Artist Marlene Hartmann Rasmussen’s series Nightfall explores what’s beyond the land that we know – in this case, the forest. Through intricately detailed ceramic sculptures, she creates pieces that are familiar-yet-strange. Acorns double as eggs in a bird’s nest that are tended to by butterflies. Large worms curl up in the same way that you’d see a cat, while others drift over heart-shaped pieces of wood. These beautiful oddities examine the forest as a metaphor for dark, unknown parts of our identities. Rasmussen explains:
The forest as a place of enchantment is a recurring theme in European literature and myth, and can be traced back to primitive mans awe and fear of nature which gave rise to ancient cults and pagan rituals.
The forest is a metaphor for the hidden realms of the unconscious mind, a social construction that simultaneously embraces the sinister darkness in which the savage and beastly thrive on the other hand the supernatural, romantic and nostalgic world of the fairy tale.
You won’t find cadavers or skeletal remains in ceramic artist Cynthia Consentino’s “Exquisite Corpse Series.” The project takes its name from the Parisian Surrealist parlor game, in which each player wrote a word or drew an image on a sheet of paper, folded the paper to conceal it, and passed it to the next player for his or her contribution. The results were wildly incongruous poems and images, gathered ideas from many minds.
In Consentino’s series, hers is the only mind at work, and the results are strangely charming and more than a little disturbing. The hybrid figures combine animal with human and the occasion household object. They play with the idea of gender stereotypes, something that began to interest the artist after reading a study where five-year-olds were asked to name a representational animal.
“The boys identified with animals that were predatory, and the girls with animals that were cute and cuddly. One girl even answered with a flower. I thought that there would also be girls who wanted to be tigers, but then I remembered loving playing a flower in a school play at that age. (Source)”
To loosen these gender constructs, she made varied heads, torsos, and legs then assembled them in ceramic sculptures of various configurations, some almost life-size. With their softly rounded limbs and pastel and pretty color palette they can seem almost sweet, but the fierce wolves heads and deadly weapons belie their innocence.
“My style seems a bit nostalgic, something from the fifties, or from folk art. It derives much of its character from children’s things: fairy tale, cartoons, dolls, games, as well as the domestic world. The work often incorporates imagery that is loaded with symbolism and history, such as flowers, animals and the ceramic figurine. It is very much about the familiar, things of our dreams, our stories, our childhood. (Source)”
The title “Skate Fails” evokes a series of aborted tricks and falls, but in the hands of ceramist Xavier Mañosa and Alex Trochut for Mañosa’s brand Appartau, it’s the skateboard itself that fails. Made for the San Francisco based company FTC, these ceramic pieces are ingenious riffs on skateboarding’s perils, from the accordion of an abrupt stop to the shattered pieces of a too rough ride. Even in this deconstructed form, the boards are recognizable thanks in part to the inclusion of skate trucks. Mañosa said:
“The idea comes from the attempt to translate the skateboard to Dali’s liquid clocks. Alex and I started experimenting with different kinds of liquids, like honey or acrylic paint, observing how it dripped and flowed. We applied these exercises to the ceramic skateboard, melting it and seeing how it burned and wrinkled. The outcome was the collection of melted boards.” (Source)
It’s a clever idea executed beautifully, in clear, bright colors, glossy metallics, and nebulous form. The curiously lovely distorted and broken forms serve also as grim reminder of the skateboard riders’ reality, where a stray rock or crack can mean a hospitalization or worse.
“Ceramics are fragile and if they fall they break; something very important in my work,” Mañosa said. “I don’t create indestructible things.” (Source)
Not indestructible, but bright, interesting, and utterly cool.
In Sergei Isupov’s hands figurative ceramics are both instantly recognizable and strangely surreal. Heads are tattooed, the art integrated into the facial features. The backs of the heads often add a separate contrasting element. Lift the head to find a third, hidden design on the base. The images create a narrative, but what does it mean?
“My work portrays characters placed in situations that are drawn from my imagination but based on my life experiences. My art works capture a composite of fleeting moments, hand gestures, eye movements that follow and reveal the sentiments expressed. These details are all derived from actual observations but are gathered or collected over my lifetime. Through the drawn images and sculpted forms, I capture faces, body types and use symbolic elements to compose, in the same way as you might create a collage.” Source
Contrast is inherent to the nature of ceramics. The sculpting that goes into creating the work is meticulous and controlled but once the piece is lowered into the kiln the firing is random and unrestrained. In Isupov’s work the form and content are also contradictory. The figures and heads are realistic, even somewhat minimal, yet the paintings on them are surreal, highly detailed, often adding a skewed dimensionality. There are demons and distortions, surplus limbs and conjoined bodies. Isupov’s works create a world that is visually stunning and conceptually disturbing.
“I am a student of the universe and a participant in the harmonic chaos of contrasts and opposites: dark — light; male — female; good — evil. Working instinctually and using my observations, I create a new, intimate universe that reveals the relationships, connections and contradictions as I perceive them. … When I think of myself and my works, I’m not sure I create them, perhaps they create me.”
Erika Sanada’s imaginary creatures toe the line between the grotesque and the adorable; inspired by her childhood trauma and memories of bullying, the artist delves into her deepest anxieties, plucking out tiny hairless ceramic beasts, each of whom appears strangely misshapen by a nervous sort of womb. As a girl, Sanada imagined transforming her tormenters into hideous monsters, presented here as birds and rats with twin heads or dogs that display infinite rows of glinting teeth.
As if stolen from a perverse Eden, Sanada’s endearing beasts are as innocent as they are frightful. “Newborns” introduces a trinity of puppy-rat hybrids, who, despite their sharp claws and thick, bald tails, elicit our sympathies; their soft, tender eyes have yet to open, and the tiniest of baby tongues pokes out of a toothless mouth. Similarly, a hairless beast crawls across a platform, leaving a trail of sticky epoxy that resembles amniotic fluid. He has two tails, each fleshy and naked, and yet he is so poignantly small and delicate that we yearn to comfort and protect him as he makes a perilous journey into the adult world.
As if possessed, Sanada’s cast of characters, whom she charmingly refers to as “Odd Things,” reveal black marble-white eyes, absent of pupils or irises, the effect of which is wonderfully unsettling. As we confront these magical manifestations of our most secret fears, they stare back invisibly, tracking us not with sight but with an intractable knowledge of our own vulnerabilities. Take a look. (via KoiKoiKoi)
For her series of ceramic sculptures titled Shadow Circus, Kirsten Stingle draws upon her extensive training in the theater to create subtle narrative pieces. Incorporating found objects with her considerable technical ability, the artist summons dreamy stories through her command over gesture and shape; the blend of rusted objects and newly formed faces stands in for any physical movement normally employed to convey the passage of time.
Shadow Circus is evocative of miniature puppetry works like Alexander Calder’s legendary circus, where only the slightest details make the inanimate appear human. The narrative power of the circus lies of course in motion, which Calder once evoked with his pulleys and threads; Stingle impressively avoids the performative, and her painfully still works appear as if frozen, on the verge of animation.
In this way, each figure reveals itself like a funerary figure, meant to accompany not Cleopatra but the modern woman into her tomb, bringing with her objects useful in some imagined underworld: a machine-horse hybrid motorbike, a foreboding rowboat with wheels. The work’s religious iconography further realizes this thrust toward an otherworldly eternity; a Catholic-style papal mitre makes an appearance, surrounded by delicate symbols of the cross.
The artist also seems to pull from the work of women artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, combining fatalistic bleach white bone with the seductive prettiness of a pink rose, red lipstick, or a baby doll wearing pale bunny ears. Placed firmly within this feminine aesthetic, Shadow Circus is simultaneously blossoming and fertile and eerily disquieting; Stingle’s nuanced work appeals both to a fear of death and a hope for rebirth. Each piece, with its antique aesthetic and meticulously fashioned visage, is poignantly left eternally waiting for the movement and life that feels so inherent within her. (via Hi-Fructose)
The Metamorphosis Series by artist Shi Shaoping is a poetic look at life. Shi created 3,000 ceramic eggs over the course of a year. Each egg weighs about 22 pounds and as a group come in at about 48 tons. The eggs were then taken to some of China’s loneliest locales. From grassland to beach, deserts, and mountains, the ceramic eggs were spread out on the ground. The entire project was documented with photographs and videos.
In a way The Metamorphosis Series is as much a site specific installation as it is a performance. Shi set before himself an intentionally difficult project, one that would entail hard work, a journey, and perhaps transformation. Like the egg, these too are a symbol of life. However, they clearly also point toward potentiality – the field of eggs seems poised to hatch. The exhibition statement goes on to relate about the project:
“Shaoping is like a fortuneteller who uses the 3,000 giant eggs to remind people of the weight of life. The beauty of the work is the unpredictability, and the unlimited imagination it brings. The fragile yet vigorous eggs of life emphasizes that we eventually have to respect every single living thing in the universe. The sands may cover the frost-glazed castle; the soaring fallen leaves may blanket the ground. The persistence and power of life, however, will fight against the mediocrity and itself. The contradiction is the language Shaoping’s looking for to express his world of Metamorphosis. This triggers the speculation and discussion on contemporary art and life value.”
Artist Li Lihong expertly juxtaposes two familiar but disparate sets of imagery. He renders familiar corporate logos as three dimensional sculptures. However, these are more than just sculptures. Li uses traditional ceramicist techniques coupled with Chinese iconography. The pairing of traditional and contemporary, East and West, corporate and fine art isn’t such a violent clash one may expect. Rather, the over arching familiarity, through from contrasting sources, is nearly complimentary.