Ceramic installation playing with perceptions of the fine and decorative arts, selected editions and multiples
26th May – 22nd July 2007
Although trained in Fine Art (at the University of Leeds, under the influence of Terry Atkinson, Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock among others), my practice has broadened over recent years to embrace media and ideas not traditionally associated with the fine art arena. This development in the work echoes a cross-disciplinary approach adopted recently by many visual arts practitioners, and reflects new developments in the broader creative field, where fashion, craft, music, film and other disciplines are seen to be moving close together into a new category of ‘cultural production’. This move in the work has also been accompanied by a broadening of activities to include curating and the initiation of several artist-led projects including Artsparkle (a rolling programme of exhibitions, events and publications focusing on artists’ multiples) and Vitrine (an 18-month curatorial project for Leeds’ city centre utilising non-gallery spaces).
A particular focus in the studio practice at the present time is the relationship between ceramics and painting and the relative status traditionally afforded to each. Whilst painting in the West has long been considered the highest form of ‘fine art’, a definition that persists even in the age of new media (and despite the ‘death of painting’ often-heralded by the artform’s detractors), ceramics have been considered as decorative or utilitarian objects and labelled rather dismissively as ‘craft’ or ‘applied art’. The study of non-Western ceramics, particularly Japanese wares, has proved instrumental in developing an alternative narrative for ceramics relating to their place and status within that country’s traditional culture. Seen in this light, ceramics can be considered as a carrier for ideas on contemporary society, and can furthermore be imbued with politic and social commentary. This makes ceramics, in my practice, an ideal vehicle for the discussion of cross-disciplinary practice, as well as an examination of the language and labelling utilised in the production and consumption of cultural artefacts.
This false distinction between materials is a boundary I wish to transgress in my studio practice, producing conceptual ceramics which carry visual elements associated with painting in the modern era, such as text and abstract or graphic elements, as well as with traditional (historic) painting, such as narrative and picture-making. Conversely, my paintings will sometimes carry ‘decorative’ elements, or forms associated with the craft or applied art disciplines, such as pattern. In ceramics I work with existing forms, usually glazed white bone china dinner plates, as a ground akin to the blank canvas associated with the tradition of Western easel painting. I try to work with the china as a conceptual ground for ideas and images relating to these issues, to talk self-referentially about the genre’s status, and to question how objects are read. In this, of course, context is crucial, and the siting of these ‘conceptual ceramics’ within a gallery or ‘fine art’ setting allows for the staging of these debates around the work. This is often enhanced by the writing, photography and publications that accompany the work, acting as an extension of the work itself, where these issues can be teased out more fully and cultural contexts for painting and ceramics played with.