at Black Bean Ceramic Art Center

By Ted Fullwood

Though there aren’t any of Susannah Israel’s cups, teapots, or other such vessels in her show of ceramic sculptures at Black Bean Gallery (closed April 22), she is playing with variations on the meanings of “vessels.”

Cove by Susannah Isreal

Cove by Susannah Israel

First, there are the boats as vessels.  The boat sculptures suggest like imagery by Max Beckmann.  Both artists work in the Expressionist style and both have a Fauvist-like tendency to abut complementary colors.  Both Israel and Beckmann use the boat, specifically a crude rowboat, as a representation of their personal narratives.  According to Israel’s statements, part of her narrative is the death of her partner, artist Bill Lassell.  It’s too easy to interpret Israel’s boat pieces as a statement of feeling left adrift after a personal loss, so I won’t.  The boat pieces, Israel’s strongest work in the show, seem to be tableaux form Israel’s dream life.  The figures, often accompanied by animals, are generally expressionless and lack individuality, as though seen through a haze.  The boat motif gives the works a feeling of forward propulsion as well the sense of a side-to-side buffeting in the waves.  In the piece “Cove” the boat is full of water; it’s buffeting is from both the interior and exterior.

Stampede by Susannah Isreal

Stampede by Susannah Israel

Rose Queen by Susannah Isreal

Rose Queen by Susannah Israel

Some of Israel’s figurative pieces suggest other kinds of vessels, and the figure as vessel.  The pieces “Rose Queen” and “Garden” take the form of urns; the works “Stampede” and “Snowfall” are bottle-shaped.  A far-fetched and Old Testament take on the “figure as vessel shape” motif is that of “woman/womb as vessel”, bearer of life.  All of Israel’s figures are women and they do resonate with life.  But their progeny tend to be animals, not human.

Garden by Susannah Israel

The least successful works in the show are the animal portraits, a genre ubiquitous in the pages of Ceramics Monthly.  Seeing their popularity, I imagine these are bread earners; the masses love their domesticated animals.

Though Israel has certain control over her forms, she also works with great spontaneity and intuition.  With the fissures, crazes and finger marks in the pieces, she “lets clay be clay”.


Ted Fullwood is best known for his ceramic and chenille sticks (pipe cleaners) sculptures. Fullwood holds two degrees from SJSU – an MFA in Plastic Arts and an MA in Art History.

Black Bean Ceramic Art Center is a member-supported working studio with one of San Jose’s newest gallery spaces.  The Black Bean Gallery is located at 561 Emory Street.  For more information:  408-642-5757.

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