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'Totems and Plates' at Blue Line

Roseville gallery features ceramic artwork
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Guest curator Tony Natsoulas points out a single doughnut in a stack of dozens of multi-colored ceramic doughnuts that make a totem pole.

“I give her a hard time,” he says, smiling. “I’ve never seen an orange doughnut. We tease her that they look like lifesavers.”

The piece by artist Robyn Slakey nearly reaches the ceiling of Blue Line Gallery in Roseville.

And the artwork’s bright color is part of the fun found in the gallery’s current ceramic exhibit, Totems and Plates, which features the work of about 70 artists and runs through May 14.

Plus, the totem succeeds because of the relationship between each piece. There is a purpose to why the art is vertical, Natsoulas says.

He knows what he’s talking about.

Named by the Smithsonian Institution as one of the top 100 craft artists in the United States, he has worked with and shown alongside some of the finest contemporary American artists of our time, says Roseville Arts CEO Julie Hirota.

The Sacramento artist is known internationally for his unconventional ceramics, especially for his large-scale, often-whimsical figurative work.

Natsoulas describes the Totems and Plates exhibit as a presentation of “traditional forms in non-traditional ways.” Plates are represented as paintings and totems as contemporary sculpture.

“It’s a vibrant show that’s bringing a variety of high-caliber artists to Roseville’s redevelopment district, while showcasing our partnership with community artists,” Hirota says.

Roseville Arts, the nonprofit organization behind Blue Line Gallery, hopes to bring in more guest curators as a way of offering visitors a “strong variety of different perspectives,” she says. This is Natsoulas’ second time curating a Blue Line show.

One of his plates, called “Carston or Augustus” is on display, too. The ceramic sculpture depicts the torso of his mentor, renowned figurative ceramic sculptor Robert Arneson, as a Charles Lindbergh baby. The baby has an older man’s face and wears swaddling clothes and a pilot’s cap.

“I was talking to (Arneson’s) 80-year-old cousin and hearing funny stories about him as a child,” Natsoulas says. “When he was 2, he was the same age as the Lindbergh baby and looked just like him. His mother was afraid he’d be taken away from her.”

The exhibit features several other notable artists who studied under Arneson, including Peter VadenBerge and Robert Brady.

Another one of Natsoulas’ former teachers, Dennis Neu, is also showcased in the exhibit. The guest curator took art class from Neu starting in the summer after fourth grade.

“He almost flunked me,” Natsoulas says. “It was a 3-D class and we used all kinds of materials. We started with clay and I fell in love with clay. I didn’t want to do anything else.”

Now a mentor, Natsoulas also selected pieces from emerging artists he guides at Alpha Ceramics Supplies, Inc.

“It’s not just professionals, but other people doing good stuff, too,” he says.

Some of the artists usually work as painters but branched out and explored ceramics for this exhibit.

“I think it’s just a fantastic show, if I do say so myself,” Natsoulas says. “It’s because of the artists, not me. I’m a good herder.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Totems and Plates ceramic exhibition

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays until May 14. Public reception is 7-9 p.m. Saturday, April 16

Where: Blue Line Gallery, 405 Vernon St., Suite 100 in Roseville

Cost: Free, donations welcome and artwork for sale

Info: Call (916) 783-4117 or visit www.rosevillearts.org