I recently became interested in comparing the work of two Northern California women artists whose careers were dedicated to whimsical, colorful ceramic sculptures of human figures, usually female. One of these artists, now deceased, is the internationally known Viola Frey. Many examples of her works can be seen in the public preserve housing the collection of former Napa vintner Rene DiRosa.
The other artist, still very much alive and well-known locally is Cynthia Hipkiss.
Because of the similarity of their chosen medium and subject, I find a comparison of these two talented women interesting because what it says about how the art world works.
Frey (see photo above, left) often worked in a large scale. Her sculptured figures express the movement and physical tension of their subjects. Though humorous, they also convey a pathos with an undercurrent of sadness.
Hipkiss' work (above right), small in scale, often takes the form of utilitarian objects such as jars. Although the shape required by such practical function restricts the range of balance and expressive poses, it puts the prices well within the range of middle-class collectors on a budget. It also means that a Hipkiss is more likely to be found in a store rather than a gallery. (The Hipkiss Family Gallery on Sonoma's main plaza bridges the gap between the two and is well worth a visit by Wine Country tourists, as is the DiRosa Preserve.)
The similarities between the work of the two artists raise questions about the process by which some artists achieve fame and fortune while other have only a modest success. Hipkiss married and had children, who also became artists; Frey reportedly stayed single and had no children. Frey was able to work in large scale, possibly because she was supported with public arts funding (she received an NEA Artist's Fellowship Grant in Sculpture), while Hipkiss seemed to be constrained by the marketplace to creating small works and utilitarian objects, perhaps having to emphasize comedy at the expense of pathos in order to appeal to her low-budget collectors.
Whatever the facts are concerning the divergent paths these two artists had taken, their work is worth examining by those who are interested in Northern California regional art, color and whimsy in ceramic sculpture, and the careers of successful women in the visual arts. —JDL| Technorati Tags: Ceramic Sculpture Whimsy Body Figure DiRosaPreserve
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