the concept of still lifes. Glance at them from afar and you might think they’re lavishly framed 2D floral paintings. Step closer and you’re looking at a 3D ceramic object, opened like the page of a book and pulling you into its depths.

Staschke’s visual wizardry doesn’t stop there. His glaze-painted flowers aren’t the restful blossoms you might expect, but almost jet-propelling from their staid Delftware vases. They’re blurry with acceleration.

Lee, in “Basin with Lotus Patterns” and “Vase with Plum Blossoms,” also looks toward venerable art traditions, in order to sabotage them. “Basin” appears to have melted under extreme heat. “Vase” looks like a bomb went off in it. In either case, function has given up the ghost.

Peled’s meticulous pieces never had a function to begin with. “Untitled 1” and “Untitled 5” are symmetrical abstractions of flower forms, built from hundreds of thin painted prongs of clay. Their colors change depending on your vantage point. “Black Dreams #3” is still more complex: an asymmetrical organism of dark ceramic tendrils that undulate as if swaying to an underwater current.

Going from the discipline of Peled’s work to Mitchell’s bleary, globular pieces necessitates a shift in gear. Mitchell’s whimsical elephants, bears and other creatures purposefully mimic a grade-school student’s first encounters with clay. What’s odd is how distinctive this strategy makes his style. You always know you’re looking at a Mitchell, as he plays with the notions of amateurism and imprecision. Best instance: “The Carpenter Stops to Sing,” a blurry white open-mouthed figure inhabiting aesthetic terrain that makes the seemingly slapdash look like cunning minimalism. Casto’s six coral-reeflike “assemblages,” while they work a similar vein, are less impressive.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through April 8, Winston Wächter Fine Art, 203 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle (206 -652-5855 or

‘Kenna + Thompson’

Michael Kenna’s photographs and Mark Thompson’s oil paintings at G. Gibson Gallery are a fantasia in black and white, making for a fascinating compare-and-contrast exercise.

Thompson specializes in winter landscapes: backroads through the woods, train tracks through a railway cut. Each painting mimics black-and-white photography to a degree, but Thompson’s drips and thin glazes distort or obscure certain swathes of the picture to make the “film” look decayed. His titles – “Footsteps Brushed Over,” “Things We Lost Along the Way” – hint at narratives couched within his images. “A Place to Lie Down and Sleep” presents the most riddling scenario.

It’s a snowy roadside scene where lying down would lead to hypothermia. In the window of a tree-obscured apartment building in the background is one tiny rectangle of color: a television screen, so small it’s almost a laughable human response to the depths of winter.

Kenna, in his photographs, seeks out “memories, traces, and evidence of our human activities” in forbidding settings too. His shots of a sprawling Michigan car-assembly plant are both artfully composed and strangely uninhabited. They see something simultaneously transcendent and humbling in this industrial landscape.

11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, through April 15, G. Gibson Gallery, 104 W. Roy St., Seattle (206-587-4033 or

John Grade: ‘North: Recent Etchings and Sculpture’

Grade’s new installation at the Seattle Art Museum, “Middle Fork,” makes a big impression, literally. It’s a 105-foot-long replica of a western hemlock tree, composed from thousands of recycled bits of old-growth cedar. Suspended on its side from the ceiling of SAM’s front lobby, it naturally prompts curiosity about the mind of the artist who came up with it. Go to Davidson Galleries, and you get some clues.

“North” includes sculptures by Grade, but the etchings are the most intriguing feature of the show. Their grid forms undulate, taking on organic life. The paper itself is embossed in a pattern that echoes the inked image. Here’s an artist obsessed with the rhythmic irregularities found in nature.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through March 25, Davidson Galleries, 313 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-7684 or