“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair… It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman.”
Sol LeWitt, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, Artforum Vol.5, no. 10, Summer 1967, pp. 79-83
Since the 1960s, the tension between concept and craft has been a constant source of debate. It can be argued that the first conceptual artwork was a ceramic, very utilitarian object. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917: a factory-made urinal, presented as a ‘ready-made’ sculpture signed by the artist. Many artists who create conceptual ceramics refer to or present familiar everyday objects with meanings beyond function or purpose. However, unlike Duchamp, a hands-on approach to working with clay is intrinsic to the work.
At a glance Paul Scott’s work appears to be in the tradition of the blue and white transfer-printed ceramics (such as the famous ‘Willow Pattern’) produced by factories such as Spode in Stoke-on-Trent since the mid-18th century. In his work Fukushima No. 8, he uses the familiar image of Hokusai’s woodcut print The Great Wave off Kanagawa to illustrate the disastrous consequences of the 2011 Tsunami on those working at and living near the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Jesse Wine’s Little and Spicy’ is a distorted representation of the Sports Direct promotional ‘Giant Mug’. At the same time, it pays homage to the work of Californian ceramic artist Ken Price. Price challenged ideas about studio ceramics and craft in the 1960s and produced a series of ‘snail cups’ in vivid coloured glazes at odds with the prevailing brown and functional studio ceramics of the time. Wine’s mugs are deliberately clumsy and consciously ‘anti-craft’.
Gwyn Hanssen Piggott and Vicky Shaw explore the unspoken conventions and rituals around the display and setting out of tableware. Both include strict instructions for the positioning and arrangement of their work. These rituals, part of the works’ meanings, are usually invisible to the viewer. Melanie Brown and Janet de Boos examine the affinities between groupings of objects to suggest the familial and emotional relationships between people.
Like so much in conceptual art some works do not stand alone without written explanations. Works by Rita Gudino (Philippines), and Punk Raku (France) are souvenirs and remnants from performances that took place at the International Ceramics Festival at Aberystwyth. The chaotic ceramic forms of Punk Raku Aberystwyth arose out of a performance at the 2019 Festival. The makers Jean Francois Bourland and Valerie Blaize staged an elaborate birthday party meal, throwing molten glaze over raku tableware to a soundtrack of punk rock music. Gudino’s raku baby Julio emerged from an incandescent kiln womb ( a Lual) in a two-day performance at the Festival in 2015.
Ceramic processes, the history of ceramics (both industrial and hand-made) and how ceramics are used and displayed, enable these contemporary ceramicists to explore their political, social and philosophical ideas through clay.