Louisa Gould adds ceramicist Curtis Hoard to her gallery’s fold

"Platter 2" — Curtis Hoard

With the addition of the newest artist to Louisa Gould’s flock, a visit to her Main Street, Vineyard Haven, gallery is like a trip to a contemporary art museum.

Curtis Hoard, a well-known figure in the ceramics world at large, creates pieces in a style that would be hard to define. He works in odd shapes and configurations — often crossing the almost whimsical with the somewhat grotesque. His imagination and passion for surprising forms and color combinations, and not strictly identifiable but more suggestive images, could be compared —not in style but in impact — to the work of the architect Gaudí.

There’s certainly nothing pedestrian about Hoard’s work. Whether he’s creating an item with a utilitarian purpose or a large sculptural work, every piece is singular and interesting. Each work is crafted with much thought, and tells a story in the artist’s own very identifiable style.

“I consider everything I do to be art,” he says. “I put as much energy into conceiving a cup the way I want it as I do with a sculpture. I don’t like functional pots that look like they come from a factory.”

One could never confuse one of Hoard’s pieces with a factory-produced item. For one thing, his vessels are sculpted, not wheel-thrown, creating asymmetrical, unique forms.

“There’s a certain wonkiness to my work,” says Hoard, choosing the perfect descriptive for his style. “If someone wants something totally perfectly round, they won’t find it in my work.” The selection on offer at the Louisa Gould Gallery includes coffee mugs, yumoni (large, handleless tea cups), vases, candelabras, and wonderfully artistic serving pieces that combine a four-compartment tray with small plates. Every vessel can serve as both a functional piece as well as a unique work of art.

One won’t find anything merely ornamental in the ceramicist’s sculptural work. The pieces on display include a number of artworks that beg thorough examination. Hoard’s inner world is clearly an imaginative one. His pieces include lots of disparate imagery, like an ice cream cone found adjacent to a large, threatening-looking knife. “I’m interested in juxtaposing imagery,” he says. “All of this imagery is specific to me, but it’s not simpatico imagery. I’m interested in getting people to think about what does a deer head have to do with a cup?”

Hoard returns to certain images time and again. Birds can often been found perching not on tree branches, but on strange tubular forms. Heads pop up often, as in a large block-like piece that features a series of skulls hanging, incongruously, from the branches of a barely identifiable Christmas tree. Atop the piece is a small detachable head, nestled into a nook in the architectural form.

Buildings sometimes serve as a starting point, as in a piece titled “Chrysler” for New York City’s Chrysler building. “I build up an inventory of shapes,” says Hoard. “I like the juxtaposition of something very much architectural with these sort of organic pod shapes that are coalescing with it. I’m thinking of painting. How does this work visually in color?”

Painters are among Hoard’s influences. He cites minimalist Joe Bradley and British artist Rose Wylie, who creates highly imaginative figural paintings, as two of his favorites. “In the past, almost all of my work was narrative,” says the artist. “I’m suspicious of when things become too easy. I don’t believe in working where you know what something is going to look like before you do it. I’m not one to stay in one place. My ideas are very much in flux. I like ideas.”

Hoard does not like the word “decorated,” but prefers to use “embellished” to describe how he builds up his creations. His process includes techniques like painting with colored glaze and stamping patterns onto his work — something he uses to good effect to add texture and interest. “I collect fabric print blocks from all over the world — mostly from the Middle East and Africa,” he explains. “I want the texture to be somewhat ambiguous. I do a lot of pressing on top of pressed images, trying to build up a visual texture.”

All of the various elements found in Hoard’s work — form, color, texture, juxtaposition — combine to create an almost fantasy world, one open to interpretation by the viewer. “That is very important,” he says. “I’m not making easy work. I don’t want to give the answers. I want the viewer to spend time with the piece and draw their own conclusions. I want people to find their own truth in the work.”