15 Bytes | Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Larry Elsner

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“As a sculptor, my concern is for form,” Larry Elsner wrote in 1977, “a maddening search for the unity of space and mass.” An Idaho native and longtime Utah State University professor, Elsner would always choose form over function, regardless of the medium in which he was working: bronze, clay, metal, stone, plaster, or wood.

Elsner died suddenly 25 years ago, on March 27, 1990, at the age of 59. At the time of his death, more than 700 pieces were collected from the Southwest to the Orient to be sorted and selected for a major 1992 retrospective at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum in Logan. Since then, little of his work has been seen in public. But as part of Phillips Gallery’s 50th anniversary exhibition, his sometimes humorous Asian-influenced modernist ceramic sculptures will be paired with Denis Phillips’ abstract hard-edge paintings.

Read our Artist Profile on Larry Elsner in the March 15, 2015 edition of 15 Bytes.

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  1. A story is told of a painter who became one because he loved the smell of paint. Larry Elsner loves everything about clay, including its ability to mimic his other loves: wood, metal, textiles. He may be inflected by Japanese ceramics, but he comes directly out of the post WWII crafts arts movement, in which Americans played a huge role. The surfaces of his quixotic forms, which often look like hand-woven fiber mats, manage to massage several separate senses at once. And the perfection of execution! I remember a client who told me my art was hand made (which he was paying for, he added) and hand made means FLAWS. Good luck finding the flaw in a master craftsman like this. A few years ago, after we’d been waiting thirty years, the Spiral Jetty surfaced and we were finally able to see it. I’ll be there Friday night, to see something that’s been hidden for 25 years, but which few of us could have known we were missing.

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