Sunday, March 22, 2009

Artsville, Texas: Carl Block’s jug heads on the auction block

An oldie but a goodie: this is a December 2007 blog I did for the North Texas NPR outlet, KERA's Art+Seek blog.

Leafing through an online catalog of 885 lots of folk art auctioned with the collection of Academy Award-winning film director Jonathan Demme that were auctioned recently, it was easy to miss one North Texas gem.
Tucked away amid the naïf works billed as self-taught art masterpieces, the African American quilts and decorative arts and the rest of the Southern folk pottery, Carl Block’s Two-Face Devil Jug and Mini Jug were classic examples of the artist’s work. Bearing multiple fearsome eyes and grimaces showing evidence of an undeniable need for an orthodontist, they are what’s known to some as Southern face jugs.
In Waxahachie, where Block makes his home along with Flatland Pottery, the Webb Gallery cultivates quirky and unusual American folk art. The gallery’s Web site describes his design as “mirroring his own fun and bold self.”
Director Demme is reported to have one of the largest private collections of Haitian artwork in the U.S. With his taste for folk-flavored pieces, it’s perhaps easy to see why Block’s bold work might have appealed to him as well. The artist’s “60 Eye Jug” on the University of Texas-Tyler Web site may recall for some images of the shades and forms of Mexican pottery, an influence that might stem from the time Block’s family spent traveling Mexico during his formative years. Its many eyeballs peering out from the green glaze are perhaps not unlike Demme’s famous Hannibal Lecter garage in Silence of the Lambs.
Then there’s the casual cool of the gap-toothed guitar player in a Hawaiian shirt. A University of North Texas graduate, Carl Block is a seriously pedigreed potter who often doesn’t take his subject matter too seriously at all.
Snakes and alien faces merge into primitive patterns on the glazed earthenware that has been displayed at Edith Baker Gallery in Dallas and the William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth, among many other places.
Like many creatives, Block’s artistic bent has a musical outlet as well. He’s half of the Waxahachie group Baithouse Stompers. He and fellow musician Neel Brown have a regular Wednesday evening gig at the College Street Pub in Waxahachie, and their adoring fans proudly call themselves Baitheads. On MySpace, they are billed as Americana/Reggae/Psychedelic. It was just a matter of time, perhaps, before the Stompers’ wheel came full circle to Block’s artistic roots and put out a CD comprised of songs like “The Creation Stomp” and “Flatland Wabi Blues,” pieces that wax harmoniously full of metaphors about clay and the potting process, flavored with a gritty Texas sound and a sort of 1970s optimism.
And if Carl Block’s face jugs are anatomical misfits, the kind of Picassoisms into which you could read all manner of subliminal messages, his figurative wares represent “all the little things that make my eyes and soul jam,” he says on the UT-Tyler site. “Fear, hate, confusion, humor and other emotions arise in my work.”
And you can’t put that up for auction.
To see Carl Block’s work online, click here:
To listen to the music of the Baithouse Stompers, click here:…%20(click%20to%20see%20full%20link)

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

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