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Ceramic artist’s work embodies both order and chaos

Campus & Community Fine Arts

September 1, 2021

By Karen Duarte ’22

Calculative in his execution, ceramic artist Brady McLearen invites viewers into his world of thought with his sculptural work that embodies both order and chaos in the second exhibition of the 2021-22 Visual Arts Series.

“Vast Field Derivative” is a contemporary art exhibition that will be on display Sept. 21 through Oct. 22 at the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery, Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict. It is part of the Visual Arts Series with the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University’s Fine Arts Series.

An artist reception is from 5-7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18 at the gallery, with a talk by McLearen at 6 p.m.

McLearen’s art is inspired by the “scientific and spiritual philosophies that push our understanding of the natural existence of the universe.”

With access to a plaster lab, a machine shop to develop new and innovative tools for making ceramic parts and large kilns that some of the work was built inside of, “Vast Field Derivative” exhibits his latest work of exalted sculptures that stir questions about matter, space, time and what it means to be human.

“There is an exchange of measurable and immeasurable forces between nature and our built environments and objects,” McLearen said in his artist statement. “Through a ceramic and interdisciplinary approach, I follow these conversations and bring form to the overlooked phenomena of daily life.”

Growing up in Plymouth, Minnesota, McLearen used to love taking visits to Minneapolis to look up at the massive skyscrapers, “bending my head back and squinting to see up along the huge expanse of the glass facades,” he said. “And by looking, I could imagine myself way up in the distance captured by the skewed building; and I would get that little butterfly feeling in my stomach as if I were there at the top on the edge.”

This developed into a spatial awareness, “a sensitivity and ability to envision my body and its relationship to the materials and architecture around me,” McLearen said.

This way of perceiving and interacting with the world was pushed further during his time as an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. There, he experienced a course taught by professor of Architecture, Lance LaVine that shifted his way of thinking forever.

“We were told to bring a leaf into class and a discussion about the architecture of a leaf, subsequently, brings up questions of whether there is a God and what it means to be human,” McLearen said. “The focus of my studio practice began to shift to philosophical and existential questions around the purpose and place of our species on this planet within the vast, infinite universe.”

This carved a path to opening his mind to ideas and questions about spirituality, culture, and his place in societal systems. His exhibition also includes new subject matter where he puts into question his gender, ancestry and his relationship to clay as a medium for artistic expression. 

After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Art and a minor in architecture from Minnesota in 2011, he moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota for a studio manager position at the Paramount Visual Arts Center. He then enrolled in a year-long assistantship at JD Jorgenson Pottery, “and through these roles I met a lot of people within the art community in the central Minnesota area,” McLearen said.

He returned to Minneapolis to work at Northern Clay Center for three years. During that time, he visited St. Joseph, Minnesota in 2018 to exhibit work at the Millstream Arts Festival.

“It was there where Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn (former gallery manager at CSB and SJU who recently retired) started a conversation and invited me to have a solo show at Gorecki Gallery at Saint Ben’s,” McLearen said.

Katie Ruprecht-Wittrock, fundraising and audience development manager for Fine Arts Programming at CSB/SJU, was a judge on the panel who selected him as the winner at the festival that year.

“Part of what made him stand out in the festival was his perspective on ceramics,” Ruprecht-Wittrock said. “His work just looked like nothing any of us had seen, it was a fresh perspective, fun, playful and modern.”

Ruprecht-Wittrock has followed McLearen’s work and its evolution.

“I think that students will be drawn to him,” she said. “He’s got a magnetic personality; he’s fun but also philosophical and really interested in thinking and asking questions that draw on themes that are spiritual and larger than ourselves,” she said.

Following his shifting mindset into the world of spirituality, McLearen was influenced by the book “The Tao of Physics,” by author Frijof Capra. The book points out the French philosopher Rene Descartes’ statement, I think, therefore I am.

“In Descartes’ statement is the idea that the body has but the futile role of being controlled by the mind, which is a limitation to our western way of thinking that I try to challenge in my studio practice” McLearen explains.

Keen to his orientation to and observations of the world around him, McLearen’s practice is an immersive act where he uses his bodily intelligence to capture shared feelings and universal ideas. 

“My work in the studio is an experience, it is a meditation, it is a practice,” McLearen said. 

After completing his last year as MFA candidate at Alfred University in the New York State College of Ceramics, he plans to continue on his path and become a professor of the arts while maintaining a healthy studio practice and also to enjoy family time with his partner Andrea and their three-year-old son, Rowan.

This activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

The Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery in the Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict, is open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (FAE offered from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday) and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. The gallery is closed Saturday and Monday.

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Brady McLearen

Brady McLearen