Breathing life into everyday objects

The Gallery at Penn College will open its latest exhibit, “Neverwhere and Nowhere,” on Tuesday. “Neverwhere and Nowhere” features the work of ceramicist Tammie Rubin.

Gallery manager Penny Lutz explained that all exhibitions are ultimately chosen by a committee of faculty, staff and local artists and teachers. Going into the 2013-2014 exhibition season, Lutz said in an email interview that the committee was “confident that Ms. Rubin’s ceramics would be a hit.”

Though colorful and often whimsical, Rubin’s ceramic sculptures remain sophisticated and balanced. Intricate, often heavily-textured pieces come together to form artistic doo-dads that, at first glance, appear almost Dr. Suessian. Conical end-pieces suggest some sort of input, output or a combination of the two. Upon closer inspection, the work makes use of household items; lightbulbs and toy footballs – having been cast and glazed – integrate seamlessly with invented and hand-built shapes of all sorts of size, shape, texture and color.

“A lot of people say they know they can’t touch the pieces, but that they really want to,” Rubin said of her work in a phone interview. In her artist statement, Rubin explains that ” ‘Neverwhere and Nowhere’ is an exhibition of assemblages of collected objects; the primary interest is transforming the familiar, disposable, and trivial into the mythic and fantastical.”

Lutz explained that upon seeing the work in person she “was impressed with both the quality of (Rubin’s) work and the unfamiliar forms. The work is mysterious and captivating, and I believe visitors will be engaged.”

The exhibition will showcase approximately 25 individual pieces ranging in size from 10 to 30 inches and an installation comprised of about 10 hanging pieces called “Silence Magical Thinking.”

“Because it’s an installation, there’s always the issue of finding the right place to exhibit it. It’s really great having a space that can support the piece,” Rubin said, adding “the Gallery (at Penn College) is such a great space and offers enough room to contain the full width of the installation without overwhelming the other pieces.”

Rubin explained that she works with various techniques: slip-casting to ultimately produce positives of the found objects (things like the lightbulbs and toy footballs); hand-sculpting to create the unique shapes and pieces; a myriad of processes to create the various colors and textures of the objects; and finally the organic process of assemblage.

“Some artists would draw their pieces out and use that schematic to make the piece,” Rubin said. “I’m more of an ‘intuitive’ artist – which may sound misleading because I do precast these objects, often multiple times to get the repetitive shapes – but it’s in the process of construction and deconstruction, in that space and time, that these objects, these sculptures really form and change.”

Rubin says in her artist statement that she strives to create objects that feel both “familiar and alien.” When we see recognizable objects, whether they’re inherently symbolic or not, we’re forced to engage them on almost purely aesthetic terms. Take for example a piece titled “You Tell Me, I Tell Me, I Tell You Contraption” in which the most recognizable piece of the sculpture was cast from the bust of a traditional representation of Christ. In Rubin’s sculpture, the bust is cast in a rich, chocolatey color which contrasts the blues, pinks and green-yellows of the rest of the sculpture.

“It’s not specifically about religion,” Rubin explained. “A lot of my pieces are ritualistic … you see an object and you know that if it had a function what that function would be. When you remove it from that function, it becomes something else. So what is that ‘something else?’ We often have connections to these objects that go beyond what their original use or even symbolic imagery.”

In engaging these objects in an unfamiliar context we not only examine their relationship to the piece, but our relationship to them.

Regardless of any intellectual response the individual pieces might conjure up, there is a distinct reaction to seeing the sculptures as a whole: one’s eyes move across the surfaces, greedily taking in each new color and texture. The term “eye candy” usually comes with a negative connotation, but Tammie Rubin manages to make that a good thing in her sculptures. What’s more, they aren’t just pretty to look at; they can spark an intelligent conversation, get you to giggle and might even make you reexamine the banal, everyday things you simply take for granted.

“Neverwhere and Nowhere” featuring the artwork of ceramicist Tammie Rubin, will be on display at the Gallery at Penn College from April 8 until May 4.

A “Meet the Artist” reception will be held April 10 between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. with a gallery talk scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

The Gallery will be closed Friday April 18 through Sunday April 20. The Gallery at Penn College is located on the third floor (Room 303) of the Madigan Library on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus located at 1 College Ave.

Find out more online at or call 570-320-2445. Find the work of Tammie Rubin online at