Face To Face 

The ceramic art of Diane Shelton dazzles at the Flipside Cafe

p> There's some gorgeous women hanging out at the Flipside Café this month-and they have the kind of faces that make you want to stare. Camille and Kirsten flaunt spaghetti-like piles of sun-colored hair and a mass of dark flowing locks frame Larkin's flawless matte complexion. Suzanne's cat-shaped blue eyes match her blue coif.

A few women, like Tracie, wear ornamental headdresses. Across the room, Nancy and Carmen sport exotic headpieces adorned with animal symbols. And, like nearly all the others in their coterie, they mesmerize you with the brightness of their glossed lips and the sophistication of their long, slender necks.

Each of these guests was created by Diane Shelton, the artist whose ceramic sculptures currently enliven the walls of the Flipside Café. Since opening in April, the café has demonstrated a strong commitment to serving up local fare-both in terms of organically grown edibles and the creative output of Boise-area artists. Art exhibitions at the new North End hot spot rotate on a monthly basis.

Patty Payton, manager of the Flipside Café, chooses the work exhibited at the space. She's proud that the restaurant functions as an alternative venue for local artists and that the art can provide new experiences for her customers. As for the type of art Payton seeks, her criteria is simple. "It really has to grab me," she says. Shelton's work impressed her so much she booked her on the spot.

Whether vibrant with color and sheen, or elegantly composed in earth tones, the 26 faces included in the Flipside show command attention and warrant serious contemplation. The expressions on the women's faces convey a depth of emotion that goes well beyond their superficial beauty, and their poses communicate a gamut of life experiences that everyone can relate to.

The grouping of four faces on the green wall proves especially compelling. Larkin, named for the artist's daughter, gazes skyward through meditative brown eyes. Shelton considers this one of her favorite pieces in the show and says it captures the grace she sees in her grown-up child. Suzanne has dramatically outlined eyes that make direct contact with the viewer, and the blue-haired diva takes her name from one of Shelton's sisters. Shelton says there is no physical resemblance to her sibling and laughs, "She's the only one of us who doesn't dye her hair!"

While these four women pulsate with warm and energetic color, the adjacent row of six women in headdresses delivers a more soothing energy. The high-fired ceramic faces draw on a limited palate of brown-, blue- and cream-colored clay. The women's eyes, blank spaces devoid of iris or pupil, suggest a state of peaceful inner reflection.

It is possible they are "soul traveling," an experience Shelton defines as "a kind of down-to-earth spirituality that everybody has to discover for themselves." She says she often sees color and form while soul traveling and that many of her ideas for future pieces originate during those sessions. She adds, "It's when you're in [your] right brain without any time or space, and it's a perfectly happy place to be."

Shelton's process of creation for the faces involves cutting two circular pieces of clay, with one slightly larger than the other, and stuffing the space between the layers with newspaper to give it dimension. She then models the facial features by adding clay. A series of theater-mask-like faces also on display at Flipside Café offer insight into the artist's methodology up to this point. Shelton fashions the hair and headdresses last, and fires the piece in a kiln at either a high or low temperature depending on the affect she wishes to achieve.

Two of the pieces included in the exhibit are animal sculptures, a big bird named Annie and a cat called Susan. Shelton says, "These to me are all still faces, just not human faces." She deliberately gave these mystical winged creatures breasts to denote their female spirit, and painted them with fantastical colors that have no basis in reality. Shelton wanted the color and form to instill a sense of uplifting joy in the viewer, and the pieces succeed in this endeavor. It is impossible to suppress a smile in their presence.

The only artwork in this show that is not female is Zero, a large face composed of nine pieces. Shelton refers to the work as a "puzzle face," and says it can be assembled in a variety of different combinations. The earrings hang from copper wire hooks that fit into Zero's pierced lobes.

The striations painted on Zero's face and the largely black-and-white color scheme, at first glance may suggest war and violence. After spending time with him, however, the viewer discovers an accumulation of whimsical touches that belie the surface ferocity. Cheerful scribbles represent his moustache, playful dots rim his oversized ears and his mismatched eyebrows suggest a sense of humor. In his current configuration, he seems to be chuckling.

From her earliest childhood, Shelton knew she wanted to be an artist. A native Idahoan, she holds a BA in commercial art from the University of Idaho and has taught as an adjunct art professor at Boise State. She has also worked as an artist and freelance illustrator for companies in the United States and Germany. Her work has been exhibited in numerous one-person and group shows, and is owned by private collectors from Los Angeles to New York City.

Shelton began making ceramic pieces two years ago after taking a pottery class at the Boise Art Center. Whereas oil, acrylic, pastel and airbrush were once her mediums of choice, she says she hasn't been painting much since starting ceramics. As she explains in her artist statement, "I love clay. I love the feel of it. I love making something interesting to look at (I hope) out of gray mud."

The unabashed joy that Shelton derives from the creative process is reflected in the eyes of Suzanne, Larkin and the rest of the ceramic sisterhood now hanging out at the Flipside Café.

See Shelton's exhibit throughout the month of August at the Flipside Cafe, 808 W. Fort St., 472-1462.

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