Immediately inside the entrance to the Radius Gallery sits a row of delicate porcelain pitchers. Blue glaze deliberately drips down their front over a drawing of a wrought iron fence. The fence appears to melt with the glaze. The pitchers sit above a phrase:
“ ‘A sonnet is a moment’s monument …’ — D.G. Rossetti.”
Lined up, the pitchers form a symbolic gate to the gallery’s latest exhibition, called “Sonnets,” which combines ceramic pieces by Julia Galloway and paintings by Stephanie Frostad.
The show’s title comes from the two artists' mutual appreciation for poetry, and their similar intentions. In different ways, their work communicates a narrative and asks the observer to slow down, to notice detail and metaphor.
“We wanted to find something poetic, but I also wanted to convey those values of slowing down, the routine, giving integrity to private life,” said Lisa Simon, owner of Radius Gallery.
Sonnets are traditionally circular in nature, Simon said. A sonnet’s final couplet brings the reader back to the beginning. That sense of dwelling in a moment for awhile captures each artist’s intention, she said.
“It’s this monument to a moment, and it just asks you to dwell in it, to go back to the beginning, read it again, go back to the beginning, read it again,” Simon said.
The exhibition alternates between paintings and ceramic pieces, highlighting the contrast between Frostad’s dark and moody paintings, and Galloway’s lightly colored, delicate creations. Galloway, who teaches ceramics at the University of Montana, made 100 salt pots for the show. It’s a European tradition to use little pots for salt instead of shakers, she said.
The pots sit in rows on shelves stacked on top of one another. As you move down the shelves, the images painted on the pots travel from Galloway’s yard into her home.
“The top row was all clouds, and the second row was all the flowers, and then we moved to the outside of the house, and then we went into the living room, and then the kitchen, and then the bedroom,” Galloway said. “So as you move down the wall, you move through the imagery of walking through my house.”
Every little pot has a unique rattle in its lid, an innovation Galloway thought of in “a little moment of discovery," she said, adding, "Accident, of course.”
The rattles are so popular that when Galloway decided to discontinue them awhile back, devastated fans contacted her and begged her to create them again.
“Julia, you have taken away its voice!” one man told her. The rattles have since returned.
Galloway’s pieces often have hidden dimensions that only reveal themselves through use. One sugar pot’s lid, when opened, imitates the opening of a window, showing flowers outside.
“I think there’s just something about having some discovery in the act of use that’s really quite profound,” Galloway said.
Many of her pieces have images of chairs, windows, clouds — simple components of daily routine that might easily be overlooked in a fast-paced world. The work is tedious, precise, and risky. After throwing, painting and glazing her large porcelain pitchers, Galloway knows she will lose about five for every 20 that go in the kiln.
The runny glaze can cement the pitcher to the bottom of the kiln, making it impossible to remove without breaking. The labor-intensive aspect of ceramics is what originally hooked Galloway. That’s another similarity between her approach and Frostad’s, which is reflected in the feminist themes that permeate their work.
“Both Stephanie and I’s work is rooted in second-wave feminism and the ideas of public and private being more merged — and not in a way that is gossipy like today — but in a way that has some integrity to it, the great integrity of the feminist movement,” Galloway said. “And showing great, quiet strength, and it being really about labor and working.”
Many of Frostad’s paintings feature working women — women holding tools, women farming, women moving through a vast landscape. They look strong and pensive, often dwarfed by their surroundings. Frostad combines naturalism with realism, and wants to portray women doing important work in their worlds, even if they aren’t always heroic or noble, she said.
“So often, the female subject is a decorative element in the history of western art,” Frostad said. “I want my female characters to have agency and to be equipped to accomplish things. To create sustenance to get where they’re going. It's just something i'm interested in and devoted to as an artist.”
In the past year, Frostad has been experimenting more with her painting. Four paintings of women from the waist down gripping tools — two sickles, a sledgehammer, and a mattock – reveal the graphite underneath the oil painting, like an artifact of her process, she said.
“Those works are some of the fruit of all this experimentation I've been doing with materials,” Frostad said. “The graphite and oil are part of every work in the show, but there I think that drawing retains its strength in the presence of painting in a way that’s really desirable to me.
“They are also distinct because we understand the characters solely through the tools they hold and what those grips might express in terms of strength, their determination, or confidence.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Frostad began thinking about walls, and explored them in her paintings. She painted stones stacked on top of one another, forming imperfect structures that might be found abandoned in a field. She wanted to capture the political currency of walls without losing the style that felt right to her.
“It started with search for creative language to talk about exclusion and why that appeals to people in our culture now,” Frostad said.
“Lope Study” shows a coyote trotting alongside a rock wall with its nose in the air. Though Frostad first thought of the image as a metaphor for human traffickers who smuggle people across the Mexico/U.S. border – colloquially known as “coyotes” — it morphed into something else. She found a redemptive character, a trickster, in the coyote, and kept him.
“Sonnets” will be on display at the Radius Gallery at 114 E. Main St. until Saturday, Aug. 12.