Part II: Ceramics – The Central Core explores the fantastical, mythological and performative elements of the medium. The malleability of clay allows it to perform under and for an artist's hands, a physical, mysterious manifestation of an artist's psyche and ideas. The second half of our two-part online exhibition for Women 2.0, showcases work by female artists not represented by the gallery, featuring Shary BOYLE, Judy CHICAGO, Karen DENSHAM, Lindsey MENDICK, and Holly STEVENSON.
The ceramic process has always contained an air of mystery and other-worldliness–as Jo Dahn describes: 'to take earth and turn it into something that can be used and admired is the most fundamental kind of alchemy.' Shary BOYLE 's alchemy is to transform the figure, whether female, male or genderless, into an object of transfiguration. Her early training, in local community hobby classes run and attended by 'grandmothers', germinated her interest in the body. Inspired by Victorian figurine moulds, Boyle creates experimental, seductive forms which defy categorisation. With Oasis (2019), the naked figure's confident open pose reveals a brightly glazed penis emerging from flower petals, which rest on the vaginal lips, while with Inverted Fetish (2017), an upside down, impassive doll-like face becomes a plinth for the ascending female legs.
Judy CHICAGO's Six Erotic Cookies (1967) is at odds with Boyle's hyper-sexual figurines. An exceptionally early work by Chicago, made before she changed her name, the six 'cookies' are placed in a domestic interior, enclosed within a glass cake stand and resting on a hand-painted plate, awaiting to be consumed. The banality of the cake stand is at odds with the six figures, each coupled in a sexual embrace–an oddity of juxtaposition that is further explored by Karen Densham.
Karen DENSHAM's Stork (2021), shrouded in a black hood, recalls to mind witches and Philip Guston's hooded and masked figures (the subject of major controversy last year, as a result of Guston's cancelled touring retrospective). Playing with iconography, Densham takes the stork–the child-bearing animal of fairytales–and makes it sinister, a hooded reference to the association of witchcraft with early midwifery, and simultaneously the shiny black lustre of oil spills which destroy avian habitats. With Yeti (2021), the monstrous creature of Himalayan folklore, Densham subverts the story: placing a found porcelain polar bear atop a furry white explorer's boot, the cracked glaze alluding to melting ice and our own environmental 'footprint'. Fairytales are nothing but stories, as Densham makes abundantly clear through her manipulation of scale, media, and environmental concerns.
Lindsey MENDICK's Bursting at the seams (2021) presents an unusual manifestation of a 'pretty' flower vase. Mendick's version is more in keeping with scary stories, tales of Frankenstein and horror, with protruding eyes emerging from the vase's bursting seams, crudely 'stitched' together. Her autobiographical practice, incorporating memories and events from her own life defines her practice. Here, she takes inspiration from one of her favourite films childhood, the 1993 Disney classic Hocus Pocus, imitating the stylised stitching of the anthropomorphic spellbook used in the film.
The amorphous, androgynous forms of Holly STEVENSON similarly play with myths and the fantastical, whether literally with Narcissus (2019), her daisy chain necklace-wearing phallic head form, which gazes wistfully down into an empty pool, or with Eunuch (2021), it's two penile heads descending down into split legs which embrace an interior pool. The Eunuchs, historically castrated so that they could guard women's quarters without fear of sexual frustration or temptation, are here rendered in playful, kitsch colours. They wear turquoise bowties and chain necklaces adorned with purple flowers, classically 'feminine' attributes. Stevenson's sculptures are visual explorations of Freudian theories (narcissism, lactivism and castration anxiety), making visible the psychoanalyst's often subversive ideas and reducing them to simple sculptural forms.
Press release courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery.