Williamson Gallery Retrospective of Influential Scripps Ceramicist Paul Soldner

By Liz Lyon ’12, Staff Writer

Serendipity: Paul Soldner, Artist and Provocateur opened Aug. 27 at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery with a formal reception Sept. 10.

The Paul Soldner exhibit is part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative sponsored by the Getty. Serendipity is an apropos exhibit not just for its place in the Pacific Standard Time initiative but also for its place as a fitting next step in the gallery’s series of exhibitions.

Last spring, the gallery exhibited works by John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, all of whom were influential mentors for Paul Soldner’s development of clay sculpture. Soldner created many pieces in myriad media, and a number of the ceramics pieces currently on display in the gallery were created during Soldner’s three-decade tenure as a Scripps professor.

Serendipity is a retrospective on the life and work of Soldner, who passed away earlier this year. Although the timing of this exhibition comes as a fitting memorialization of Soldner’s art and work, Serendipity was conceived several years ago and was being planned while Soldner was still alive. The exhibition traces the development of his work and artistic style, presenting visitors to the gallery with a comprehensive perspective of Soldner as an artist.

Soldner began dabbling in artistic media near the end of World War II, during his time as a soldier. Four claustrophobia-inducing walls display his photographs of the liberation of concentration camps, bleak and graphic depictions of death made more effective by their manner of display. At the center of these four walls stands a bonsai tree, another form in which Soldner’s artistic interests expressed themselves. On the edges of the gallery are various slabs of clay in the Japanese raku style, some decorated with finely-painted figures, others with eerie silhouettes wandering through colored mists.

The exhibition, with the range of pieces selected and their manner of display in the gallery, highlight Soldner’s scope as a jack-of-all trades. From the tall thrown pots that greet visitors like perfectly-formed Zambian ant hills to the portrait of John Lennon on a slab of clay, visitors to the gallery are welcomed with myriad artistic expressions such that they get a feel for the magnitude and scope of Soldner’s life as an artist. Of all the works in the gallery, the advertisements—for products of Soldner’s own invention—are the most whimsical pieces.

Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery Collection Manager Kirk Delman said that Soldner “was interested in pursuing new ways of doing things, in the process and in figuring things out. He was a problem-solver. If he heard about a problem that wasn’t in his discipline, he’d come back to you two days later with ideas on how to work through it.”

Soldner’s legacy as an artist fascinated by the artistic process lies most notably in raku. Soldner popularized the Japanese technique of raku during the ‘60s and ‘70s. In his adaptation of the technique, Soldner burned his clay pieces in containers, such as trash cans, and experimented with materials like newspaper or wood chips to get different effects.

As a compliment to Serendipity, the gallery organized three workshops over the course of the semester to keep museum-goers and community members interested and engaged. The last of these workshops, in which participants will be able to celebrate and follow in the footsteps of Soldner, will be a raku firing on Saturday, Nov. 12. Workshop registration is online and requires a $55 fee.