Carlson’s hand built, ceramics show her undisguised hand and the inherent immediacy of the medium. The unpredictable processes activated by the heat of the kiln on Carlson’s experimental glazes result in luminous veils layered on the textured surface. The glaze provides an illusory movement and gesture though the play of light. In compliment to ceramic works, this exhibition includes sculptures of wire and beads, acrylic paint on plaster and plaster and burlap over wire.
Head, 2009 – 2012, is the ghastly, openmouthed head of a decapitated ceramic monster. A dried red stain dyes the watercolor paper beneath it. Four-Part Snake, 2010 shows the full corpse of a demon monster and Big Blue, 2012 is an even larger sprawling stoneware serpent, sixteen feet in length. The flaccid form of Big Blue rests like a bruised and bloated intestine on a pristine table for our examination. Reference to the body is also evidenced in Encoil, 2002, a serpent mounted to the wall circling and crushing an absent form. The body though reference to only its fluids is seen in Splat, 2006 where gleaming glass beads on wire signal fresh blood spatters of a violent death or sacrifice.
Other works in the exhibition include modestly sized ceramic forms of three commanding Christian intercessors. Michael the Archangel, St. Margaret of Antioch and St. Catherine of Alexandria are continued subjects in Carlson’s practice. These three were the voices of counsel heard by Joan of Arc. Margaret of Antioch was the first attended to in Carlson’s study of saints. St. Margaret is depicted as standing tall and holding a demon like a doting pet, emerging from the demon itself or standing over its carcass. Carlson was initially attracted to her upright posture in iconographic representations. Similarly to St. Margaret’s stance, the iconography of St. Michael shows the archangel in management of the evil represented by the dragon. His gaze looks down with furrowed brow in a benevolent gesture of control as a warrior against the battle within. The patron saint of female scholars, St. Catherine is depicted with a sword, a book and unbounded fair hair to signal her unmarried status. Like the tin foil candy wrappers used in Michael the Archangel, 2012 Carlson’s Catherine of Alexandria, 2012 wields a cocktail sword indicative of the playful quality inherent in her work.
Mary Carlson has exhibited at Deste Foundation, Athens, Greece; Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; Kunsthalle am Wien, Vienna, Austria, and Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic; Venice Biennale, Museo Correr, Venice, Italy; Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, and Stadtisches Kaufhaus, Leipzig; The New Museum, NYC; Max Protetch, NYC; Bill Maynes Gallery, NYC; Elizabeth Harris Gallery, NYC; and Holly Solomon Gallery, NYC. Carlson has received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.