November 2013

“William Catling may be creating clay figures but rather than being replicas of the human body, they are closer to his personal concept of the human spirit or soul. Throughout his work we tend to see elongated with faces unattributable to any race, creed or gender. Bereft of arms ( at times tree branches or approximation of wings substitute for limbs) they do not seem to stand on very firm ground either.”read more…

by Daniella Walsh

Measure of Duration by William Catling

Main Street Gallery, Pomona, October 12th, 2013

by David Pagel

The human body is a vehicle and a vessel, both a great way of getting around our immediate surroundings and an even better container for the most important things we carry with us through life, which include, but are not limited to, an ever-evolving host of convictions and memories, dreams and desires, beliefs and suspicions, regrets and disappointments, emotions and hopes.

In William Catlin’s new works, the human body’s natural capacity to function as both a vehicle and a vessel takes heightened form. Metaphors mix, powerfully and freely, in the artist’s variously scaled sculptures and drawings, inviting visitors into an intimate world that is every bit as real as the real one and a whole lot more resonant than what has come to pass as normal reality in the digital phase of the Information Age: the nonstop barrage of visual stimulation that makes up the image glut of modern life and replaces the fantasy of instantaneous gratification with the burden of instantaneous communication. Current circumstances leave very little space, and precious little time, for silence, much less for contemplation and the serenity onto which it sometimes opens. If attention spans are indeed diminishing, that doesn’t bode well for introspective self-reflection, which, at the bare minimum, requires slow, silent attentiveness to the subtlest of intuitions and the most fleeting of inklings, none of which are sufficiently dazzling or theatrical or fabulous to capture the hyperactive attentiveness of crowds hungry for bigger the better spectacles, each more spectacular—and flashy—than the last.

That’s where Catling’s figures enter the picture, filling the gallery, not to mention the mind’s-eye, as well as one’s memories (but that doesn’t happen until later), with a kind of stillness that is sometimes found in nature, when, for example, calmness settles on a lazy summer afternoon in the middle of nowhere, and nothing’s better than being there, marveling at the mundane majesty of it all; or in cities, in the very early morning hours, when no one is around to interrupt the intimacy of the experience by shattering the silence that makes it magical. Such fleeting moments get drawn out in time—and sharpened in focus—in the presence of Catling’s quiet beings, whose demeanors suggest that they are not in a hurry and, more important, that there’s no need for visitors to worry about missing some fleeting bit of brilliance that appears out of nowhere and then is gone forever. Such now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t razzle-dazzle plays no part in these calming creatures, who look as if they’ve been around for awhile and are perfectly content to wait—patiently, humbly, and without the drama of fanfare—to share their wisdom with anyone who happens to cross paths with them.

Esoteric expertise is not required; simple attentiveness is all that it takes to be on intimate terms with Catling’s art, which prefers the everyday accessibility of ordinary things to the overblown expectations of over-specialized endeavors. The profoundly democratic impulse at the heart of his work gives each piece a sense of radical openness—of come-one, come-all inclusiveness that is less interested in those characteristics that differentiate us as individuals and more concerned with what unites us as a species. In this sense, his figures are intentionally, even defiantly, out-of-step with modern art’s obsession with signature styles, one-of-a-kind touches, and unique, never-to-be-imitated originality, not to mention trademark moves, brand-name features, and market niches. Salt-of-the-earth simplicity animates Catling’s figures, all of which embody a deep appreciation of the basics: earth, water, air, and fire, as well as light and darkness, matter and meaning, life and death, love and longing.

In Catling’s hands, selfless receptivity is amply rewarded: The insights that can be gleaned from his dual-purpose people—which are both vehicles and vessels—set inquisitive visitors to thinking, imaginatively and fancifully yet reasonably and realistically, about our own selves as vehicles and vessels that carry us, literally, through life, but are not completely defined by such pedestrian purposes. Catling’s wonderfully down-to-earth works expand our capacity to understand that our bodies are vehicles for understanding—not merely tools for physical transport, but occasions for journeys that take us far beyond the literal distances we actually travel, into dimensions commonly referred to as internal, subjective, poetic, existential, or spiritual. Such labels matter little to Catling, or to his unpretentious, experience-oriented works, which embrace the real gist of things, rather than the various ways such firsthand experiences get translated, categorized, turned into formulas, and, eventually, institutionalized—historically, stylistically, and conceptually.

At the same time, his earthen works reveal that our bodies, as vessels, carry all sorts of things that we do not put into them, things that we have very little control over. While it is true that our minds sometimes seem to be repositories of all sorts of knowledge, our memories storage centers for all sorts of experiences, and our flesh the sum total of everything that has happened to us, our souls or our spirits are something more than that.

The indescribable elusiveness of the soul is what Catling is after in his handmade works, whose physical features appear worn and weathered, their details and particulars ground down to the essentials: the most basic stuff of life. And Catling is wise enough to know that it is futile to force such important—and delicate—matters upon others, especially those of us who like to think for ourselves and are congenitally predisposed to reject other peoples’ discoveries because we are intellectually disinclined to take anything on faith. Put simply, we need to see for ourselves—even if we can’t see just what it is that constitutes our selves.

So Catling leaves us free to make what we will of his figures, whose aged, even ancient appearance is counterbalanced by an equal and opposite sense of becoming. Every one of the ten pedestal-mounted figures that make up his “Rook” series appears to be stirring, as if awakening from something like deep slumber. The demeanors, postures, and body language of these figures recall what it is like to watch someone else as consciousness comes back to their body after a long night of restfulness and they open their eyes to a world renewed by nothing more than the revivifying respite provided by a night of sound sleep. Although Catling’s gorgeously worn figures evoke great expanses of time—geological as well as human—they are oriented toward the future, suggesting that no matter how much has happened in the past, what really matters is what we do with it in the present, right here and right now.

The great paradox of Catling’s art revolves around the relationship it establishes between the self and everyone—and everything—else around it. In the old days, when literary Romanticism and painterly Realism defined life in the modern world, this dynamic would have been thematized as the relationship between the individual and the group. With vivid detail and significant insight, this perspective often described the conflicts and conundrums a sensitive individual experienced as he strived to realize his self in the face of cruel society and uncaring nature. In contrast to such antagonistic, stand-apart egotism, Catling’s works cast the relationship between the self and its surroundings in more fluid terms.

The works in his “Rook” series are, in a sense, contemporary versions of portrait busts. In the past, this genre of realistic depiction commemorated, celebrated, and memorialized distinguished individuals, mostly unique leaders whose singular strengths set them apart from ordinary folks and marked them as great men. Catling’s busts turn this venerated tradition of portraiture inside-out—not aggressively and violently, like so much art that wants to be iconoclastic, but gently and generously, with the intention of expanding the breadth and deepening the impact of the tried-and-true format that has all but run its course and been left at the wayside, a memento of yesteryear in a world of nonstop stimulation that isolates individuals in solipsistic bubbles of me-first distraction. Rather than portraying great or famous men, Catling’s busts depict ordinary folks whose ethnicities, even genders, are ambiguous. Stripped of everything and anything that might indicate class or status or time and place, these people could be just about anyone. And that is the way Catling invites us to relate to them: as humans. Not as people who occupy positions of power over us, or as celebrities, or as historical figures, or as loved ones, or as anyone special at all; but simply as people: living beings whose pasts are not ours to know and whose selves are unfathomable, but whose futures we may share, if we care to. In Catling’s hands, less is more, although not in the ways the Modernists imagined it.

The casual approachability of Catling’s figures is integral to their way of being in the world, which shapes a visitor’s interactions with them. Each sculptural bust is an animated figure whose head and shoulders emerge from lumpy clumps of clay that have been squeezed together into rudimentary mounds that include such exquisitely detailed, model-train-scale architectural features as stairs, doors, arches, buttresses, turrets, stone walls, and windows. Rather than setting up situations in which visitors are privy to the internal lives of others—their secrets laid bare for our voyeuristic delectation—Catling invites us to look at fantastic creatures as if they were just like us: unresolved hodgepodges of mismatched elements and occurrences that sometimes come together to make perfect sense but more often remain deeply mysterious—not only to others but to ourselves. That mysteriousness is the heart and soul of Catling’s art, which is a vehicle and a vessel for far more than meets the eye.

IEMA : Stories from the Art: Bill Catling

September 2013

“I know that my art probably has a select audience. Not everyone understands it. The ceramic audience wants to see more traditional media handling, and I am not interested in those questions. I am interested in handling the clay and making it into vessels. These are vessels -just particular vessels” read more… 


Clay Times

November 2007

“College-level art educators and their outstanding students from Southern California showcase their work at the American Museum of Ceramic Art this April.” read more…

by ClayTimes


October 2004

“Whether Catling’s figures’ feet are spiked with countless nails, their torsos scarred and convoluted, or their limbs severed from bodies, they convey a nobility that is informed by classical sculptures as well as the earthy and provocative work of Rodin or Giacometti.” read more…

By Daniella Walsh

Ceramics: Art and Perception

No. 31 1998

“Their standard became one of excellence and, as the collection grew, they found they were not interested so much in having examples of all the well known names but rather in collecting work that had an impact for them, that possessed that edge of excitement that made them want to discover more about the artist and the reasons behind the work.” read more…

William Catling, Jeffrey

Crussell and Nancy Harlan


October 2 – 31, 2004 at OCCCA, Orange County

Read the full article on


by Daniella Walsh


Three artists, sculptor William Catling, multi-media artist Jeffrey Crussell and ceramicist Nancy Harlan title their current group show Journeys. This is apt since they aim to lead their audience, through their art, down the more or less convoluted paths of their own inner journeys.


Catling’s sculptures evidence a journey that begins with the ancient question: Who are we; who am I? He draws answers from human history and the tenets of the Christian gospel. Consequently, his work evidences a beatific joy and pain. Viewers familiar with his near-monumental clay sculptures will recall that the figures, in nearly all instances, pay homage to the nobility and inevitability of suffering.

For this show Catling has, for the first time in decades, created his unrelentingly anguished figures cast in bronze. But, besides his rediscovery of a long abandoned medium and a scaling down of size, little has changed conceptually. His torn, flayed and Sebastian-like androgynous figures are still emaciated, hidden behind reed-like constructions or imprisoned in cocoons with faces partially obscured and contorted in pain. They are metaphors for tortured souls, but never devoid of beauty and the implication of hope.


Whether Catling’s figures’ feet are spiked with countless nails, their torsos scarred and convoluted, or their limbs severed from bodies, they convey a nobility that is informed by classical sculpture as well as the earthy and provocative work of Rodin or Giacometti. A more immediate precedent would be Steven De Staebler. Indeed, Catling studied under that master and is eloquent in expressing his admiration for him.


Catling builds soaring, winged spiritual entities. He describes a bronze angel titled Pilot to the Realm Unknown, as a spiritual guide. Much like the flight of creation, these angels are beautiful apparitions that may be seen as timeless and yet topical.

Nancy Harlan’s life journey has taken her down several paths, 25 years of corporate law practice among them. Working now as a full-time ceramicist, her pieces address women’s social issues, particularly conditions imposed by their native culture. For example, she tackles the subject of physical mutilation for the sake of marriageability.


In an installation titled 1001 Bowls, so titled for the quantity of ceramic pots filled or embellished with found or recycled objects. She likens the vessels to Buddhist monks’ begging bowls that are filled by the faithful to sustain them as they wander. In the same spirit Harlan insists on using recycled materials. As a result, the installation effectively approximates her personal creative journey and its unpredictability. Viewers in tune with the environment and appreciative of a Zen attitude toward life will find resonance in this work.


Jeffrey Crussell uses his divorce as a point of departure for many of his architecturally influenced constructions, attempting to analyze the convoluted paths of male/female relationships and the choices they entail. Presuming the random way most approach such couplings, Crussell presents a thirty-three-inch in diameter Roulette wheel positioned so that viewers can give it a spin. If you take the trouble to do so, you might find out what lies in store for you and your mate.


At first glance one might take Crussell’s work as an exercise in ego exposition, but he deserves credit for mapping both successes and failures. He says that the works are designed to draw viewers into the dialogue, causing them to examine their own relationships and the influence they exert on their lives. Lifeline, roughly 25 feet long, chronicles several of the artist’s relationships and how long they lasted. Crussell likens his works, covered as they are with letters and words, to the artist books he made at the beginning of his creative journey.


It seems these artists, like many others among us, are finding their creative path by retreating into their own space, and drawing on the vicissitudes of their personal lives. Perhaps we have seen too little of this of late, and these artists reflect that an unspoken edict banning highly personal art is lifting. One can be hopeful that such collective soul searching will provide fresh aesthetic revelations.