Gallery Spotlights | Visual Arts

Through the Nos Shape Theory Collective Strives for Acceptance and Reform

“Conjoined with Work Glove,” a recent piece by Russell Wrankle. Ceramic, glaze, wax, 2023. Courtesy the artist.

“I often wonder if I were the only person on earth, would I still make art?” Russell Wrankle wrote in a recent newsletter to the followers of his online gallery, Shape Theory Collective. “I’m not sure. Would you?”

It’s a question many of us confronted during the between time of the Covid-19 pandemic. All that imposed downtime promised an abundance of studio time. But it also threatened the opportunity to show it. How many artists during that time made less art rather than more?

A California native, Wrankle is a former potter turned sculptor who works out of a studio in southwestern Utah’s Toquerville (read our profile of the artist). He teaches in nearby Cedar City, but is hours removed from any large art center. Like many of us, he stays connected to a larger discourse, and to his audience, through the internet (he is also attuned to the internet’s pitfalls, as evidenced by a recent post about social media and artistic development). That is where, during the pandemic, Shape Theory Collective took form.

The venture’s name comes from the title of an abstract piece Wrankle created prior to the pandemic. “Making an abstract sculpture that is about pure form is a different way of thinking than trying to make sculpture that looks like something that already exists,” he wrote to his audience. “The word ‘Shape’ connotes the form, the contours or outline, which is perfectly applicable to the piece … and it’s applicable to the contours of this gallery that are still in development,” he says about the relationship between the two. “‘Theory’ is about ideas that support a course of action and I have a theory that my efforts can not only benefit you, the patron of art, but also the artists and those imprisoned for cannabis.”

Shape Theory Collective is a regular series of online curated exhibitions featuring sculptors and clay artists from around the country. It is driven in part by the impetus to enact criminal justice reform and help those imprisoned for nonviolent cannabis-related crimes. A percentage of proceeds goes to benefit Last Prisoner Project.

Wrankle’s abstract piece “Shape Theory” gave his gallery project its name. Courtesy the artist.

Wrankle’s experience with the titular abstract work also inspires how he curates his exhibitions. “I put my whole heart into several abstract pieces,” he says of creating the piece,” and when I thought they were ready for prime time, I entered [“Shape Theory”] into the adjudicated National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts exhibition.” The piece was rejected. The artists Wrankle represents on Shape Theory Collective have all been rejected. “I heard somewhere that it takes a thousand ‘nos’ to get to one ‘yes.’ I believe in these artists not only because their work is wonderful, but they’ve persisted in the face of so many obstacles, love, loss, longing and the vicissitudes of life. Their rejections and broken hearts were stepping stones that makes their art so fully human and it got them here. We celebrate the nos because they shape us and they get us one step closer to the yesses.”

People have long since emerged from their studios and galleries and museums are engaged in vigorous exhibition schedules, but artists are still being rejected, innocents are still imprisoned. So, two years and several exhibitions later Shape Theory Collective is [xing forward]. They just launched “Body Narrative,” a group exhibit featuring work by Tammy Marinuzzi, Magda Gluszek, Meghan Sullivan, Pavel Amromin, Jill Foote Hutton and Keith Smith. That exhibit will be followed by Lisa Clague (May 22) and Kyle Scott Lee (June 27).

Promotional material for Shape Theory Collective’s current online exhibition, “Body Narrative”

Meanwhile, Wrankle continues to ponder why he makes art. “I think I’m more dependent on the opinions of others than I’d like to admit,” Wrankle says. “If there was no one to celebrate my art, to give me compliments and accolades, would I still make it? Maybe instead of making art for the art market or to be celebrated by others, I’d begin to make art to appease the gods to send more rain, banish my loneliness, or to conjure a mate so that we can begin to repopulate the world anew.”

Or he just might make it to get someone out of prison.

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