Ceramic pottery and portraits of consumerism

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

Sculptures and paintings in new Amelia Douglas Gallery exhibit

By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor


The Amelia Douglas Gallery’s newest exhibit fire/water presents a broad range of experiences, from thousand-year-old clay given new life to commentary on contemporary politics. The exhibit opened on Thursday, March 2, with a reception attended by artists Marcus Bowcott and Laura Wee Lay Laq.

fire/water contains seven pieces by world-renowned ceramicist Wee Lay Laq. The mastery of Wee Lay Laq is evident in a single glance at her beautifully-shaped vessels—but it becomes even more apparent when you realize that her pieces are hand-built, rather than created with a pottery wheel.

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

To construct the pieces, she rolls out coils of clay, then creates belts of clay that she overlaps on the inside and outside, smoothing out and blending the clay together to create a solid form. With this technique, she’s able to create pieces that are perfectly smooth and round, such as the three immaculate ollas in this exhibit, as well as works that are as complex and intricate as The Geometry of Space, a 7.5” by 10” vessel with breathtakingly sophisticated angles.

The title of The Geometry of Space refers to how the piece challenges a viewer to consider the space both inside and outside the vessel.

“I’m dividing and creating that geometry in order to bring your attention to the inside and what it is holding […] It’s about considering interior space and bringing that to the forefront, not just the exterior,” said Wee Lay Laq.

Her process involves the steps of burnishing the pieces with a smooth stone before first bisque firing them, then packing the pieces tightly with sawdust all around and firing them a second time. She doesn’t glaze her pieces, so she never knows before firing exactly how the pieces will turn out, because when the sawdust is burned away, it creates unique and unpredictable effects.

Raven Olla is one striking example of an unexpected pattern emerging. The areas of black and white on the surface of the pot form the shape of a bird. Wee Lay Laq said she often has whales, birds, and other animals and people appear in her work, spirits which are “very alive” and “very much integral to the piece.”

“And that’s what I love about it […] it’s always a complete and utter surprise to me, to open up that kiln and go, ‘Look at that!’”

Complementary to the fire-based creation process of Wee Lay Laq’s exquisite ceramics are the paintings and sculptures by Marcus Bowcott. One of these sculptures is a 24” maquette of Bowcott’s Trans Am Totem—the full version is a 10-meter-tall sculpture of cars stacked upon a tree trunk that is located near Science World, installed as part of Vancouver Biennale in 2015.

Trans Am Totem conveys a message about the relationship between environment and consumerism. Most of his works share a similar message, such as On the Beach, an oil painting showing a giant heap of cars against a long stretch of water and horizon. However, Bowcott said he doesn’t often go into his paintings with a message already in mind. “I just start painting,” he said, usually working from the thousands and thousands of photographs he takes.

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

One obvious exception to this—and a piece that stands out starkly from his other works, which mostly depict nature and the ocean—is Bowcott’s Our Celebrity Entrepreneur of Holy Virtue, a 35” by 43” painting of TV star businessman and Conservative Party leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary. Painted with oil on velvet and framed by a thick ornate gold frame, the portrait’s implication about affluence is enhanced by the poem that hangs below, a text by 14th-century Italian writer Niccolò de Rossi commenting on money’s place in society.

“[O’Leary] often presents making money and pursuing money as a virtue, and I just don’t see it that way,” said Bowcott. The portrait shows the businessman-turned-political candidate in a cleric’s collar, demonstrating how he preaches about money like a religious authority. Bowcott wants to remind us that this wealth-driven ideology is only as real as we allow it to be.

The works of Bowcott and Wee Lay Laq will be on display at the Amelia Douglas Gallery, on the fourth floor of the New Westminster campus, until April 21.