Earth is the main character in “The World Upside Down” Patti Warashina’s show at Traver Gallery. It is a planet where gravity is an unreliable force. Where the human inhabitants perch precariously or tumble off, all the while anxiously watching fires, floods, disease, and violence consume their world; the disastrous consequences of their own actions.
Warashina says, “In this series … I view the earth as an uncontrolled symbolic, spinning ceramic wheel, in space, to give a glimpse of looking at our planet from above. To me, the figures represent human consciousness observing and experiencing the realization of possible escape from annihilation… a way of escaping the doubts and disharmony of human nature…”
Warashina is a sculptor and a storyteller whose medium is clay. Now in the sixth decade of her career, her work is in major museum collections nationally and internationally. She has been honored with a long list of awards and two career retrospectives in 2012 and 2013. And she is not slowing down. If anything, the density of ideas she incorporates in each piece has increased over time. A self-professed news junkie, her art is layered with references to global warming, the pandemic, ongoing armed conflicts, and gun violence.
Her technical skill as a ceramicist is astounding. She builds complex compositions of precariously balanced figures, their flawless surfaces covered with hand-drawn imagery. A dozen works in this show are composed of figures tumbling, balancing on, or sitting and staring at a globe. In “Double Trouble” (2022) two acrobatic figures balance on a small globe in flames; the larger semispherical base is decorated with images of homelessness, gun violence, environmental disasters, voter fraud, and the January 6 insurrection. “Sucker Punched” (2022) is a lone figure, head in hands, perched on a large globe covered with pictures of a virus, syringe, tent encampment, gun, tsunami, and a familiar red-headed man blowing smoke. An angry red moon is stuck to the figure’s head.
For much of Warashina’s career, her work has focused on the human figure, from realistic doll-sized characters to larger-than-life Amazons. Her current work abstracts the physiology of the body into whimsical figures with large heads and rubbery limbs. They convey a sense of movement, falling or flying through space. Most are females, but their shapes are not overtly feminine. They could seem cartoonish if the situations they find themselves in weren’t so serious. But in Warashina’s hands, they turn anxiety on its head and wink at the absurdity of human nature.
Patti Warashina: The World Upside Down is on view at Traver Gallery in downtown Seattle through September 2. Information at 206 587 6501 and at travergallery.com.