David Gilhooly, also known as David James Gilhooly III (April 15, 1943 - August 21, 2013), was an American ceramicist and printmaker. David Gilhooly was born in Auburn, California, in 1943. In 1961 he enrolled at UC Davis, where he intended to study biology, but would instead pursue a BFA (1965) and then MFA (1967). As a student he became the assistant of Robert Arneson, and was part of a coterie of artists who would establish the Bay Area Funk Art movement, a group known for poking fun at high culture through sculptures made of clay, and simultaneously adding new vision and vitality to ceramic arts. As a disciple of Arneson and his TB-9 studio, Gilhooly began making irrevent depictions of food and animals, most notably frogs. The subject of numerous shows across the Unites States, Gilhooly had solo exhibitions at the St. Louis Museum of Art in 1980 and the Cantor Art Center in 2005. He is also part of many esteemed collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Gilhooly died in 2013, in Newport, Oregon, at age 70. While Gilhooly produced a range of animals and foodstuffs, ranging from fruits and vegetables to towering sandwiches and ice cream sundaes, in glossy-clay, he is most remembered for his visionary “Frog World,” an amphibian universe inspired by our own. In a 1967 letter to Allan Stone, Gilhooly explained, “I envision the frogs on some parallel world identical to Earth in Space but not in time where the Frogs are the ones who have gained in ascendency...” The “Frog World” is complex, satirical, philosophical reflection on society and existence. Beginning with functional ceramics like Frogenstein (a cup from 1970) and the Frog Mounties, Scourge of the Outlaw (a jar from the same year), the creations became ever more outrageous, with depictions of Egyptian gods, Queen Victoria and the Andrews Sisters, frogs in frying pans, wedding cakes and other settings, even a frog crucifixion. Gilhooly’s art chronicles the shifting expectations of clay in a world changed by Pop Art and Funk Ceramics.
The eccentric Gilhooly makes a series of work dedicated to the character of bread frog, seeking to ‘break out’ of fated roles (whatever that might be for the frog is never fully clear, other than to be eaten) and reassume identity. Here the bread frog becomes gluttonous pig, grotesquely greedy — actually assuming the identity through a glossy piglike mask. Gilhooly’s sculpting of clay is consistently delightful in its oddity and personable realisation, such bright use of colour through application of acrylic varnish giving the piece a novelty and eye-catching attraction.
The kitsch, frog-obsessed funk ceramics of Gilhooly grew from attempts to out-grotesque contemporaries — but gradually came to embody the levelling of art through absurdist parodies of 'high-brow’ civilisation and culture. The semi-abstract “Cosmic Egg” takes the literal form of a long oblong egg, but also seems to be manipulating a heavily compressed figurative representation. The marble-like glaze infers classical sculpture, and manifold rounded lumps suggest limbs tied in knots and squashed, fetus-like, into shape upon its pedestal. Two horizontal stripes of darker glaze add to the surrealness with painterly effect.