by Nicole DeWald, Arts Supervisor for the City of Greenbelt
For ceramic artist Chris Corson, “sculpting the human form is exploring the human condition. Inner emotions are always reflected in the body.” Corson is a new resident of Greenbelt and a participant in the ceramics program at the Community Center. “I feel very in sync with Greenbelt,” he comments, noting the “sense of community… almost a sense of mission.”
Corson’s sculpture includes full and partial male figures ranging in scale from one-half to three-quarters life size. The figures’ postures frequently convey a deep interiority or attitude of self-protection, counterbalancing the exposure inherent in their nudity. Heads are often downturned or absent, which the artist explains is in part a strategy to avoid locking the figure into the specific individuality signified by a face. He prefers to leave more room for empathy and to strive for broader resonance. “When other people find a part of themselves in my work,” Corson writes, “I believe I have reached the universal.”
The sculptures’ surfaces are sooty and complex. After initially being fired in an electric kiln, the pieces are finished using the ancient technique of pit firing in which the artwork is surrounded by combustible materials in a hole in the ground. (Corson maintains a pit in Upper Marlboro, where he previously resided.) Alternatively, some pieces have been finished in a raku or wood-fired kiln. Beyond their sheer beauty, Corson believes these surfaces help to convey part of the sculptures’ meaning; they speak to raging forces of social and economic injustice against which the figures are seeking to shield themselves.
Corson’s engagement with social justice concerns long preceded the creation of his sculptures. He served as general counsel for an international machinists’ labor union, capping a 30-year legal career. He began working with clay in 2008 and transitioned to the arts on a full-time basis in 2013. Corson is currently a member of the Studio Gallery in D.C., along with the Washington Sculptors Group and the Maryland Federation of Art. He has been exhibiting his sculptures since 2014 at venues including the Circle Gallery (Annapolis), Delaplaine Arts Center (Frederick), Baltimore Clayworks and Hillyer Art Space (Washington).
The artist notes a family lineage of creativity and craftsmanship. His father was a commercial illustrator for auto racing magazines as well as a schoolteacher. His grandfather designed and built wooden boats in Atlantic City, where his clients included both rum runners and the United States Coast Guard. His grandfather’s influence, in particular, imparted an appreciation for the inherent possibilities of a material that could be unlocked by skilled hands.
The palpable, emotional content of Corson’s sculpture has emerged through a physically grounded, introspective process. “I work deeply from my own inner senses of body and feeling,” Corson notes. “This allows me to tap sources truer than my intellectual mind, and the resulting pieces often surprise me with more honesty and nuance than my initial feeling.” His work seeks to evoke a sense of strength that incorporates vulnerability, rather than opposing it.
Corson is featured in a Spotlight article in the April 2019 edition of Ceramics Monthly Magazine, which can be viewed online. His sculpture “Bare Earth” was selected for the national juried exhibition Freedom: Art as Messenger on view through June 14 at the Cato Institute in Washington. This show aims to use the power of art to bring disparate political views into dialogue. Accompanying panel discussions will be live-streamed on May 22 and June 5. To see more of Corson’s work, visit chriscorsonsculpture.com.
This article was originally published in the April 18, 2019 issue of the Greenbelt News Review. Republished with permission.