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His funky pottery's suddenly in

July 13, 2006|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

STAN BITTERS likes to get his hands dirty. For the last five decades, the 69-year-old artist and designer has pinched and pressed clay into oversized planters, molded it into figurative sculptures known as "potato people" and carved it into decorative reliefs.

Angelenos who frequented the now defunct Egg and I restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard may recall Bitters' Flintstones-style rock interior wall made from solid slabs of clay designed, he says cheerfully, "to keep people from falling off the balcony." His work can also be seen on the exterior of the Shoreham Towers in West Hollywood and at banks and hotels. Now midcentury design collectors weary of Modern-era minimalism are sweet on Bitters' expressionist ceramics.

"Stan has to be considered part of the funk generation of California artist-craftsmen from the '60s and '70s," says Gerard O'Brien of Reform Gallery in Los Angeles, who recently sold one of Bitters' vintage Thumb pots to a top Hollywood actor for $5,000. "There's a hand to his work that's brutal and also has a childlike whimsy and soul. When you see one of his pieces, you want to examine it and touch it and figure out how he made that happen."

After graduating from UCLA in 1959 with a bachelor of arts in painting, Bitters became a designer for the Hans Sumpf Co. in Madera, Calif., then the world's largest producer of adobe brick. "With 20 tons of clay to play with," Bitters recalls, he designed monumental clay murals, a process detailed in his 1976 book "Environmental Ceramics."

His work is ripe for rediscovery, says Brook Hodge, curator of Architecture and Design at MOCA: "It's more organic and earthy than the sleek forms of architectural pottery and feels connected to the Mexican tradition of terra cotta, which complements all the Spanish architecture of Southern California."

"I twiddled my thumbs for a few years," says Bitters, who until recently relied on architectural commissions. "You need to be able to play."

His recent work is at Ten 10 Gallery in Silver Lake, (323) 663-3603.

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