Commonly depicting animals and familiar objects, Karen Densham's ceramics, photographs, watercolours, and videos appear playful at first glance. Up close, however, their satirical and even violent implications confront the assumed innocence of the banal.Read More
Karen Densham's approach to the art object often recalls the work of the early-20th-century avantgarde. Her materials, many of them bought from charity shops and eBay, undergo slight alteration or reproduction evocative of Marcel Duchamp's readymades. Ceramic sculpture Hair Cup (1999) cites Méret Oppenheim's Object (1936): the iconic cup-and-saucer set covered in fur. In her work, Densham returns the furry cup to ceramic, covered with images of a coarse texture that suggests hair.
In her transformation of ordinary objects, Karen Densham uncovers unexpected relationships between disparate forms. In the photograph Stub (2012), a ceramic horse faces a head of broccoli before it; one of its own hind legs has been replaced with a smaller head of broccoli. The work is also a play on scale: next to the miniature horse, the larger broccoli begins to resemble a tree. Last Straw (2015), another photograph, shows a figurine of a camel whose head and back are covered in neon straws.
At times, Karen Densham's creations take on more scathing and sinister undertones. Images of guns are laid over a pair of petite figurines in the photographic Double Dutch (2015), imbuing usually decorative and harmless items with violence, while St Sebastian (2016) applies the eponymous saint's story of death by arrows to a ceramic animal by penetrating its body with toothpicks. In Hop, Skip, Jump (2020), a yellow songbird lies in an open container, its limp, upturned body belying the title.
The beloved characters of British children's book author and illustrator Beatrix Potter often make appearances in Densham's work. The watercolour and ceramic work titled Choker (2014) twists the well-known illustration of Mrs Rabbit adjusting Peter Rabbit's collar by wrapping a rope around his neck. Watercolour Kitten (2015) replaces Miss Moppet's handkerchief with crotchless underwear—a revealing commentary on the covert sexualisation of children in mass media and the accessibility of erotic images, even to children, in the age of the internet.
Karen Densham is also known for her ceramic plates on which she illustrates animals, architecture, and diagrams, among other images. In Intercourse. (WI ware) (2000), the artist depicts sexual intercourse using anatomical drawings of sexual organs on a plate in calm celadon green. The 2012 work ABC =XYZ (MICKY) reflects Densham's interest in pairing unrelated objects: below a triangle with variables x, y, and z, are three circles—each named a, b, and c—arranged to resemble Mickey Mouse's famous silhouette.
Uncommon Or Garden, Jugg Art Foundation, Ipswich (2018); 3–5 Silent Street, Annual Ipswich Biennial (2018); The Dramatic Vessel, Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Shigaraki (2017); 44th Eastern Open, King's Lynn Arts Centre, United Kingdom (2013); The Inaugural ArtLacuna Film Festival, ArtLacuna, London (2013).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021