Artist hopes to turn heads in return to hometown

By April 29, 2011

Charlie Schneider prepares to rappel down the exterior walls of the Natsoulas Gallery on Thursday to check on his clay application as dancers Brittney Karhoff and James Graham of Cielo Vertical Arts practice their performance. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Check it out

What: California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art, featuring student and established artists at 50 locations around Davis

When: Today through Sunday

Info: http://www.natsoulas.com/html/ccaca; maps are available at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 First St.

Charlie Schneider hopes to give his hometown a gentle tap on the shoulder. But first, he’ll go for a little “wow.”

For the 22nd annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art, Schneider has painted beige- and rust-colored rectangles onto John Natsoulas Gallery’s five-story white tower with clay slip.

Rain eventually will wash the clay away. In the meantime, the touch of color will provide a backdrop for dancers,  suspended in the air, who will spin and twist over them today at 7:30 p.m.

A “Davis soccer kid” at heart, Schneider, 30, is completing his master’s degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Last year, he was named the best young sculptor at Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi, Australia, the world’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition.

He hopes his subtle alteration of the building at 521 First St. will cause those walking by to pause. So often, he said, a city’s buildings recede into the background for the people who live there.

His clay will take on the scuffs of the dancers and streaks of the weather.

“I hope people will look at it and think, ‘Oh, something changed,’ ” he said. “As you move around it, it changes really dynamically. I hope they’ll look again.”

By one count, just one in 10 residents of Davis have visited the Natsoulas or the city’s other galleries, he said.

“We have this great art history, especially ceramic history, and I don’t think people are seeing it,” Schneider said. “I don’t know what the disconnect is. I think the rooftop at Natsoulas Gallery is one of the best places in Davis. It’s a great place to hang out on a nice day, but I never see anyone up there. So I guess I’m hoping to catch someone’s eye.”

The son of Bob and the late Anne Schneider of Davis, Charlie Schneider earned a degree from Whitman College and was working at the Natsoulas Gallery when the conference sparked his interest to ceramics.

Schneider first pursued a love of photography, picked up during a class taught by Jerry DeCamp at Davis High School, from which Schneider graduated in 1999, then painting. He saw in ceramics a new way to pursue the sense of place that has been the major theme of his art.

Prior to his effort at the Natsoulas, Schneider had been creating a sort of “wallpaper” that addresses the impact of invasive species as a metaphor for the way humans have disrupted the environment.

Inspired by street artists, he created stencils that include the shape of an invasive species, then painted them with clay in places that call attention to how man is “patterning” his environment. A dam, for example.

For Sculpture by the Sea, Schneider painted crown-of-thorns starfish, which were once thought to be invasive. In reality, agricultural runoff and overfishing killed off creatures that prey on the starfish. That has left each adult starfish to consume six square meters of coral per year, unabated.

In Davis, Schneider is a collaborating with his aunt, choreographer Heather Baer of Oakland, whose troop, Cielo Vertical Arts, uses rock-climbing harnesses to dance on the walls of buildings.

On Thursday, as dancers in harnesses rigged up by Schneider’s uncle, Steve, a professional rock climber, began getting used to the space, Baer urged them on. She said her goal was for onlookers to walk away with a sense of “fullness” and surprise.

“I want them to turn to whoever they’re with and say, ‘Wow, that was cool — that made me feel better today,’” she said.

Added Schneider, “Part of the reason I moved on from photography is that I wanted to do something that surprised me. This is like I’m setting the stage for something, letting the dancers on it, letting the weather on it. I love that release, and I can learn from that and explore that.”

Online: http://cschneiderart.com, http://cieloverticalarts.com

— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or (530) 747-8046.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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