Thursday, 17 April 2014

Five-metre-high ceramic tree installed at the International Ceramic Research Centre, Denmark

The Guldagergård Tree (after Spode) by Paul Scott, Sculpture Garden Byparken Skælskør, Denmark 2013

A porcelain tree by Cumbrian artist Paul Scott (b.1953) has recently been installed in the garden of the International Ceramic Research Centre Guldagergård alongside ceramic sculptures by Swedish artist Ulla Viotti, Danish artist Nina Hole and American artist Robert Harrison. The garden forms the public park for the town of Skælskør in Denmark and also contains many rare trees - it was originally planted as an arboretum by the first owners who were fruit farmers.

Paul has a particular interest in ceramics and print (see his book Ceramics & Print) and in his work he often appropriates elements of pre-existing designs which are then re-interpreted in his own work. The tree image was formed by collaging decorative details from a number of existing engraved tableware patterns. These were drawn from English printed landscape wares, particularly Spode, who were based in Stoke and perfected English porcelain production (known as bone china) in the 18th century. Their designs were often based on prints in travel books, which were themselves reproductions of engravings based on paintings by artists of idealised man-made landscapes by designers like Capability Brown - a long way from the original. Paul's sculpture transposes idealistic designs from tableware back into the landscape itself.

The tree in production

A series of cobalt blue underglaze decals were screenprinted onto handmade tiles sourced from Jingdezhen in China, the town long renowned for its production of high quality porcelain. Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds were made at Jingdezhen where it is thought porcelain has been made for two thousand years. This provenance also references the original source of all blue and white wares, which became highly coveted in Europe. For years potteries in Britain tried to reproduce the pure white of Chinese porcelain without success.

Paul Scott is an artist whose work I've admired since I saw a 2002 exhibition he co-curated at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' displayed a beautiful and witty collection of 40 toilets (once a highly decorated item, being a luxurious thing to have). Sadly I can't find any info online to share about this exhibition as there is nothing archived, but I think from my recollection it was arranged so that you could walk among the toilets but they were displayed uniformly as if they were a single work. (It very much reminded me of a Rachel Whiteread installation I'd seen of casts of the spaces underneath chairs.)

After this I suggested Paul for a commission in the new public toilets in Workington and he later went on to produce an incredibly beautiful commission for Northern Print in 2009 called Willow Creek - I'd make the trip just to wash my hands in this sink.

Willow Creek at Northern Print Studios, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2009

Paul's subversive and fascinating work has included tableware as well as public commissions, but the common thread is a concentration and exploration of surface, setting him apart from many other potters (although increasingly younger practitioners such as Parasite Ceramics are changing this). Paul references the decorative history of mass-produced transferware (particularly the distinctive blue-and-white willow pattern scenes of Minton) as well as the changing process of ceramic production, and many of his works have an underlying political resonance, commenting on the changing nature of our rural landscape and our human interventions, whether that be farming or signs of energy production such as windmills, nuclear power stations and electricity pylons. 

Following the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Cumbria Paul made a series of plates with smouldering carcasses on them - a view that became disarmingly normal at the time. Paul is currently making work which references old conservation methods for repairing ceramics, such as stapling and wiring.

So I'm particularly excited that Paul has a solo exhibitionConfected, Borrowed and Blue, coming up in November 2014 at the Holburne Museum in Bath, where I live. The exhibition will include the first outcome of Paul's recently funded research into the Spode copper plate archive.

Oh, and I'd love to work with Paul on a new public commission in the UK - perhaps Bath next, eh Paul? 


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