It’s about connections. Robert Arneson is arguably the most famous artist from Benicia to date. He studied at California College of the Arts (formerly California College of Arts and Crafts) and taught at UC Davis. Many readers will be familiar with his self portrait Benicia Bench on the waterfront facing the marina—the one with the duck. His expressive, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, figurative ceramic sculpture paved the way for a whole generation of artists to shake loose the shackles of traditional functional ceramics, to no longer look at clay work as “merely craft,” and put Funk Art on the map as a movement of worldwide importance.
Arthur Gonzalez teaches ceramics at CCA and studied under Arneson at UC Davis. Like his mentor, his work is figurative, expressive, and made from clay. Gonzalez’s work can be found in two exhibitions in Benicia this fall: Transmigrational Ceramics from the Corridor at Gallery 621, and Unbreakable: Selections from the CCA Ceramic Alumni of the New Millennium, at Arts Benicia, which he is curating along with Benicia Artist Mark Eanes. Both shows celebrate the legacy of adventurous sculptural work in clay begun by Arneson and his contemporaries, including Peter Voulkos, Win Ng, Jerry Ballaine and Peter Vandenberge, who were active in the 60’s and onward. Transmigrational features all of these artists and many of their students, like Benicia artist Lisa Reinertson, who studied under fellow Benicia artists Arneson and Manuel Neri at UC Davis. Unbreakable features the work of Gonzalez and 21 of his “post-millennial” students who have graduated from CCA since 2000.
One of Gonzalez’s students featured in Unbreakable is Derek Weisberg. Like Arneson, Weisberg is from Benicia and studied at CCA. Weisberg studied under Gonzales and Eanes and worked with Neri and Stephen De Staebler. He’s currently a successful figurative ceramic artist living and working in New York City. His enigmatic clay figures evoke a spiritual feeling, even when they’re depicting street people or hip hoppers. Weisberg’s first show was in Arts Benicia’s Next Generation exhibition when he was in his early teens. He was a frequent volunteer at Arts Benicia in his youth, where he learned how to install exhibitions. He was on a career path to be a 3-D animator, but under the influence of Eanes and Gonzalez influence he shifted to fine arts. He explains “I didn’t want to be stuck expressing other people’s ideas.” He recently had his first two solo shows in NYC, with an important exhibition coming up this fall in Los Angeles. Weisberg is well aware of the importance of his lineage. He states “Arneson is my art grandfather.” Weisberg is making art within a living tradition, expanding that tradition as he works. He was De Staebler’s studio assistant for six years. He notes that “De Staebler was Voulkos’s student, who was Noguchi's, who was Brancusi’s, who worked for Rodin. I feel super fortunate to have these connections.”
It’s about connections, it’s about a legacy, but it’s really about the work. The work that artists do in this tradition is beautifully crafted, expressive, mind-expanding, fun, scary, ambitious, important and above all, human. This sculpture gives us a way to realize again that we’re all in the same boat, sometimes bumbling fools, sometimes angels, but all totally human.
Transmigrational Ceramics from the Corridor is the inaugural show of Pam Dixon’s newest project, the Benicia Museum of Art. It runs from October 16 – November 30 at Gallery 621, 621 First Street, Benicia, with a reception from 3-6 pm, October 18.
Unbreakable will be at Arts Benicia, 911 Tyler St., Suite 114, Benicia, from October 16-November 16, with an opening reception 7-9 pm, on October 18. Unbreakable is generously supported by Olson Realty. Plan to attend both receptions and celebrate Benicia’s internationally important legacy of ceramic sculpture.