John Dennison: “The Blue Optimist,” Clay Mask, 16x7x6

There is simply no finer artist in the Metro who alternates between pottery and clay fine art than John Dennison. For decades, this popular ceramicist has earned his reputation for work that is sophisticated and polished, and at times, wildly imaginative. Dennison’s latest example of the latter opens next Friday, May 5 when Ming Toy Gallery in Benson features
“Masked”, another series of his signature, titular figures.

This new collection of iconic 3D masks speaks volumes through gesture, thrown miniatures, layered glazed textures and colors often replete with allegorical embellishments not unlike the way painter Joe Broghammer adorns his bestiary and aviary to similar effect. The tone may be similar, but while Broghammer’s portraits are personal and deliberately inscrutable, Dennison’s sculptural masks are both conceptual and evocative.

Though well-known, along with his wife Carol, as one of the driving forces for the annual North Omaha Pottery Tour each October, Dennison is also driven by the other half of his muse, unequal parts mythic, fantastic and even current. No matter the mood, spirit and vision, each of his elongated masks shares a visage both ominous and inviting. The hooded eyes and open mouths reveal little. Instead, these beautifully crafted “Medusas” demand you look holistically, taking in the palette, extensions, graphics and occasional text that suggest a possible paradoxical function.

John Dennison: “The Leak,” Clay Mask, 19.5x6x8.5

“My masks are unbound,” said Dennison in his show statement. “Literary allusions, religious icons, elements of pop culture and even humor often accent these works. I have made masks from early on in my career. At one time, they evoked ideas of the primitive or elements of the sea, or even the darkness of the human spirit.”

Though many still touch on similar themes, others, he said, have evolved into contemporary explorations of morality, race, music and the media. But rather than “mask” these concerns about current everyday struggles, his masks intend “to serve as a metaphor for facing problems, not hiding from them,” that and maybe something more.

In ancient Greece people would carve Medusa’s image over their doors to ward off evil and protect their homes. In Greek her name means “to guard and protect.” Whether a signpost or an amulet, the dual nature of Dennison’s masks is not occasionally without a lighter touch or even a sense of humor. What’s up with all those teacups?

“Often, I do integrate teapots and teacups on these face sculptures,” said Dennison. “No surprise, since I’m a potter. But people often do ask. For me, the sharing of tea suggests a communion with others, a mulling over of ideas, and, of course, tea and teapots have had a long and historical significance to potters. A quiet nod to those who have lived that tradition.”

“Masked” opens Friday, May 5, from 6 to 9pm at 6066 Maple Street in conjunction with Benson First Friday. The event is free and open to the public and runs through May 27. For more information as well as gallery schedule and hours call or text 402.681.1901.

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