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Constructing Elozua: A Retrospective

May 10 - August 3, 2003


As a career artist, Raymon Elozua is an enigma. Art critic Edward Leffingwell describes his work as an evolving paradox. Elozua's command of the properties of clay is largely self-taught, yet he has earned National Endowment for the Arts grants with regularity. Perhaps most impressive, Elozua is a successful ceramic artist in craft-averse New York City, despite infrequently exhibiting his work.

"Elozua is one of those rare contemporary artists for whom art is not a vocational choice, but is a trust and a sacrament in which compromise and dishonesty are simply not options," stated ceramic scholar and gallery owner Garth Clark.

Constructing Elozua: A Retrospective on display at the Mint Museum of Craft + Design in Charlotte, NC from May 10 through August 3, 2003, connects the threads of a 30-year body of work between 1973 and 2003 driven by a fascination of materials, process and the artist's insatiable curiosity.

"In his diverse bodies of work that include photography, ceramic vessels and sculptural landscapes, there are recurring themes," stated exhibition Curator Melissa G. Post. "Elozua's art is a metaphor for mankind in general, and himself as an artist. It is a reflection of the world around him, a vehicle for conceptual ideas. In examining Raymon Elozua's career we are witnesses to a remarkable metamorphosis of the artist along with his art." (left: Billboard: Series IV #1: Free TV, 1981)

Raymon Elozua's early work in ceramics reflected the declining industrial environment of south Chicago where he was raised. Working for Inland Steel's tin mill to pay for college tuition, proved a pivotal experience.

"Standing outside the walls of the mill in no way prepares you for the acres of buildings, furnaces and mills, all dedicated to a specific function, the preparation of iron ore into basic steel," said Elozua. "The tin mill itself was a mammoth building filled with the machinery, rolling mills, pickling lines and annealing ovens necessary to turn slabs of steel into thin tin-plated sheets destined for Campbell Soup and other manufacturers."

The wane of industrial manufacturing, the abandonment of the mills and its workers and the impact on families and communities served as the inspiration for Photorealistic ceramic sculptures. These rail yards, water tanks, empty factories and billboards were re-created in clay, meticulously crafted from astonishingly thin ceramic strips precisely cut, textured, painted and assembled. The elaborate constructions bristle with decaying structural elements heightening the appearance of reality. Subsequent landscapes became more abstract inviting a dialogue of relationships between nature and man.

"Elozua has invested his landscapes with the beauty he found in the process of decay, an aesthetic that remains at the heart of his work today," wrote Leffingwell in the exhibition catalogue.

Elozua's artistic tendency was to follow ideas that intrigued him. A meeting with collector Allan Chasanoff in 1975 began a series of collaborations in which Chasanoff introduced the exploration of photography and later, computer design, to Elozua's work.

"Photography offered instant gratification," pointed out Post. "It taught Elozua about color and composition in general, and how to see and contextualize his own work in particular." Together Chasanoff and Elozua frequented industrial sites and amusement parks. Elozua' s photography sought to isolate the extraordinary from the banal in weathered structures, continuing his exploration of the passage of time and decay.

Further collaborations with French-Canadian artist and companion Micheline Gingras, beginning in 1980, led to several series of figurative representations -- drive-in theaters and wire frame sculptures, such as the Demons and Sirens series.

During this period, Allan Chasanoff committed to building an informed collection of contemporary ceramics with Elozua serving as curator. The on-going discussions and research refined Elozua's critical eye and perceptions of his own work. By 1985, Elozua began searching for ways to express contemporary issues using traditional vessel forms as metaphor through fracture and reconstruction. Eventually this pursuit would lead to developing a hybrid of metalwork and ceramics, rendering abstract, skeletal silhouettes of teapots, bottles and traditional pottery in the early 1990s. Elozua's explorations of individual elements of Still Life compositions in three dimensions, found in Reconstructed Bottle (1986) and Reconstructed Teapot (1986) would take a back seat to a project that would earn his greatest artistic acclaim to date.

Home Scrap, Post-industrial Landscapes, Painting, Photographs and Sculptures 1985-1987, was inspired by photographers associated with the Works Progress Administration, such as Walker Evans and Dorothy Lange, echoing his own experience rooted in industrial Chicago. For two years Elozua photographed the decline and virtual extinction of the steel industry as a force in America's economic and cultural landscape. Portraits of the displaced steelworkers interposed with their actual words, in combination with painterly bas reliefs of the wasted landscape, proved socially responsive art did have a market in the gallery world.

In the 1990s, Allan Chasanoff introduced Elozua to the personal computer as a tool for photography and design. Virtually all of Raymon Elozua's subsequent work began with conceptual explorations on the PC, including the complex Wire Frame vessels, Reconstructed Teapots, Erector Teapots, massive grotesque heads, such as A Head in the Game: Speak the Truth-A, and numerous music projects.

Elozua's interest in music and the work of Abstract Expressionists informed his subsequent series of three dimensional abstract sculptures, which began by separating colors scanned on the computer from abstract paintings. Reassembling two dimensional paintings into three dimensional sculptures is a continuation of a lifetime of pushing creative and technical boundaries.

"Raymon Elozua's work is the product of enthusiastic dedication to artistic curiosity, self discovery and renewal, the research of ideas and the development of art," concluded Leffingwell. "Extending creative and technical boundaries to stretch the envelope of ideas and possible mediums, Elozua has found an avenue of independent inquiry that allows him to make real contributions to the field of art."

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