Ceramic art has a very long history in almost all civilizations and cultures. Ceramic products were used not only as products of the daily usage, but were considered to be the products of a fine and decorative art. As a form of art, the ceramic products express intentions and thoughts of the authors, as well as reflect social and cultural changes.
Thus, each work of ceramics has particular context. These days, many designers, artists, craftsmen, or other practitioner in ceramics use ceramics to express their ideas and view. Ceramic design and creative practices are numerous and individual for each artist. Ceramic design can be analyzed through different critical perspectives and provide critical understanding of different values and approaches used by artists to embody their ides in different articles made from clay.
In this paper, we are going to provide the analysis of ceramic design within a range of contexts. In order to understand different points of view and values, we will analyze works and practices of three “subjects” (contemporary ceramists) that have put different contexts in their works.
The fists “subject” under consideration is a contemporary American ceramist Justin Novak. He could be located under tree headings in the Matrix: History (reference), Society (politics) and Belief (morality).
Three relevant sources justify the location of the artist in the sections of the Matrix. The first source is the article by Justin Novak “The Disfigurine” in which he provides the descriptions of his works, explains why he uses particular techniques and methods to convey the meanings of his works, as well as his point of view on the meaning of the contemporary art and its function.
The second source is the article in the magazine Ceramics Today in which we can find the information on the achievements of the artist, analysis of his works and statements by the artist in which he comments on the values of his creations.
The third source is the interview with Justin Novak about his first works the 21st Century Bunny in which he told about his political views, and commented the themes of his works.
Thus, the works by the author refer to history. His firs work the 21st Century Bunny has a unique form and context. It is a series of ceramic bunnies with one eye and with guns in their paws.
The bunnies are trying to kill each other. Novak wrote about this work that it is about “the pathological and cyclical nature of violent behavior” (Valentina, 2009, n. p.). The main idea of the work is to express the “paranoid spirit” of contemporary world. Novak says that ““21c Bunny” is so terrified of being preyed upon that he has armed himself and turned himself into a predator.
In this sense, his story is a perfect allegory for America, post-9/11” (Valentina 2009, n. p.). From this passage we can see that the author makes allusions to the recent historic events, and images of the bunnies provide the interpretation of the moral destruction under the influence of the unjustified violence. This is how people felt themselves and behaved after the terrorist attack.
The author provides that people’s minds have changed after that event. He compares them with bunnies and explains people’s behavior through the interpretation, ““Bunny” is born as a fluffy warm-blooded innocent that means no harm to anyone, it is only the state of fear that causes his destructive behavior” (Valentina, 2009, n. p.).
The artist’s works are “at the intersection of art and design” (Valentina, 2009, n. p.). He tells that this approach helps him appeal to different dimensions of the modern society. His methodology is a mixture of both disciplines which allows him express the “mass appeal of design practice and the poetic inquiry of contemporary art culture” (Valentina, 2009, n. p.).
The reason why the artist choose working with clay is that he considers it “a natural medium for the transformation” (Valentina, 2009, n. p.) of his ideas and intentions in all three dimensions.
The style and design of the author were shaped under the influence of the baroque style, he comments that he was “utterly captivated by the golden era of European porcelain, in late baroque and rococo times” (Novak 2007, p. 109). The traditions of European porcelain became the inspiration for the author and he used simple techniques to express complex ideas in his works.
The magazine Ceramics Today provides a very in-depth interpretation of the works by Justin Novak:
His raku-fired expressive figurative sculpture navigates a fine line the between the tasteful and the grotesque, while subverting the historical genre of the figurine, e.g. with his ‘disfigurine’ series, in which physical wounds such as bruises and lacerations serve as metaphors for injury to self-esteem and other psychological harm. (“Ceramics Today”, n. d.).
Thus, the author explores sociological and psychological dimensions of the societies of the past and present. The works present the insight into the cultural values, codes of behavior and self-identity.
The second “subject” under consideration is an American ceramist Allan Rosenbaum. Using the Matrix, we can locate the artist under the headings that follow: Language (metaphor), Environment (urban and domestic), and Personal (personal memories and identity). Three relevant sources provide the insight into the artist’s creative techniques, themes and ideas. They explain why he prefers clay to any other materials and what influenced his art.
The fist source is the book by Judith S. Schwartz in which the author explores the differing values of research materials, and discusses artistic and social contexts of works of different ceramists.
In this book, we encounter the comment by Allan Rosenbaum on one of his works of the year 2002 named Flow which provides the interpretation of the artist’s attitude towards art and its function. The second source is the article in the magazine Ceramics Today in which the artist’s works and his point of view are provided. Finally, the third work is the study by Howard Risatti. The study explores the theory of craft, its function and aesthetic expression.
The author debates the assumption that craft (in which such materials as clay and fiber are used) cannot be considered sculptures and thus, cannot be the form of art. In order to support his idea, the author exemplifies the work by Allan Rosenbaum and claims that deep context and “emotional expressiveness” of his ceramics makes it a form of art.
Ceramic works by Allan Rosenbaum express the author’s interpretation of the contemporary world. They are creative, colorful and depict the objects from the daily life, such as books, bags, clothes, etc. The works are very detailed and the details used are often “incompatible”, his:
Whimsical figurative sculptures are influenced by funk, often featuring parts of the human body in conjunction with household items. Some are reminiscent of Surrealism, in particular the works of Renee Margritte. They are fired multiple times to achieve richly patinated surfaces (“Ceramics Today”, n. d.).
In his works, the author addresses the issues of history of art (in particular, hi is focusing on the Surrealistic tendencies) in order to provide the interpretation of the contemporary ceramic design and its role in art. Furthermore, his works are very intimate, as they refer to personal memories and question of self-identity. In this regard, the works by the author are very metaphoric.
They provide metaphors for the nature of human relations, social position of the individual and break the borders between reality and imagination. The author provides the following interpretation of his own works:
My works raises questions about the nature of human relationships, the need of security, our methods of communication and the search for identity. Of the system of thinking of different philosophies and mystics, I wanted to integrate thoughts and philosophical thesis into everyday life – to link them with everyday objects as “food for thought” without the barrier of awe; I invite the viewer to communicate, to reflect and to ruminate (Schwartz 2008, p. 167).
Indeed, the ceramic works by Allan Rosen provide the viewer with the “material” to think about. His art is aimed at addressing conflict emotions and thoughts. At first sight, his works are humoristic; however, if one delves into their context, they appear to be very serious, as address the feelings that are hidden deep inside the human consciousness.
The artist explores the environment. In particular, he is interested in urban environment and domestic interior. This can be observed in the work like Thinking Chair, 1998. It is a ceramic glaze depicting a chair with hands that holds a head turned upside down. The author provides a detailed explanation of his work and themes that he addresses in art in the following passage:
The sculptures I make weave together objects and images that are culled from personal memories, art history, domestic interiors and urban environments. By creating sculptures that are composed of combinations of familiar images, I hope to shed new light on the metaphorical possibilities of the figure and of the objects in our everyday world.
Through my work, I raise questions about the nature of human relationships, the need for security, our methods of communication the search for identity and the importance of community. My work negotiates a balance between the real and the imaginary – between our daily experiences and our dreams (“Ceramics Today” n. d.)
The author utilized “clay and sophisticated ceramic hand-building and glaze techniques” (Risatti 2007, p. 6) to create most of his works. As it has already been mentioned, the works are very creative and consider a “deep psychological overtone” (Risatti 2007, p. 6).
The next “subject” is a famous Tunisian studio potter Khaled Ben Slimane. His works and themes are analyzed in three sources. The first one provides a brief biography of the author and thus helps understand what issues influenced themes and ideas of his works. This source is the article retrieved from the site of The British Museum.
The second source is the overview of the author’s works provided by the Galerie el Marse in which we can find the critical interpretation of the author’s ceramics. The third source is taken from the magazine Ceramics Today, and it presents the author’s works and techniques.
In the matrix, the author can be located under the headings that follow: Society (culture), Belief (Spirituality) and Environment (Global).
Thus, Khaled Ben Slimane comes from the region of Nabeul where pottery-making was the leading craft which provided a basis for the author’s interest in ceramics. He traveled a lot around the world and his experience is reflected in his works.
As the author says, “as a ceramist, I realized that seven places have brought me to this art and have initiated me. It’s like being born seven times.” (“Khaled Ben Slimane”, n. d.). In his pottery, one can notice the motifs inspired by visiting such countries as Tunisia, Spain, Japan, and Iran.
Culture of these countries is reflected in his works through symbolic colors and paintings. In such way, the author addresses different societies and cultures, “Slimane’s works include pieces inspired by Islamic funerary architecture and also public sculptures and installations” (“Khaled Ben Slimane, ceramic plates (tabaq)” 1998, n. p.).
High spirituality can also be noticed, as the author strongly believed in power of traditions and importance to preserve national heritage, “a synthesis of East and West, his work has been inspired by the Arab-Muslim heritage and the ancestral know-how in pottery” (“Khaled Ben Slimane” n. d.).
He addressed the global environment, as he believed that the best traditions of ceramic design were lost, and he considered his responsibility to restore them and save for future generations.
The creative practice and techniques used by the author are worth an in-depth critical analysis. First of all, the colors used in his works have great symbolic meaning that “symbolizes the elements of earth, fire, air and water – with rough, bold, black brushstrokes formed into delicate spirals” (“Khaled Ben Slimane, ceramic plates (tabaq)” 1998, n. p.). Moreover, he uses repeated words to decorate his works.
These words are “Allah (God), er-Rouh (‘the soul’), Huwa (‘Him which evokes God’)” (“Khaled Ben Slimane, ceramic plates (tabaq)” 1998, n. p.). And thus, this fact supports the idea that Khaled Ben Slimane paid great attention to the spiritual development of the individual, and used his ceramics to transfer this idea to the viewer. The forms of his works (cube, cylinder, and cone) are also symbolic and they were inspired by Islamic “funerary architecture”.
Thus, ceramics is a special form of art that has its traditions and deep context. In this paper, we provided a critical analysis of the works by contemporary ceramists who addressed various dimensions of the contemporary society.
Different critical perspectives on the ceramic design provide a possibility to understand the design methodologies and techniques used by authors to express their ideas and points of view on the modern society and its development. Thus, three artist under consideration represented different values in their works. They addressed different dimensions of history, society, art and environment.
They used various techniques to express particular themes related to the problems which they considered important, such as morality, violence, spirituality, self-identification, human relations and importance to protect national and cultural traditions. We can come to a conclusion that ceramics, s a form of art, is a strong means of communication of the author with the viewer, and a “tool” to influence the individual’s vision of the better world.
Allan Rosenbaum n. d., Ceramics Today. [Online] Available at: http://www.ceramicstoday.com/potw/rosenbaum.htm
Justin Novak n. d., Ceramics Today. [Online] Available at: http://www.ceramicstoday.com/potw/justin_novak.htm
Khaled Ben Slimane n. d., Galerie el Marsa. [Online] Available at http://www.galerielmarsa.com/site/en/artist_details.php?id_article=15
Khaled Ben Slimane, Ceramic Plates (tabaq), 1998, The British Museum. [Online] Available at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aoa/k/khaled_ben_slimane,_ceramic_pl.aspx
Khaled Ben Slimane, n. d., Ceramics Today. [Online] Available at: http://www.ceramicstoday.com/potw/Khaled_Ben_Slimane.htm
Novak, J. 2007, “The disfigurine” in The Figure in Clay: Contemporary Sculpting Techniques by Master Artists, ed. Lark Books, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., New York.
Risatti, H. 2007, A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression. The University of North California Press, Chapel Hill.
Schwartz, J. S. 2008, Confrontational Ceramics: The Artist as Social Critic. University of Pennsylvania Press, London.
Valentina, V. 2009, “Interview: Justin Novak”. Who killed Bambi? [Online] Available at: http://www.whokilledbambi.co.uk/2009/10/justin-novak-2/