You don’t even need to have set foot in Kentucky to be aware of its love affair with bourbon. Which is why gallery director Amy Chase from Spot 5 Gallery thought that having an exhibition with the theme would drive up community interest. “Louisville is so bourbon,” says Chase. She hopes the exhibit, titled “On the Rocks II,” will get consumers appreciative of the professional drinking vessels behind the spirit. There are 39 pieces in the show, and they are as diversified as the artists who created them. It took Chase four months to weed through submissions and pick the top contenders. The exhibit includes paintings, photographs, glass and a large showing of ceramics.
One of the featured artists is Dan McCabe from Running Dog Pottery. “I love jugs — they’re such an American icon,” he says. As a potter, the drink vessel’s simple form is what attracts him. The Chicago-based artist has been crafting his art for 14 years, and he believes a jug’s connection to food and drink makes it an important part of our history. “The bourbon bottle has always been a favorite form of mine, despite only becoming a serious bourbon drinker for the last few years,” he says. “Since bourbon is a native thing, it’s part of the culture in Kentucky, which is what makes the show all that more interesting.”
His piece “Obesity Jugs” suffered a bit of a mishap on the way down to Louisville when the set of three was reduced to two due to a shipping incident. His other piece, “The Train Jug,” has a much sweeter story. “I’m starting to make jug trains because my sons loves trains,” McCabe says. “The one in the show is a prototype, so who knows how far this idea will go.” Unfortunately, McCabe won’t be able to make it to the exhibition due to his teaching schedule, but he’s been doing his part in trying to spread the word. He says that sharing his art with people is his motivating factor for creating it. “When someone understands it, that’s when I believe I’ve done my job as an artist.”
It takes only a few moments of speaking with Chris Archer for his passion for ceramics to come out. To say his projects are of an epic proportion feels like an understatement considering it takes seven days, 24 hours a day, with a team of 15 to 20 to keep the kiln loaded with hundreds of pounds of kindling. Then add another week or two for cooling and a day to unload. The final product is so breathtaking that this drawn-out process — which creates the vivid colors, shines and textures on his cups — seems well worth it. The effects are dramatic and subtle at the same time.
Archer says the cup is actually a challenging object to make because there’s so much to consider — like the weight and texture in the hand and the functionality of the cup. “It all informs each other to create a perfect harmony,” he says. His approach to enjoyment is simple, however: “If you’re going to perform such a mundane task as drinking, you might as well enjoy the heck out of it.”
His cups were created with this intention. “It’s really nice to be in a show where bourbon is at the center,” says Archer. “The consumption of bourbon, the complexity of what you’re drinking or the conversation surrounding it, your fingers dancing around the spirit is really an involved process. You’re paying a lot of attention to the details whether you’re alone and contemplating, or deep in discussion. Bourbon’s that type of slow spirit that brings you into a sensorial moment.”