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Artists: Jag Mehta

Born in India and a resident of Jamaica – with interruptions – since 1972, the ceramicist Jag Mehta is a regular participant in group exhibitions at Harmony Hall and the National Gallery of Jamaica. In Imperfect but Perfect, his first solo show in five years, he presents mostly sculptural objects, some of which are functional and resemble in shape vases or bowls. Their mostly round, organic forms consciously play with the imperfections and chance effects that invariably evolve when working with a natural material such as clay.

Mehta is a hotelier by profession and encountered the art of ceramics rather accidentally: “My interest in ceramics really started after I got married, and my wife and I owned a beautiful bowl made by an Italian artist living in Vancouver. Thereafter, when I was at a charity event in Honolulu in 1970, I saw a small piece shaped like an egg with broken glaze that I liked a lot.” Finally, when working in Puerto Rico (1976–1977 and 1980–1992), his hotel opened an exhibition by amateur potters, “thirteen housewives and three professional men,” that encouraged him to make his own attempt in the discipline. Along with his wife he then started taking extra-mural lessons at the University of Puerto Rico and the Liga de Arte in San Juan.

After his return to Jamaica in 1977, Karl ‘Jerry’ Craig convinced him to further his studies at the Jamaica School of Art. Mehta insists, however, that he never received a full formal training and is self-taught in much of what he knows. Indeed, as Veerle Poupeye has remarked on the occasion of his 2006 show at the Mutual Gallery, “Mehta’s work … departs from the norms of Jamaican ceramics [as articulated by Cecil Baugh, a] tradition [that] privileges conventional pottery forms, indigenous clays and glazes, and advanced mastery of the established ceramic techniques.”

Moreover, Mehta does not use the potter’s wheel, but creates his pieces with the coil method of hand-building, an additive process, which enhances the effects of immediacy and irregularity. The mouths of the vase-like objects, for example, vary from delicate to voluptuous, and often he cuts from them irregular curvilinear clefts of differing sizes. By so doing he turns what could appear to be a utilitarian piece into a sculptural object. Often, Mehta scratches geometric patterns of mostly straight lines into the wet clay, thus forming a counterpoint to their organic shapes and earthy material. After the clay has dried but before firing, Mehta roughens the surfaces with sandpaper which increases their tactile qualities.

As with most ceramicists, firing and glazing play an important role in Mehta’s process. Some works, in fact, are fired and glazed three to six times until they have achieved the colouring effect the artist desires. In many works the sombre and subdued colour scheme is produced by oxide or under-glaze.

Mehta’s busy schedule as hotel manager does not leave much time for ceramics. He often wakes up in the middle of the night to work in his studio or to drive from his house in Ocho Rios to his kiln in Runaway Bay. The works in his show are a tribute to this passion.

Written by Claudia Hucke, Senior Lecturer, Art History

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