The English poet and painter William Blake wrote, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” The wise artist sees even more.
Eric Serritella’s hand-carved ceramic birch sculptures not only fool the eye but engage it with sinuous shapes and a wide range of textures. Unlike the erect, pure forms we see on a forest walk, Serritella’s forms bear the marks of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—fires, carved initials, disease. But, he says, “There is beauty in nature despite what we do as humans.”
Serritella takes one organic substance, clay, to show the beauty of another organic entity, convincing us not only of the veri- similitude of his sculptures but demon- strating subtle design and an extraordinary mastery of the material.
His Emergence rises over 6 feet from its root-like base to the graceful, dancing shapes of its smooth-barked branches— a challenge he sought and met. He explains, “There are three big challenges in creating a sculpture this size in stone- ware. One is supporting the clay during the creating and forming stage. Too much armature interferes visually with the negative spaces in the design, so I keep external supports to a minimum, but sometimes that means things fall apart in the process and have to be rebuilt. The second is firing and reassembling the work since I don’t have a 6 foot tall kiln. Placement of joints must be strategically negotiated without compromising the design. Third, after firing there is sometimes some minor warping. As the work is reconstructed and epoxied together the joints must be carefully addressed to be blended and visually disappear.”
As he was explaining the process I recalled an earlier conversation in which he told the meaning behind birch trees. “For some reason every significant home we lived in had a lot of birch trees. My dad died when I was 10 and those birch trees remind me of him. For me, my dad is at the heart of all things birch. I think of them as the angels of the forest—these beings, almost mystical, ghostlike, with the purity of an angel.”