The large ceramics studio at the Hyde Park Art Center is filled with just under two dozen people. They are gathered around two large tables, kneading and rolling large chunks of brown clay while periodically picking up a clay-caked beer bottle or cranberry vodka. Welcome to “Cocktails and Clay, ” a gathering the art center offers every second Friday of the month as an alternative to the Friday night bar scene—but without axing out the drinking, of course. Beginners and pros alike are invited to come to the art center to drink and build a clay sculpture around a chosen theme of the night. The event began about a year ago when the art center moved to its new facility.
“They wanted me to do something, and I was like, ‘Well, OK…but I’m going to need to drink,’” says Theaster Gates Jr., the instructor for the evening. Gates has chosen the theme of “urban circus” for tonight’s session, after observing some police and car-driving citizen interaction on the way over. In the middle of the room on a table under the harsh florescent lights are the words “the urban circus” made with clay.
A group of eight or nine women are yelling and laughing loudly at each other as they create their urban-themed sculptures at a table in the back. They have come tonight from the south suburbs to celebrate a birthday.
“That is NOT urban, that’s prehistoric,” screams one of the women at her friend, who is constructing a lizard-like animal. Another one of the women is shaping a box with a money sign on the top, and across from her, her friend is molding an especially phallic-looking sculpture.
“Well… that is very urban,” laughs Gates.
“We just wanted to play with some clay and have some cocktails,” says Ella Huston. She is a first timer at “Cocktails and Clay” and heard about it through a mailing list. Others who are here tonight are seasoned regulars of the Hyde Park Art Center. Eleni Vryza is an artist who lives in Hyde Park and dabbles mainly in ceramics, painting and sculpture, “I came to the opening [of the new location] a year ago and now I come whenever I can,” she says.
There is a rush to finish the clay figures and drinks before the end of the session. A few more taunts and heavy critic remarks erupt from the table of the birthday partying women.
“Hey! How is your brontosaurus coming?” (Stephanie Ratanas)