Art serves a useful purpose in two ceramics exhibits at the Columbia Art Center. Indeed, you could serve a meal with the assorted platters, mugs, teapots and other functional objects on display. There also are elegant vases just waiting to be filled with flowers and placed on your dinner table.
The two exhibiting artists want to serve that meal gracefully, if you will, because we all know that food tastes better when it is tastefully presented. The practical aspect of their ceramic production therefore is balanced by careful consideration of shape and surface finish.
In "50 Years in Clay: Joe Vitek," a number of objects reflect a traditional Japanese design influence. A small Tamba bottle has a beautifully curving shape, and the small Shino jar verges on being a miniature example of how simplicity and sophistication can be found in a tiny object.
Besides working variations on classic forms, Vitek has a keen interest in ceramic surface treatments that have colors melting together where they meet. In "Salt Glazed Bottle," there is a merger of brown and gray on the bottle's surface; in "Blue Mist Vase" and many similar examples, the melting zones of blue and tan possess a misty quality.
Vitek also occasionally carves into the ceramic surface. "Pumpkin Tall Jar with Sgraffito" has lines incised into its surface that give it a leafy design. The jar and other objects in a pumpkin-named series are not pumpkin-shaped, but, rather, refer to the coloration of the surface finish.
Further incisions can be seen in a series of earth-toned pasta jars that have a wheat stalk design on the surface. Additional incisions spell out the word "pasta," and the fact that these jars are lidded means they're really meant to be used in the kitchen.
Similar incisions in the side of "Temmoku Beer Mug" declare that it is intended to be filled with beer. It's currently sitting empty on a gallery shelf, of course, but some of us will find it easy to imagine this mug being used for its intended purpose.
The second exhibit, "The Craft of Composition: Ryan Greenheck," showcases functional ceramics made by an artist exploring possibilities in both shape and surface decoration.
Greenheck has a series of "Pattern Mugs" in which the sleekly curving sides of the mugs have surface decorations featuring vertical bands of green and brown.
In a series of "Pattern Cups," the green and brown designs across the surface bear a resemblance to the glistening appearance of peacock feathers. Cups this attractive would enhance any table.
"50 Years in Clay: Joe Vitek" and "The Craft of Composition: Ryan Greenheck" remain through Nov. 1 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village Center in Columbia. Call 410-730-0075 or go to http://www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org.