Portrait by: Gene Sasse 2013
Rising to meet the last light of day | Ceramic, wood and wire 2009

Stories from the Art: William Catling


“I know that my art probably has a select audience. Not everyone understands it. The ceramic audience wants to see more traditional media handling, and I am not interested in those questions. I am interested in handling the clay and making it into vessels. These are vessels -just particular vessels”


As the earth groans and shakes, so William Catling’s figures groan with pain, the shaking often restrained by the bindings that are literal material, and the figurative arms of self and community. “The work is designed to be symbolic of an internal journey, quietly impacting the space around it or the viewer who comes close.”

His figures rooted to the earth with over sized feet contend with the notion that we are separate from the ground, while others with feet perched suggest that flight is not only possible, but inevitable. “We are all made of the same things; pain and being earth bound seem to be the bonding connections, how are we human? What is the human essence? Those are common questions I ask.”

And then there are the wings. Skeletal wings emerging from ravished bodies, they hang with disturbing grace; some twisted together with barbed wire. “The wings are very much about this idea of flight, whether it might be in our bodies or in our spirits; it intrigues me that the things that cage us can become the very thing that sets us free.”

Archaic and Biblical in nature, his metaphors bring to mind the story of creation – man emerging from the earth - the natural giving rise to the human - the eventual return to the ground - dust to dust. For these pieces of art, he uses the elemental materials found in nature. Clay, bronze, wood; and chooses earthen tones with which to stain his work. “Art is a way to manage suffering, to find a way to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense. I think suffering is one of the common links in humanity.”

William attempts to work out his own questions through his art. He feels called to do this, called to be an artist and as such, it shapes his life. “Everything I do is wrapped within that calling. I am husband, father, teacher…”  All wrapped within the calling of artist.

His art is about sustainability as well. He uses reclaimed clay, leftovers from his studio. The wood is from Plum trees on his property, Mulberry trimmings from trees where he works; wood offered with love as gifts. He has piles of salvaged wire and miscellaneous material that he has picked up, hoping that his hand will choose the right item at the right time for a particular piece. He serves the material, the process, the audience. “And my service starts here in the studio. It’s my act of service, my act of worship, it’s what I do.”

Within each piece of art, there is an element of hope to be found. The limitations and suffering are evident - the work stuns the viewer with raw impact – but the possibility for transcendence is also whispering quietly to anyone that will still himself and listen. William Catling’s art engages a depth of introspection that is all too rare. Not always comfortable, but potentially life changing.
Peering down into the birth of spring | Mason stains on stoneware with cast bronze boat from plum branches 2012
Peering down into the birth of spring | Ceramic, wood & wire 2009
Curator: Gene Sasse
Writer: Laurie Morrison
©2013 Inland Empire Museum of Art
All Art © by The Artist