The artist duo BLECHMEKI (a portmanteau of their last names, Max Blechman and Kazu Umeki) use mass-produced American pottery from the 1930s to 1980s to create photo tableaux of stunning simplicity and beauty.
At first glance, the individual pieces of pottery – such as vases or figurines – appear identical, but closer inspection reveals subtle and captivating variations both in form and color.
Indeed, the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi (appreciating beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete in nature) reverberates throughout their pottery. By applying geometric compositions in the photography of these objects, BLECHMEKI’s work compels the viewer to consider the artworks in ways which transcend their commonplace origins.
If one were to pick a phrase that aptly sums up a traditional Japanese aesthetic sensibility, it might well be wabi-sabi.
A combination of two old words with overlapping definitions, wabi-sabi is aligned with the Buddhist view of the facts of existence:
Both life and art are beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal, but because they are imperfect and fleeting.
Mid-Century American Pottery
Max Blechman started his collection back in 1985, when he moved from New York to San Francisco. Max found his first pieces at the Marin City flea market, collectible/antique stores, garage and yard sales. Once Max discovered eBay, his collection exploded.
There are now over 10,000 pieces in his collection. Max carefully selects pieces: they need to "resemble each other in some way and make a cohesive whole when you look at them en masse" and they can't be too "cute and kitschy".
The collection contains pottery from several different brands — Catalina, West Coast, Camark, Pacific, Shawnee, Metlox, Padre, and others.
In 1937, Shawnee Pottery began operations in the former American Encaustic facility in Zanesville, Ohio. It is best known for producing Corn King pottery and the Pennsylvania Dutch lines of pottery. The Zanesville area was known as the largest pottery-producing region in the country.
Catalina Pottery was started in 1927 on Santa Catalina island in California. Red clays found on the island were used for pottery initially, and then eventually mixed with white clay from the United States mainland. Glazes were made with local minerals mined on the Island.
Founded in 1926, Camden Art Tile and Pottery Company was the third and last producer of Art Pottery in Arkansas. Samuel Jacob “Jack” Carnes, a native of Zanesville, Ohio, and an engineer with knowledge of the pottery business, created the company with several Ohio associates, including businessmen and artists.
"Now many pieces of pottery sit unseen, in attics and storerooms, gathering dust.
BLECHMEKI has amassed and arranged them to create new, abstract photographic images.
By applying geometric compositions and tessellations, the resulting photography transcends the commonplace to achieve a rare artistic simplicity."
"Our inspiration often comes from everyday moments and objects — a simple moment like shimmering sunlight hitting a bathtub, or dappled light shining through trees in a park.
Our work doesn’t include symbolism, per se.
We are trying to leave the interpretation of our art to the viewers' own memory and experience."
world in chaos
"I like the way the individual pieces look and, strangely enough, feel. And I like the way many almost identical pieces, when placed together in sub-collections, look even better.
So much of the world is in chaos, and, in a small way, by bringing all these pieces of pottery together, I am fighting entropy and hopefully fighting chaos."
Similar but unique
"That’s one of the joys and discoveries I made early on. Even though this pottery is factory made in molds, there are oftentimes dissimilar pieces, varying by noticeable differences, when placed together in a row. I find this fascinating because it shows the variation in something that is supposed to be fixed."