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February 14, 2021
The human figure has been represented in clay throughout history and continues to evolve today. Artists are working with the figure in new ways, playing with materials and forms and making use of new technologies. Throughout the ages artists have drawn inspiration from their daily life and their own surroundings.
As a child, I loved the porcelain Victorian figurines (1840-1900), often flat-backed & colourful. They look so delicate, romantic, elegant and were also influenced by what the maker saw around him or her - the peasant girl or the Duchess. Oh! For this little girl they were the stuff of dreams - of parading around in flowing robes and finding my prince.
Then came the Art deco figures (post 1930) when it was all about flowing body curves and perfectly elegant shapes but with rarely any colour. So beautiful were they that they even were designed as mascots for 'posh' cars.
An artist I am fond of is Christie Brown’. Her latest exhibition was in response to the Staffordshire / Stoke on Trent 18th century flat-packed figurines. The closing of this factory caused unemployment in the area with its terrible effect on human lives and group relationships. Previously her work was influenced by ancient civilisations.
Although not strictly a ceramic artist, sculptor Antony Gormley's approach is to site the figure in the environment. You might think he just has a cast made of himself which he plonks around the country. Is this then simple egotism? No, his figures work with the environment. His 'Angel of the North', tall, majestic with hugely extended arms embracing the surrounding Gateshead, gives the feeling it’s looking after the people in the valley whilst the elements beat on his body. It is crafted from steel and in a way reminiscent of the area's shipbuilding past. In the same way, his standing figures on Crosby beach, appear to be wading in to swim as the tide comes in. 'Watch Man' is similarly powerful - this time being consumed by an even more powerful sea.
What about our very own Skylark Galleries figurative artists?
This month I look at different Skylarks' work, and find out what they want the figure in their work to represent and how they “talk” about the environment and the times we are living in.
Richard Dixon tells me his work largely centres on the human form. "The landscape of the body is an intriguing challenge to document. The male figure, with its more pronounced musculature and various surfaces, represents a more interesting challenge and therefore produces, for me, a more satisfying result. Clay is usually my chosen medium as its versatility and qualities allow me to experiment and stretch my intentions.
"I experiment with a wide range of glazes and finishes to further extend my ideas. Opening a kiln can be both a joy and a disappointment but never loses its adrenaline."
Another very different Skylark ceramic artist is Corrine Edwards who has created these ceramic gingerbread figures with cowrie shell imprints, as well as cowrie shell imprints in a series of photo etchings too. She says, "The iconic and familiar shapes of these popular Christmas biscuits have an interesting history. Queen Elizabeth I had images of her guests and suitors made into gingerbread effigies.
There we have the link with the history of the cowrie shell. Cowrie shells, originally from the Maldives, were used as ship's ballast in the transatlantic slave trade. And Queen Elizabeth I supported and profited greatly from this ‘trade’. She partnered with the notorious John Hawkins and sent him to get slaves, “by any means necessary”.
"I have incorporated cowrie imprints in European style crowns, replacing the stolen jewels and precious stones with the cowrie imprints. Cowries were used in Africa as currency. They were also used in divination, decoration and as symbols of fertility. As you can see this sculpture is female."
Female gingerbread by Corrine Edwards, stoneware clay with metal oxide surface 23cm tall £40.00
My latest work is a celebration of the Covid vaccine being available and the history of people’s behaviour in lockdown for the past year. It is self-explanatory with the rush on toilet rolls, endless nibbling out of the fridge, closed door, ubiquitous TV, etc.
History, Covid by Vivien Phelan - SOLD. New ones in the making. Click here to find out the latest from my studio.
February 19, 2021
An informative and enjoyable read, I especially liked the link with your childhood.💖
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