By Mary MacNaughton
Embracing the accidental has long been Paul Soldner's modus operandi, and his new work on view at Frank Lloyd Gallery in Los Angeles embodies this approach. "These works are an experiment in letting go of a certain part of the process," Soldner explains. In this exhibition of both large and small sculptures, some of which are woodfired and others salt-fired at a low temperature, Soldner continues to find opportunity in chance. Since retiring from Scripps College in Claremont, California, where he taught for thirty-one years, Soldner now makes his art in workshops all over the world. This exhibition includes many of them. In these workshops, he often creates pieces that use materials at hand; for example, in making one of the works in the exhibition, he was given slabs of both stoneware and porcelain. Before he realized the mistake, he had put them together in a work. Though these clays are normally not compatible, as they shrink at different rates, Soldner easily fused them. For Soldner, success often comes from accepting the impossible, an attitude he adopted while developing raku. "In the spirit of rakuness," he said in 1990, "make no demands, expect nothing, follow no absolute plan, be secure in change. Learn to accept another solution, and prefer to gamble on intuition." In the exhibition at Frank Lloyd Gallery, Soldner follows his intuition and welcomes the chance effects produced by the wood and salt firing processes. "Certain things I know from experience," he says. For example, during the wood firing, ash flies through the kiln and deposits an earth-toned natural glaze on the works. In his salt-firings, when the temperature is around 900-1000 degrees, he introduces salt that mixes with copper oxide and volatizes to create orange color effects. As Solder explains, "I take advantage of the fire on the surface."
Whatever their firing method, Soldner's pedestal pieces in the exhibition reveal an organic imagery inspired by natural forms. His shapes have the sculptural elegance of bonsai. This formal similarity is not surprising since, for years, Soldner has cultivated bonsai, which he displays at his home on pedestals like his sculptures. In his new work Soldner continues to explore the sculptural possibilities of the vessel. He begins by making closed cylinder shapes on the wheel, then collapses and folds them into cut and torn slab forms. The resulting shapes extend outward from their vessel base to evoke both stasis and flight. Their expansiveness conveys a sense of expressive freedom and their asymmetry alludes to the unexpected in nature. Soldner's technique is so embedded in his forms that his works seem effortlessness, yet their assurance comes out of years of experience with clay. Soldner's new works are extensions of the search he began with raku. "The struggle to attain rakuness," he explains, "can consume a lifetime-with only fleeting moments of success." This exhibition contains several of those moments.
Mary MacNaughton, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, organized the 1992 exhibition "Paul Soldner: A Retrospective. "