New Page

 Nick Makanna
Courtney Johnson

June 14th, 2019 — July 13th, 2019
Opening Reception: Friday, June 14th 6-9pm

Nick Makanna

Spiral Architect

Opening Reception: Friday, June 14th 6-9pm
Exhibition Dates: June 14th - July 13th

Of all the things I value most of all

I look upon my earth and feel the warmth

And know that it is good

You know that I should- Black Sabbath

Within the hallowed tombs of Han Dynasty nobility, the dead were accompanied by every provision to ensure that the afterlife would be replete with all the luxuries, pleasures and securities to which they were accustomed in the mortal realm. Complex architectural models realized in ceramic–smooth red earthenware coated in layers of glossy lead glaze, were common accompaniments to the deceased, providing a place of residence for an eternal slumber. As a vast empire that spanned roughly four centuries beginning in 206 BCE, the architectural ceramics were not only assurances for the dead, but have served as vital references for the architectural styles of the time and the anxieties and desires held by that populace both in life and beyond.  

Ruminating on the concept of empire and the traditions and longevity of the ceramic medium, San Francisco-based artist Nick Makanna creates precarious towers and ornate fortifications that speak to our own sense of declining empire, while creating a world wholly their own. Lifesize spires adorned in clashing hues of textural melting glaze loom silently above the viewer. Glazed ceramic window grates each with their own ornamental flourishes line the surrounding walls, a kind of strange fortification from a foreboding toxic yellow landscape that lies behind. Spindly forms, comprised of joined coils that with each turn bear the distinct marks of the makers own fingers and palms, evoking our intestinal inner workings and the structural beams, joists and supports that suspend the cavernous vaulted ceiling of the gallery in which they’re housed. A spiked globe, sits atop a kind of hole ridden stump, both resting on an ornate blue stool with curling legs. A winding tower glazed in a sooty black to white back to black gradient spirals up to the sky, passages cut out to ventilate an unglazed airy interior, with broad coils bedecked in pastel hues wrapping around to adorn the peak. These are monuments and markers of an unknown past or a forgotten future, gestural movements held static through infernal exposure, reminders of the precarity of ourselves and the world around us.

As much as Makanna’s towers and window grates live within their own world, they’re grounded within lineages of West Coast ceramics, of Ron Nagle, of Kenny Price, Viola Frey, and Peter Voulkos–and architectural references as disparate as the Watts Towers, the carved stone churches of Lalibela Ethiopia, Gothic Cathedrals, and the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. But more than anything, they’re meditations on the excesses of empire and decaying infrastructure, of post-industrial wastelands and isolationist tendencies–ceramics that themselves might be dug up some day to provide strange clues and inconclusive answers for what life was like in the present.  


Nick Makanna is an artist born and based in San Francisco, CA. He's exhibited most recently as part of Berkeley Art Museum's "Way Bay" exhibition, and at Bay Area galleries including Guerrero Gallery, The Richmond Art Center and Alter Space. Makanna received an MFA in 2016 from SFAI.

Courtney Johnson
Reptilian Brain

Opening Reception: Friday, June 14th 6-9pm
Exhibition Dates: June 14th - July 13th

"Ordinary light falls on objects that almost belong to this world. A penumbra falls around a body, furred and heavy, which stays still, alert to the shifting cover of leaves, curtains, shadows. Those forms we recognize as leaves suddenly curl back in the light and become something else. The breath you sense from the shadowed being expands, moves into every element of your surroundings, animating the irrationality of this realm. The breath moves into you, expanding the limits of the real. It's warm here. You turn, then, and look into the eyes of the creature, who returns a gaze as cold and intimate as an interstellar void."
- Iris Cushing

Courtney Johnson lives and works in San Francisco. Recent shows include The Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art in Buffalo, NY, Fused Spac, Minnesota Street Projects, and Alter Space, all in San Francisco.