I'm really excited to be packing my bags for a trip back to my old stomping grounds in Georgia. I've got a show that opened a week or so ago at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. The show contains most of the work that I spent the last two summers creating in Jingdezhen, China. Jingdezhen is where porcelain was invented and popularized. One factoid I overheard claims that 1 million pieces of porcelain are created every day in Jingdezhen...and that's been the case since the Imperial era.
For most of the past millennium, people have been seduced by Jingdezhen's porcelain. I'm particularly interested in the back-and-forth exchange of cultures porcelain has always facilitated. Most of the early porcelain created for the export market in the fourteenth century was meant for Islamic cultures. Many blue-and-white vessels that were exported contained Arabic writing and decoration. In turn, China's blue-and-white wares were only possible because of cobalt that they imported from Persia. By the 16th Century, China was producing export ware aimed at the European market
Chinese export ware sparked a mania in Europe that ultimately resulted in a porcelain arms race. Wealthy connoisseurs rushed to create ever-larger porcelain rooms with ultra-mantels upsized to accommodate their massive porcelain collections. Kings fought with each other to employ shady alchemists, who attempted to make porcelain out of just about every substance under the sun (except the right ones). At one point, Chinese porcelain was twice as expensive as the equivalent amount of gold.
The lure of porcelain has always been powerful, sparking dreams in consumers and makers alike. 17th-Century Europeans also developed "Chinoiserie", a sort of ersatz "Chinese-esque" set of motifs based more on what Europeans thought Chinese decoration should look like, rather than what it actually looked like. The Chinese responded in kind, creating their own "authentic" Chinoiserie geared for export rather than domestic consumption.
Porcelain has always called to me. The stuff is finicky and hard to work with. It never does what you want it to: cracking, slumping, shirking off its glaze... yet the stuff is so incredibly beautiful, that I keep swearing it off, yet crawling back to it like some ceramic Tammy Wynette. Porcelain has such a hold on me that I had to visit China. I wanted to find the source. The above teapot is slipcast from a Log Cabin syrup bottle and the handle and spout of an antique silver coffee pot. The decoration is inspired by my view from the studio window at The Pottery Workshop, my home-away-from-home in Jingdezhen.
The series of vessels I created in Jingdezhen are all based around the idea of traditional Chinese symbols and decorations filtered through my Western worldview. For example, the motif of a child riding on a rooster holding a fish is common in Chinese folk art. "Fish" and "rooster" are both ciphers for happiness and abundance. When they're combined with a child, the combination is said to represent a multitude of descendants and money.
Of course, I couldn't resist substituting the Kellogg's rooster, Big Boy and Jesus for the traditional symbols. I'm a TV baby, after all.
Join me on Thursday, September 10th for a reception at Brenau University, where "Orientation" will be up through October 10th. I'll be lecturing about my work, China and Extreme Craft at 5:00 in the Thurmond McRae Lecture hall. Following the lecture, there will be a reception from 6-8 pm in the gallery. In late October, the show will then travel to the McMaster Gallery at the University of South Carolina. Stay tuned to Extreme Craft for more details.
I put up a link to a photo gallery for "Orientation" on the right-hand bar of Extreme Craft. Check it out for more images of work from the show.