Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Victoria Miro and Joe

#Lamentation 2012 Greyson Perry

"The Dead Christ… "Andrea Della Robbia V&A

I had the opportunity to see Grayson Perry's take over of the British Museum during The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman in December where the tapestry and fabric works included seemed to be imbued with the palpable excitement of virgin territory (no pun intended), so I really wanted to get to Perry's exhibition of tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences at Victoria Miro Gallery  this summer.  Of course it came down to seeing it on the last day but my guru Rod Jellicoe had highly recommended I make the effort and I was glad I did. The venue allowed for the work to be seen both intimately and expansively in lot of natural light which is not what you typically encounter with fabric exhibitions so that in itself lent an irreverence to these charged works.

I feel a certain simpatico with how Perry translates the past into narratives of the modern human condition. Our works were both acquired in 2003 by the Contemporary Art Society of London for the Potteries Museum at Stoke on Trent when consulting curator Andrew Watts was building up the collection with contemporary clay artists that reference Staffordshire pottery traditions.  Perry's and my relationship to British ceramic history are very different but our conceptual paths do 'cross' now and then- though you'll rarely catch me in a dress!

The Lamentation is a subject well represented in the V&A collections in numerous mediums and periods. The piece above is a renaissance terracotta example I had the great honor of passing every morning on my way in and when leaving late at night. The museum was often most compelling when dark and empty, and though this work was not directly in my path it always managed to capture my attention for at least a moment sometimes longer. As an artist who has worked a lot with 18th-century material I'm aware of scenes from the life of Christ serving as compositional tinplates for satirists of the period, a nice double edge to Perry's sword- or knitting needle- as he weaves in William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress to set up the loaded circumstance of his 21st century commentaries.

Strangely prior to my coming to London I had been developing a political work referencing a pretty brutal satirical engraving by Paul Revere entitled The Able Doctor or America Drinking the Bitter Draught. When I first discovered this work something about the composition was familiar and I realized it was the Lamentation- in place of The Dead Christ is a 'Native America' being held down and orally sodomized with a teapot - a vessel that Rob Hunter brilliantly incorporates in his lecture on 18th-century rituals as being clearly symbolic of male sexual aggression. With the political climate here, the rise of the so called Tea Party and it's overt agenda on women's reproductive rights 'dominating' Republican policy and rhetoric, this image could not be more relevant to 21st-century American Politics. A disturbing revelation in itself - I'm definitely not done with this one yet.

 During the Bush administration I created 2 works protesting the Iraq war one in 2003 Liberty on Leave and one in 2008 Paradise Lost. Both pieces reference the allegorical depictions of Fecundity by Bernard Palissy.   I came to know these works through trying to recreate the subsequent versions produced in the 17th-century by London delft potteries. The imagery translated into clay by Palissy correlates strongly to this mid-16th-century painting  from Fontainebleau depicting the Birth of Cupid. This painting reflects  the flourishing paganism at Fontainebleau almost at odds with the religious symbolism that dominates renaissance art and turning the idea of the virgin mother on it's head.

The Birth of Cupid Master of Flora ( Italian, Fontainebleau 2nd half of the 16th century
Fecundity dish Bernard Palissy or Palissy School on view in the V&A ceramics galleries.

Paradise Lost 2008  currently in COVET Ferrin Gallery

Victoria Miro is a fantastic gallery with compelling exhibitions, dramatic spaces and a tranquil garden complete with cupcakes! But the excitement of that day was to continue when on the corner across from the Mcdonalds there was a big construction site and where there is a backhoe there is usually clay-

This is where I meet Joe...  To be Continued…

Monday, October 15, 2012


As you can see I am back in the colonies and some things never change! The weather in Virginia on  Oct 6 2012 was 85 F and sunny… oddly enough I will miss what Londoners refer to as summer.

It was hard for me to absorb in situ the breadth and depth of my residency at the V&A. It was such a short and intense time that my experience is just now beginning to sink in and unfold so I will continue to document my 'in country' experience with post residency 'posts' in order to reflect on and share the rich resource of material still to cover.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Though I have been called many things including 'post modern chameleon' by Garth Clark and  'magpie-like' by Glenn Adamson I would describe my experience in discovering ceramic history more akin to a mudlark. Unlike my extraordinary mentor and friend Ivor Noel Hume OBE who's beginnings on the banks of the Thames has given contemporary archaeology its most poignant and creative voice, I had only seen ceramics found in America.  And although these ceramics came from America's earliest and most significant Colonial American sites, I was not really informed as to their  historical context. So I came to know ceramic history in reverse: I learned about the circumstance of those artifacts through  my study of the ceramic arts. It was my complete lack of formal understanding of the broader study of colonial American archeology and anthropology and material culture that allowed for my idiot savant approach to this history through making. The single publication who's title alone captured my imagination for decades to come was Noel's book English Delftware from London and Virginia. This book was so influential that I dubbed my exodus to the V&A  "From Virginia to London" as a humble tribute to Noel Hume's genius and remarkable spirit which never ceases to amaze me.

I made it my mission to join the more dubious ranks of mudlarkers past and present while in London and get down on the shores of the Thames to see what I could find. My partner Rob Hunter the real archeologist had left for the states but sent me a link to the tides chart and encouraged me to venture down into the mirk and mire.  Although it wasn't listed as one of the "suggested" spots, I decided to check under Blackfriars Bridge on the south bank.  Here at low tide the beach is fairly wide and the view is pretty amazing, but what was surprising was the mass of centuries of rubble and fragments that make up the shoreline relatively washed clean for the picking.

The steps down were another matter.
 My first attempt was a lot more productive than I had anticipated and I realized I didn't have anything to put the loot in so ha had to use my lucky New Orleans Saints ball cap. WHO DAT!

I found everything from late 16th-century borderware to 19th=century willow pattern but the finds I kept were things that I recognized parallels to from American archeological contexts. A trip that coincided roughly with my Thames adventure was a visit to Blythe House where the store of the V&A is kept that is not on display and of particular interest was some archeological material though not contextual was certainly familiar.
Archeological English Delft at Blythe House V&A collections store

The archeological material at Jamestown Rediscovery is really worth looking at and they also have an incredible archeological database at St. Augustine both have early European tin glaze examples (above) and this type Midlands Purple butter pot (below) mirrors similar excavations at Jamestown and other early sites.

My second mudlarking adventure was when Rob returned and as we crossed the Millennium Bridge the heavens opened and the sun shown down on the Sherd like Oz so we had great expectations . This time Rob ventured down the steep steps first to document my descent or downfall!
Though we didn't find the Holy Grail we had a pretty good hall and a really useful tool in the studio