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Steven Carson and Marc Sauvage
This exhibition integrates two very different aesthetic approaches to ceramics, but intellectually both artists address the same concern. Carson and Sauvage question the boundaries and limitations of ceramics within the domain of fine art.
Steven Carson's fetish objects are visually humorous and cheeky. China cups and saucers, upturned glass goblets, pottery amphora vases, statuettes and artificial flowers are some of the objects he manipulates. Hiding these non-ceramic 'readymades' with vibrant acrylic paint he redefines the use of ceramics. With a crude, garish, colour sense, Carson liberally applies his splotches in red, yellow, blue, lime green and hot pink. Given a black canvas to begin with, he allows the wealth and majesty of purple and gold to enrich his message. There is a small amount of clay in these contemporary icons but this hardly matters, as it is camouflaged anyway. Clay, as a token element, is concealed by the use of mixed media although the work can still be considered to be within the realm of ceramics.
In his visual treatment the objects become glitzy ornaments, the epitome of bad taste. Carson invites us to indulge in our own nostalgia with fervent memories of the gaudy and tacky. Here too, he is making reference to the sentimentality with which we treat our precious but outdated,‘trophy-like' icons.
Carson seems well justified in conveying his pursuit of the anti-ceramics aesthetic. His work emulates the continual redefinition and re-evaluation of ceramics' status in the fine art arena. Where does the craft end and the intellectualism begin? When is ceramics viewed with the same critical eye as fine art? Carson, in masking his objects is denying the ceramic element. He is recontextualizing the status of ceramics within its own boundaries.
He also makes reference to the vessel. He uses the vessel as a metaphoric container of morals and ideals. His glitzy cups and flashy flower arrangements reflect the transient aspects of neon signs, call-girls and fads. However, the works in glass cases retain a sense of preciousness. Even though the over-the-top colour treatment still runs riot, the delicacy of the gold painted roses encompasses the subtle gentleness and tenderness of the human condition. As vehicles of communication, his vessels play with that fine line between objects being of sentimental value or just plain tacky; a metaphor for the over-ratedness of wild fantasies and desires which dominate our complacent lifestyle.
Marc Sauvage's collection plays with this disintegration of ceramic tradition with excitement of a different kind. His super-slick, glossy, highly refined pieces reflect the progressive society by which we are ruled. The pieces appear as contemporary utilitarian ware. Intensely bright interiors dominate his shapes. There is no competition for a local point in his forms as the pale, pastel exteriors only exist to lead the eye elsewhere. A bearable tension evolves from this, indicating the concerns which his work may induce.
Sauvage's work questions our preconceived ideas of what a vessel is. While his shapes are functional the pieces can only be used as ornaments because of their low firing. He has transformed what appears to be a functional object into the decadence of ornamentation. The denial of use tampers with the ideology of traditional ceramics.
He also sets up an ambiguity through the aesthetics of his work. The pieces appear professional and precise as ~ they were industrially designed and produced. They are of course, hand-made but no evidence of the artist remains except for his signature. Because the pieces appear to be commercially manufactured they are expected to be functional. They are not. And it is this tension, this subtle equivocation, which adds to the richness of the work.
Both of these artists reinterrogate their notions of ceramics. Their urban environment allows them a backdrop in which to locate their concerns. This post industrial society in which we live, asks for nothing other than the new, or the recontextualizing of that which is old.