Painting in Clay

Hopewell artist Patricia Lange loves an adventure, and she loves to experiment. A believer in the happy accident, she recently visited the desert of her native Chile, and was inspired by the terra cotta terrain to create a new series of ceramic friezes. Terra cotta clay is actually very fragile, so she used stoneware with a terra cotta slip glaze.

The result is a sort of painting in clay, and can be seen at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville through July 4. Each of the nonfunctional ceramic works hangs on the wall, each rich with pattern and texture, using these to tell a story. Ms. Lange’s studio is filled with tools, or objects she turns into tools, and she uses these to stamp and print the clay. The result is intricate and full of surprises.

Here’s what I wrote about Pat Lange in 2003:

There are many ways to fall in love with Patricia Lange. The first is right there on her front lawn in Hopewell, where, at first glance, you might suspect an alien landing. Everything from large, stainless steel modern sculpture and black Louise Nevelson-like formations to circular enamel pieces that evoke the moon, and masks in mediums from aluminum to clay, populate the park-like setting.

A grouping of clay masks leads you up a brick path to the front door, where you enter Ms. Lange’s gallery. The display tracks her evolution from enamels to metal work, found objects and clay. The space also holds a grand piano, and Ms. Lange and her husband, Gregory Nagy, host musical soirees here in the winter – just one other way to fall hook, line and sinker for the artist who speaks with a Chilean accent. Mr. Nagy’s father was an opera director, and Ms. Lange has made masks decorated with diva jewelry from his attic trunks to lend a New Orleans atmosphere.

From the gallery, you follow Ms. Lange to her basement studio, where through the window you see her artistry extending into the outdoors. On a wet, late-summer day, the garden sings with color and attracts a hummingbird and goldfinch. A fig tree bursts with full green fruit, awaiting an extra burst of sunshine to ripen. Bees, too, are attracted to the world of Patricia Lange.

Her fascination with plants and the natural world shapes her work in all media, but especially her ceramic work. Since retiring as an accounting consultant with General Electric, she has devoted herself full time to clay.

Ms. Lange’s passion for saving dried flowers and moss-like structures to add to her ceramic vessels means many of the ceramics are designed to accommodate flowers, such as some of her ikebana trays.

One sits atop the piano in her gallery, holding a freshly picked cosmos. Ms. Lange knows art often comes from accident – from letting it happen, letting it open up a new line of vision. And, she adds, “everything is an accident.”

For example, a black shiny flower-like vessel that blends memories of Georgia O’Keeffe and Dale Chihuly, was originally supposed to stand upright, but when Ms. Lange looked away, the sides fell. Rather than stick to her original plan, she let the sides flop, forming petals like elephant ears. The result is a sensuous piece, and on this day it holds a single red carnation in a cavity of water.

Whether working in enamel, metal or clay, Ms. Lange sees her work as a process of experimentation. “I am not afraid to ruin a piece,” she says. “It’s OK because I’m learning, and next time I’ll know what to do.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, Ms. Lange studied art with sculptor Totila Albert. With Mr. Albert she worked in clay, making figures, but in her heart she wanted to be making the large metal pieces her mentor made. “I thought it was too big a dream to reach for,” she says, so after moving to New York she began working in enamel. With her son, then a baby, she attended classes at Riverside Cathedral.

Later, after moving to Hightstown with her first husband, she was invited by the American Orchid Society to make enamel orchids that would be awarded to third-place winners. The society set her up with a kiln, tools and materials she uses to this day.

After her success with enamels, she began incorporating metal, until the work was more metal than enamel, and ultimately she was producing the large outdoor heavy steel pieces of her dreams. She exhibited at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum; the Zimmerli Museum and Quietude Garden Gallery; Grounds for Sculpture; and many corporate galleries, among other places. Her work has been bought by corporate and private collectors.

“I came back to clay because it is so earthy,” says Ms. Lange. “Enamel is a very exact art, you have to be precise with how much enamel you put on, the temperature and time in the kiln. You need to think in a way I was doing as a financial analyst with math, and I wanted to have more spontaneity. Now, as I am putting my fingers into clay, I find I am imitating metal with clay.”

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2 Responses to Painting in Clay

  1. bill hogan says:

    Painting clay is nothing new. The work looked interesting although I can’t say I like her ‘subject’ matter.
    I used to do clay characters in plastilla clay for a newspaper I worked for in Northjersy, and then paint them with acrylic paints for publication. A lot of fun.
    I still have a number of them and most are still in good shape. Unbelievable.
    Thanks for all the art news and articles.

  2. Andreas Falley says:

    I just found this. I hope it remains online for many years. What a beautiful tribute to my mom’s legacy. Thank you so much for writing this and leaving me with such a wonderful way to remember and share with others my mom’s legacy.

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