Tales from the Collection: Clayton Pond Toilets

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The art collection of St. Mary’s College of Maryland has an inventory of over 1000 pieces. Many of the artworks that students see everyday in academic buildings are pieces from the collection. Many of the displays for these pieces avoid providing greater context for the pieces, leaving many students curious about what the pieces depict and what the intentions behind them are. Tales from the Collections is devoted to finding the hidden histories of some of St. Mary’s most notorious and bizarre art, without coloring students’ own interpretations too heavily.

Back in the far reaches of the St. Mary’s library (by those desks in the back you go to when you need to sit by an outlet) is a garishly colored painting of a toilet. Well, technically a stylistic toilet and bathroom scene, complete with vibrantly detailed textures and intricately drawn pipes. But, at least for me, it’s the toilet that seems to stare at you while you’re doing homework. I wondered why a piece that seemed so silly would be selected for the St. Mary’s collection, and decided to do some digging.

The name scrawled in the bottom left corner (orange text on green, in a high contrast of color seen throughout the whole painting) is Clayton Pond. The artist was easy enough to find information on: a New York born artist who studied at Pratt institute in the early 1960s, Pond gained fame for his colorful silkscreens. He’s said to have expanded the capacity of silkscreen art making with his use of bright varnish and color.

The painting that made its way to St. Mary’s is most likely one of Pond’s silk screen works from the early 1980s. Close up images of regular household items like toasters, telephones, and indeed toilets were a common point of interest for him; the Museum of Modern Art holds a piece of his from 1975 called The Working End of My Gas Space Heater. According to Harry Abrams, author of Tools as Art: the Hechinger Collection, Pond’s intrigue lies in “recording the obsessions and possessions of Americans.” Pond himself, though, on his website, cites that his sense of humor is what comes through most in his art.

Pond’s use of energized, contrasting colors and thick, interesting line-work marks him as a “second generation Pop artist,” and is what makes his work so eye-catching.  Enough so that actually in the 1970s the US State Department awarded Pond a grant to teach silk-screen workshops in a tour of African countries.

His later work turned away from the iconic close-ups of household items, towards more complex scenes of activities like golfing and skiing, suggesting that his fascination with the workings of modern life is still going strong. Today he’s working more in the three dimensional than the two, with wood layered relief pieces that bring those same subjects to life. Clayton Pond is still making art at his studio in Atlanta, Georgia.

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