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Wilkinson’s 1,200-bowl display works as commentary, sculpture

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Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — The art show by Ian Wilkinson at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is striking for its beauty, originality and ambition.

Wilkinson, 22, has created more than 1,200 bowls for a work of art that provides a rich and multi-colored display, along with a pointed message about economic inequality and world hunger.

Wilkinson is hosting a reception today from 5-8 p.m. at the UAF Fine Arts Gallery for “Spheres of Influence,” his thesis exhibition for a bachelor’s degree.

The foundation of his project consists of soup bowls, covering nearly 300 square feet in the gallery.

The handmade bowls are all the same height, but there are about 20 colors and glazes, with the bowls in straight lines like rows in a tightly spaced garden.

The floor of bowls is covered with a layer of quarter-inch acrylic glass. During the open house today, it will be possible to walk on the exhibit.

For the rest of the exhibition, he asks that people walk around the floor and not on it.

As part of this project, Wilkinson said he tested the bowls to see how much of a load they can handle — about 1,600 pounds per square foot.

In addition to the bowls in the floor, there are five large ceramic vessels that stand above all the rest, supported by a second layer of bowls. The large vessels, coated with a metallic glaze, are overflowing with rice, symbols of wealth and privilege.

The small bowls under the acrylic glass floor contain no rice, a few grains of rice or a few dozen grains, symbols of world hunger.

The floor covering is clear, but it is a barrier, such as the one the artist sees separating the many individuals facing deprivation and the relatively small number of people who have plenty.

The exhibit works both as social commentary and sculpture, an installation worthy of a permanent display in an art museum.

Wilkinson said it was a class at Lathrop High School, taught by Sheri Wolf,  that sparked his love of ceramics, though he wasn’t sure on his first day of high school.

“I really loved it for the first time in high school, but I didn’t know what ceramics meant. I thought it was going to be a quilting class or something when I walked in,” he said.

The oldest son of Fairbanks teachers Bob and Deb Wilkinson, Ian has been a prominent member of the UAF ski team during his college years.

Art Professor Jim Brashear sees a parallel between the attention to detail Wilkinson has shown in his production of the bowls and his training regimen as a skier — learning and perfecting his technique through repetition.

Wilkinson began throwing the soup bowls last summer.

“That was one of the most difficult things, throwing these bowls and not seeing the final project until literally three days ago,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“I had to spend 10 months on something I couldn’t see, that can be difficult. It’s like training. Day in and day out you don’t know how you will do that season, you just have to have faith and confidence in what you are working toward.”

One of the best aspects of this exhibition, which is to remain at the gallery until April 12, is that all of the soup bowls are to be sold from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 13 at the Fairbanks Community Food Bank as part of the annual Empty Bowls Sale.

His handmade bowls are to be priced at $15, with all proceeds going to the food bank.

“I think that’s the great thing about this exhibit. It’s going to remain, but it will be spread out,” he said. “It will still exist.”

He said when he makes a bowl, cup, plate or other container, he thinks of the people who might end up with it.

“Every time I’m making one of these I’m thinking that someone is going to use it, so I have to make it perfect. And my name is attached to them so I think it’s important to be precise.”

For his future plans, he said he may pursue an interest in sports science and he wants to keep skiing and “keep throwing,” either in a studio of his own or in some collaborative venture.

•••

SATURDAY BRUNCH: The Fox Lions invite you to brunch at the Lions Club, which is near the weigh station from

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in Fox. This is a benefit for Dina Hines, who is battling cancer and has no insurance

The cost is $10 for the brunch, $5 for children. There will be a raffle and silent auctions.

There is a donation account set up for her at the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, No. 1746308, in the name of Lloydina Hines.

For more information call Mary at 378-7603.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMdermot.

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