Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Melissa Balch Ceramics at M+M

Installation shots from Melissa Balch show at M+M. Photos by Lisa Kinoshita

What I first saw when peeking at Melissa Balch’s ceramics through the windows at Moss and Mineral, a.k.a., M+M, was a clot of stacked white balls about the size of ping-pong balls — with nipples. I was immediately reminded of some of Louise Bourgeoise’s strange and sexy sculptures.
Inside this unique arts and plant store Balch’s ceramic sculptures fill a large glass display case, a display table top, and one good-size section of wall. Balls, breasts, bladders and abstract, organic and otherwise anatomical forms abound.
Many of her pieces are small — some the size of a tightly closed fist, and some even smaller. The Bourgeoise-like stack of nippled ping-pong balls stands about a foot high. On the table at the back are a couple of larger pieces, and on the back wall is an installation with a larger sculptural piece all in white with a proliferation of little white balls all around. The larger part is a bulb-like form sprouting a flower on top, with a tiny little ceramic woman in a bathing suit doing a jackknife dive from the open petals of the flower. I must confess that I am usually put off by abstract sculpture with a face or figure stuck on. It’s like the artist doesn’t trust the viewer to “get” the beauty of the smooth abstract shape (for some reason they’re nearly all smoothly polished organic shapes) and has to add something recognizable to cater to the public. This is not one of those. In this one, the Ester Williams type diver is a tongue-in-cheek bit of kitsch. I love the absurdity of it
There are other pieces with fun figures or parts of figures. There is one with an open form like a conch shell in brilliant pink tones and a white pod with two baby hands reaching out. There’s also a playful little creature with pointed ears and great big blue glass eyes. And there are two pieces that are patterned after Japanese shoes.
Among the more abstract works are some that look like sea urchins and others covered with projections that look like barnacles.
Two of the largest pieces are fountain shapes with vertical towers, rounded on top, that rise from circular bases. The towers are riddled with multiple holes and covered with more of the little white balls that proliferate throughout the show. If these works were indeed fountains, I would expect water to flow from the holes.
This is a small show with many little pieces that hover between pure form and playful references to nature, many of them sexual in at least in implication. Sadly, M+M is open only on Saturday afternoons and by appointment. If you happen to be downtown in Tacoma, at least stop to look through the window, and if you can go by on a Saturday afternoon, please do. Shop owner Lisa Kinoshita will gladly open up for you if you’re interested in making a purchase.

Moss and Mineral, Saturday only, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment, through March, 16, 305 South 9th Ave., Tacoma, 253.96.5220, mossandmineral.com.

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