Confrontational Ceramics || Judith S Schwartz

Say ceramics and most people think of utensils or containers. It’s natural because pottery was one of man’s earliest solutions to the problem of where to put things and how to cook them. Once you have a pot, you can make a stew. Without it, you’re limited to roasts.

It didn’t, of course, take long for the potters to discover that a few finger marks or scratches with a stick added decoration that set their pots apart from those of their competitors. From there developed glazes and other decoration that moved mere objects towards the world of art and museums all over the world are filled with items that are clearly intended more for decoration than for use.

So far, I’ve deliberately kept to the world of pottery and I’m referring to the use of relatively crude fired earths that retain the element of everyday use and I’m doing so because, in Britain, there is a well-established tradition of craft pottery that exists largely because of the work of Bernard Leach and his followers and descendants. Not so much now, but certainly in the 1970’s and 80’s, there were many small potteries all over the country that produced perhaps unexceptional but certainly individual work. They haven’t died out entirely, but increasing costs have pushed prices up and the remaining ones have moved much more towards the world of ceramic art and the £2 mug is a thing of the past.

If the general public is now more aware of that, of ceramics as a serious art medium, I think we have to acknowledge the contribution of Grayson Perry. Although there have been ceramic artists for a long time, the name of Lucy Rie, for example, is hardly a household word in the same way. Where all this is going is to say that there is increasing awareness of ceramics as an art form, but it is still something of a niche market.

Confrontational Ceramics is a look at a whole genre that certainly won’t be familiar to anyone other than the specialist. These are often quite bizarre, even disturbing, images that nevertheless have a strange and haunting beauty when seen in three very solid dimensions. It’s definitely a book for the collector and one which Black’s should be congratulated for publishing because it’s definitely not going to disturb the bestseller lists! The subtitle: The artist as social critic begs a number of questions and I think you could say that this is social criticism in the same way that Francis Bacon expresses it. Not to say that it’s not right, but it’s as specialised as the images themselves. I’m not sure that it tells us a lot about society in general; the mirror it holds up is definitely a distorting one, albeit no less interesting for that.

The standard of production is impeccable and, given that the price of books of this size really hasn’t increased in the last 20-odd years, it’s a snip at £30. If this is your thing, buy it, because there won’t be another book on this subject for a long time. If you don’t like this kind of thing, think no less of yourself. It’s an acquired taste, although one you may find exercises a strange fascination. If I say that this isn’t a book I’d buy, but definitely one I’m going to keep, I mean that as the highest praise I can give it.

http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?t=artbookreview-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&asins=0713676558&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

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