The ceramic tile maker Frank Giorgini is equal parts naturalist, artist, and alchemist. These three identities are given full expression in his current installation at the Broderick Fine Art Gallery (upstairs at Ruby's Hotel) in Freehold, N.Y., which he owns with partner Ana Sporer, the considerably talented chef of the restaurant under the gallery.
GRACKLE: Birds of Clay features a cycle of twelve 19-inch-square glazed and raku-fired clay panels, augmented by four slightly smaller test pieces, plus 16 much smaller tests on display in a small side room, providing viewers with the simultaneous experience of amazement at the unique works and enlightenment as to Giorgini's process. A longtime workshop instructor, Giorgini has published books and CDs on ceramic techniques, so even in a personal exhibition he can't resist the opportunity to educate.
Fortunately, this does nothing to limit the immediacy and mystery of these graphic and highly textural works, which were inspired by a morning-coffee revelation as Giorgini watched a group of the underappreciated crow-like birds as they established a pecking order around his yard feeder. Impressed by both their attitude and their iridescence, Giorgini instantly realized he had an ideal subject to explore with the special qualities of his chosen medium.
Known for large-scale tile installations he's created for public spaces in New York City, as well as for an extensive line of handmade African-style udu drums (which earned him the distinction of being the only living artist represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's musical instrument collection), Giorgini has always drawn from nature for his subject matter, often depicting frogs and lizards, as well as a variety of birds, on his tiles and drums. The grackles, therefore, make for a smooth continuation of his artistic output. This series, however, takes on new directions in terms of the scale of the individual tiles (he refers to them as plaques), the exaggerated graphism of their designs, and the extension of the subject into a cycle of related images and ideas.
All these elements combine as a great step forward for Giorgini the artist - but the alchemist isn't far behind, as the test tiles and photos with text explaining the firing process attest. Though it is possible, indeed common, for molded tiles such as these to be pressed out in editions, the vagaries of the glazing and firing guarantee individuality to every one, usually in the form of happy surprises generated by heat, smoke, and chemicals.
It's fun to observe and contrast the impressive control Giorgini has over his medium and his acceptance of the fact that, ultimately, it will not be controlled - just like those feisty birds in his yard.
GRACKLE Birds of Clay opened Friday, July 31, and will remain on view into September.
The BFA Gallery is open during Ruby’s dining hours: Thurs 5-9, Friday 5-10, Saturday 5-10; and by appointment: 518-634-7790.