It’s not easy to tell by looking at Setha Low’s ceramic pot in the Springs Invitational the details that went into making the arresting piece. Simple in form, it almost seems as if the piece was fashioned as a surface to draw on. The reality doesn’t roam too far:  the dark lines and interesting intersections formed upon fired clay were created by “drawing” with horsehair.

While the material is an unusual one, the method needed to create the piece is even more so. Setha Low explained that the lines on Etched Vessel were formed by placing strands of pre-calculated lengths on the hot surface of the pot after it was removed from a gas-fired kiln. With only seconds to forge the two materials, the artist works quickly and surely with the flammable material that sizzles away to leave a carbon reminder of its former self etched into clay.

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"Etched Vessel" by Setha Low. 2013. Ceramic, raku, with horsehair, 11 x 6 x 6 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Etched Vessel" by Setha Low. 2013. Ceramic, raku, with horsehair, 11 x 6 x 6 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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The selection of Etched Vessel to represent Low’s work in the Invitational is also an unusual one. Known more for her fine art sculptures that combine the figurative with cultural and personal identity explorations, the functional vessel on view presents another side of the art practice of Setha Low, who is equal parts artist and cultural anthropologist. Especially when making her sculptural ceramics, both identities are intrinsically woven in the work.

“For me, the artistic process is a co-creation between the medium and the imagination,” Low said. “It’s an organic and intuitive process where empathy has a role in connecting people and their everyday struggles to whatever social, political or cultural issue that’s on my mind when I’m making the work.”

This year’s Springs Invitational curator Teri Kennedy and Setha Low go way back. Kennedy was an early supporter of Low’s entry into ceramics and fine art and encouraged her to begin showing her work, leading Low to become an artist member of the former Crazy Monkey Gallery and participate in exhibits at Ashawagh Hall, Low said.

Kennedy selected one of Low’s vessels over the ceramic sculpture Low is known for as part of a conscious choice to represent the art that is infused in functional ceramics for the 50th Anniversary of the Springs Invitational. The inclusion was an important one as there is a thriving community of ceramicists working in The Hamptons and she wanted to ensure their representation was visible when taking a snapshot of today’s working artists in Springs and East Hampton, NY, she said.

“I very much wanted to include functional ceramics in this exhibition,” Kennedy said. “Setha Low was at the top of my list of potential ceramic artists. She often shows more sculptural work, but I had seen her vessels on view in her home and always admired them. I chose this piece for its classic lines and the intricacy of surface created by the firing process.”

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"Etched Vessel" by Setha Low. 2013. Ceramic, raku, with horsehair, 11 x 6 x 6 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Etched Vessel" by Setha Low. 2013. Ceramic, raku, with horsehair, 11 x 6 x 6 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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When Setha Low makes vessels, the personal and intuitive are focused on exploring materials and the different processes possible when working with clay. When making pots, the connection with the human continuum throughout history is especially strong for her, Low explained. This connection was especially apparent when she visited the Nerja Caves in Andalusia, Spain.

“At the entrance to the Nerja Caves in Andalusia, Spain, two small pots in a glass case caught my eye,” Low recalled. “They are pinch pots made by compressing and shaping clay by hand, the fingerprints still visible from 10,000 years ago. Through the worn indentations, I imagine ancient people making everyday objects using the same techniques that I use today.

“Sitting in my studio I join these earlier artists as I pinch, coil, pound and roll the clay. This sense of continuity and relationship of the lived past to the present remains central to the experience of my work. I am particularly interested in exploring how prehistoric and indigenous forms of expression—pots, bowls, figures, diagrams and inscriptions—have such an emotional impact in our media saturated world.”

While Etched Vessel was the pot chosen by Kennedy, it’s not the only vessel on which horsehair was used to draw on the surface of the clay. In others, a thicker application results in intricate markings that are charged with energy. Still other vessels in Low’s collection have smoky exteriors where flames have danced before settling into permanent markings. Some vessels are round or oval while others push into angled fields or adopt a variety of surface forms to push what’s possible in a pot.

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"Etched Egg 1" by Setha Low. Ceramic, horsehair and paper clay, 9 x 9 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Etched Egg 1" by Setha Low. Ceramic, horsehair and paper clay, 9 x 9 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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"Green Shock" by Setha Low, 2000. Ceramic, raku, 10 x 8 x 4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Green Shock" by Setha Low, 2000. Ceramic, raku, 10 x 8 x 4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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For her sculpture, Setha Low draws directly on her experience as an esteemed and award-winning anthropologist to explore culture through art as a means of personal expression and idea exploration.

“Clay art connects the artist and the viewer to distant people and places, whether through the poetry of a horsehair etched pot, raw clay colored by turquoise or the intricacy of body markings and torso pieces tied together,” Low said. “In this sense, my work has political as well as personal intentions. It provokes thoughts and feelings about others who we may not know, but can reach through art.”

For instance, the sculptures Etched and Tied, Flat Blue Texture, Purple Babe and Black and White Babe draw directly upon her experience and interest in embodied space and expressive culture, she said.

“These abstract female torsos evoke indigenous cultures through the use of raku, aboriginal patterns and leather decoration,” Low said. “Organic and colorful, they reflect the beauty and power of being a woman in a turbulent world.”

"Flat Blue Texture" by Setha Low. 2015. Ceramic, high fire glaze, 22 x 13 x 1 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Flat Blue Texture" by Setha Low. 2015. Ceramic, high fire glaze, 22 x 13 x 1 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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"Black and White Babe" by Setha Low. Courtesy of the artist.

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"The segmentation of Etched and Tied suggests that for some, ‘being a person’ means tying different parts of oneself together, whether integrating the multiple roles of mother, wife, worker, activist, friend, stranger or contradictory desires in one’s life,” she added.

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"Etched and Tied" by Setha Low, 2017. Ceramic, raku, 24 x 16 x 2 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Etched and Tied" by Setha Low, 2017. Ceramic, raku, 24 x 16 x 2 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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Transformations traces the female figure from composure and action to a state of ecstatic experience,” Low continued. “The raw and unglazed clay with splashes of copper-based turquoise glaze references other cultures where life transition rituals are often accompanied by metaphors of the earth and sky.”

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"Transformations" by Setha Low, 2014. Ceramic, copper glaze. Courtesy of the artist.

"Transformations" by Setha Low, 2014. Ceramic, copper glaze. Courtesy of the artist.

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Having her art selected to be part of the 2017 Springs Invitational is an honor, said Low. The show is an important one to the artists who work here and to the community at large. It’s also an important way to detail the art history of the area and the continuum Ashawagh Hall and the Springs Invitational represent and maintain in public consciousness.

The 2017 Springs Invitational Art Exhibition presents art by around 114 artists with work selected by Invitational curator Teri Kennedy. The show will be on view from August 4 to 20, 2017 at Ashawagh Hall in East Hampton, N.Y. Presented by the Springs Improvement Society (SIS), the exhibition is a benefit for SIS which maintains and manages Ashawagh all.

The “Springs Invitational Art Stories Series” was arranged by Teri Kennedy to reveal the stories behind some of the art on view, presented from the point of view of the exhibiting artist or artists. To read the series introduction for the Springs Invitational Art Stories, click here.

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BASIC FACTS: The Springs Invitational will be held August 4 to 20, 2017 at Ashawagh Hall, 780 Springs Fireplace Rd, East Hampton, NY 11937. www.ashawagh-hall.org. To see more of Setha Low's art, visit www.sethalowart.com.

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Copyright 2017 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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