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Brother Thomas at the Pucker
"Brother Thomas: Creator of Luminaries"
At the Pucker Gallery in Boston through October 14.

"The Creator of Luminaries is usually understood as the Creator of heavenly bodies ó the moon and the sun," Bernie and Sue Pucker write in the introduction to the (typically handsome) catalogue for their latest show of pottery by Brother Thomas Bezanson, and they continue, "Each work [of his] illuminates our eyes, heart and spirit. The luminescent copper red, the ice-crackle glaze over sang de búuf, the glistening iron blue, the profound honan tenmoku, the æthereal dark celadon floating in a light celadon heaven are all among his luminaries."

Celestial imagery comes easily to those who write about Brother Thomas ó when I first saw his work, in 1999, I described him as a white-hole artist from whom the universe streams forth and his pieces as microcosms of the galaxies of our universe. Pottery might seem the most grounded of art forms, but this is porcelain by Plato, the product of 50 years of ceramic philosophy and exploration. Born in Nova Scotia in 1929, Thomas Bezanson spent 25 years as a Benedictine monk at the Weston Priory in Vermont. Since 1985, he has been artist-in-residence in the community of the Benedictine Sisters at Mount Saint Benedict in Erie, Pennsylvania.

From the 30-minute video "Gifts from the Fire" ó which the gallery will be happy to play for you if itís not running when you arrive ó you can get an idea of the complexity of the potting process, from the kneading of the clay to the moment when you hand over control of the result to the kiln. Whatís striking about Brother Thomasís 15th show at the Pucker is the multiplicity of form and color. Thomasís shapes can look unnatural; certainly heís not trying to replicate nature. His vases in particular seem experiments in abstract geometry, from the vaguely hourglass-like (TH1838-TH1839) through the series of tall vases with flat lips (TH1790-1807) to wide-bodied (TH1739-1743) and flat forms (TH1735-1737). This is art that doesnít confirm your preconceptions but rather, like Aliceís White Rabbit, challenges you to follow it. Perhaps each shape ó no two seem alike ó has its ideal viewer. In any case, itís an experience to select an unfamiliar and perhaps uncongenial form and spend five minutes wrestling with its angel.

Thomasís galaxy of glazes also continues to expand. New here is "nightsky," as midnight-deep as Novalis or Nietzsche. In one large ovoid cut-rim vase (TH1761), itís dizzy with hints of stardust; in two other large vases (TH1739 and TH1749), itís as pure as the preĖBig Bang universe. Honan tenmoku is a traditional glaze, but on the large vase TH1738 the copper-colored blood spreads over the black like an avant-garde Greek red-figure design. The jar-like form looks both classic and novel, and like some of the other large pieces in the show, this one has been set on a rotating stand so that you can turn it and see all around. On another large tenmoku vase (TH1746), the copper has levitated toward the top, and itís spattered with metallic accents. Still other tenmoku pieces (TH1753 and TH1800) have vapor trails of crystalline rutile, and where the black and the ocher meet thereís a trace of verdigris border. TH1760 is an ovoid cut-rim black vase on which the rutile drips down from the cut rim like a feather or a splash of very white coffee.

Kairagi is a scaly-white glaze that can at first seem uninviting. As you enter the Pucker, youíll see at once on your left an ovoid cut-rim kairagi vase (TH1850), and if you look at it carefully youíll find underneath a sang de búuf ground that turns the cracked-ice white into something more like cherry blossoms. This piece is flanked by two classic copper-red vases that bring out its color ó just one example of the intelligent deployment of the art here (TH1738, on the other hand, needs lots of space and gets it). You could even say that individuality and interaction is a theme of the show. The chrysanthemum tall vase TH1790 and the blue-chrysanthemum vase TH1842 have complex glaze patterns that will repay careful scrutiny (and donít forget to look under the rim) but also complex relationships with their fellow pieces. Just like celestial luminaries and their human counterparts.

Issue Date: September 12 - 18, 2003
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