Untitled (Encased Piece)

Left: studio view: unfired clay, palm fonds, black cement, 6 ft.-6 in. (2 m) h. x 14 ft. (4.3 m) w., 1979
Right: installation view, Northern California Clay Routes, Sculpture Now, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, 1979

Untitled (Encased Piece) was constructed for the exhibition “Northern California Clay Routes, Sculpture Now,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1979. This work, along with Fired and Glazed Earth Piece, 1979, represent initial larger-scale manifestations of the kiln and the process of firing as objects and forces in their own right. In Untitled (Encased Piece) palm fronds covered with clay are encased with cement colored black by carbon powder. The black cement metaphorically “fires” the encased clay and palm fonds by rendering them hard and immobile. The cement as limestone having been “fired” (calcined) through its production as an industrial material and the black pigment representing the carbon transformation of fire. Untitled (Encased Piece)’s image as a ship/landscape transformed by ‘firing’ is scaled up and reminiscent of ceramic ships of the same time period that also explore organic, geologic and transformative imagery and processes.

“...John Roloff’s hull is of the land. Maybe we see the massive ceramic and cement structure as a sunken ship, resting on the bottom and merging with the earth from which it was constructed. Or perhaps we see it as a desolate island world, a charred atoll, cut adrift from the human continental linkage, alone against the sea. In either case Untitled (Encased Piece) is set apart, self contained, and though not on a determined course, is like a train that bridges the landscape from depot to depot.”

Smith, Michael, H., catalog essay selection, Trains and Boats and Planes, Baxter Art Gallery, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, December 13, 1979 through January 20, 1980. After SFMOMA, the work was shown a second time in Trains and Boats and Planes, and left to decay in southern California after the exhibition.


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