Controlled Exuberance


A Showing of Odd Ceramics by David Traylor

At Shift through February 27

By Cynthia Hibbard

The multilayered design of a large and complex garden—form imposed on chaos—is at the root of David Traylor’s work.

Both painter and sculptor, Traylor has not strayed far from the “curve of nature” that he once applied to designing imposing public spaces such as parks and arboretums as a principal in an east-coast landscape architectural firm.

These days Traylor works in smaller scale and on entirely personal landscapes in his Seattle studio, focusing at the moment on movable ceramic sculpture and densely patterned paintings on plexiglass over board.

For his Shift show of  “odd ceramics” Traylor is modest in describing his metallic-looking sculptures that defy their static nature since, with a slight push, they’ll spin on lazy-Susan-like platforms as if twirling in dance.


As well, Traylor  offers a series of  “Follies”—a nod to the extravagant, decorative buildings such as faux Roman temples or ruined abbeys that were once populated the grandest of 18th century French and English gardens.  Traylor’s follies—two of which also spin—are cylindrical, with pagoda-like tops and are decorated with brilliant, pop-ish designs painted in acrylic.

In May, a showing of other aspects of Traylor’s work will open at the Ryan James Fine Arts Gallery in Kirkland, and more of Traylor’s ceramic work will be featured at an upcoming show at Allied Arts on Vashon Island.


Traylor calls both sets of his stoneware pieces at Shift “transitional” in that through them he is exploring ways to make his sculptures gently move, like a breeze might waft through a garden, and occasionally to take on new and vivid surfaces.  But as always, he maintains his adherence to narrative and a sense of place.

For instance, in a spinning marker he calls “Maze,” Traylor has created exactly that—the top of the domed piece is covered with an intricate labyrinth of tiny ceramic balls and threads reminiscent of a birds-eye view over a traditional garden maze of sculpted yew.


In another spinning piece, “Dance,” a cluster of probes snake skyward like the lifted arms of Whirling Dervishes in ecstatic dance.

With the exception of his follies, all of Traylor’s hand-built vessels, markers and bowls and more—sculptures that he calls “a typology of simple forms”— are sprayed with highly metallic-hued slip (watery clay).  The effect is that they almost appear cast in bronze, with sheens that range from gold to bluish black and that give them a compelling presence.   In the intricacies of their lavishly built-up surfaces they also hold a stately tension.

Traylor says that he like to work at the interface of chaos and control.

“I revel in the collision of the exuberance and complexity of disorder with the struggle to create structure and comprehension,” he says.  “It is this struggle between order and chaos that creates beauty, new ideas, deeper understand and repose but also discordance, ambiguity, turbulence and ugliness.”

At this stage in his art career, Traylor is more and more drawn to making work that simply pleases him, of not being afraid of  “influences and personal histories, “ and also to enjoying the wildly varying reactions viewers have to his work.


One Shift visitor said he noticed that Traylor had cleverly covered plastic ear buds with slip and incorporated them into his work.  Of course he hadn’t, but he enjoyed the illusion.