I have been absolutely smitten with marble fountains lately! Lately because, well, there really are no such fountains here in southern Alberta.. But the front yard of the building just a few blocks away from me just so happened to catch my fancy yesterday while I was out on my run due to it’s fantastically imposing ostentatious fountain! Yes, a fountain right in the middle of a residential Calgary neighborhood, covered with snow. But the thing was complete with pedements composed of horses and spouts comin’ out the wazoo! I tell ya, that thing is the bell of the ball around this part of town.. Anyways, I digress. Fountains are the new wedding cakes in my books as far as sculptural inspiration goes. And I’ll tell you why. Fountains (especially those of a western european origin) are almost always unmistakably obnoxious and unapologetically loud all in spite of their supposed elegance ! Fountains are the intersection of the seductive voluminous marble embraces one encounters in the romantic epics of Antonio Canova — dripping with sentiment — clashed with the brutal pragmatism and logic of a flourescent orange road pylon. In short, fountains are Rococo and Bauhaus all in one: a meer pyramid… decorated into oblivion! They are formiddably regal, laughably salacious, undeniably well engineered, and highly functioning at the same time . What utter fabulousness.
It is the detection and projection of conceivably human traits onto the inanimate material world that relentlessly inspires my object-making and drawing practice. As the formation of my work is continually informed by the idiosyncrasies visible in everyday objects, I am a habitual observer of the narratives these things naturally invoke by virtue of being inadvertently personified. Over the past year, I have found myself infatuated by a specific breed of objects in light of their peculiarly heightened ability to appear as animated characters amidst a sea of otherwise idle paraphernalia. Here, I am referring specifically to those which possess highly embellished exteriors, verbosely constructed bodies, or a combination of the two. Essentially, those which are excessively decorated.
What draws me to these things is their capacity to be met with highly opposing sentiments. An ornate candelabra, for example, seems to possess equal chances of being perceived as sophisticated and beautiful as it does absurd or deplorably kitsch. This dual-propensity, I believe, is enabled most certainly by the distinctive presence of overtly superfluous design traits. (In this case, through an overabundance of auxiliary appendages).
That an item can be revered as formidably regal and playfully juvenile at the same time fascinates me greatly. It is the potential for an object’s identity to commingle between such divergent associations and the resulting contradictions that become tied up in it’s perceived role as utilitarian implement or play-thing, furniture object or veneration effigy, that motivates the creation of my own sculptures.
I want to create in-between objects that are capable of generating responses akin to those elicited by fondant encrusted multi-tiered wedding cakes and exotic dim sum buffets being as the presence of these things conjures reactions that could be described as delightful and repulsive with seemingly equal rigor. It is the humor implicit in this absurdist proposition which feeds my long-time preoccupation with characters of a beguiling unpredictable nature who frequently belie their presumed role. As such, my most recent work has aimed to indulge this fascination by examining the explicit role of decoration as it pertains to the activation of such a character trope.
Namely, I find myself persistently attracted to highly decorated objects because of their proneness to be imagined to possess innately controverting traits which result in contradictory classifications such as ‘noble and flamboyant’ — ‘trite and austere’ — or ‘demure yet outspoken’. Tassel-laden couch cushions and dressers obliterated with miniature drawers and floral patterns, vacant chandeliers spewing gilded limbs, and grandfather clocks standing atop multi-level pedestals all seem to invoke this sort of nonsensical persona. In light of my obsession with this quality, I tend to view any object imbued with a comparable aspect distinctly as an underdog; be it elephant or dancing puppet, debutant or scamp.
Whatever the case, excessively decorated things can scarcely be described without having human attributes projected onto them. Which provokes the question: Just what is it about being ‘decorated’ that so rigorously stimulates our inclination to perceive otherwise abstract forms as distinctly animated beings?
My conviction that decoration has as much to do with anthropomorphic narrative as it does the mere pleasure of experiencing something aesthetically compelling is largely rooted in my preoccupation with textiles and fashion. In the case of printed fabrics, it’s as though the role of pattern is to inoculate an object with some yet unspoken measure of vitality — energizing it with foreign moods and tendencies which at times undermine the very form of their garment. The kaleidoscopic prints depicted on the designs of Mary Kantranzou, Peter Pillotto, and Louis Vuitton, for example, frequently cause the clothing to appear strangely autonomous; suggesting the impression that the garments are wearing the model, and not the other way around. In such cases, the wearer becomes fleetingly understood as subservient to it’s donned garment. Yayoi Kusama, Valentino, and Moschino no doubt understand this phenomenon as they employ pattern and decadent textural surfaces to a similar end which often results in the printed frocks appearing to dominate the frames of the models on which they reside. In this way I am especially interested in densely complex, highly elaborate graphic surfaces as they become capable of denoting characters of a comparably manic nature.
When pondering this notion, one can imaginatively conceive of the would-be persona of an antique Victorian interior, or that of the a Vegas casino floor as the two are both virtually covered with decoration. The chintz on the wing-backed chairs mirroring the wallpaper as the crown moulding re-articulates the filigree relief carved on the legs of the dining table, the dizzying geometric configurations on the psychedelic casino rug — endlessly reflecting the oscillating shapes that flash about on each maniacal slot machine screen. In these scenarios, the forms become narcissistic and self obsessed, coming together to participate in the tireless collective effort that is self-veneration of form. An absurd narrative, in and of itself.
Nevertheless, here it becomes evident that obsessive layering and repetition in the form of meticulously duplicated pattern connotes both austere supremacy and playful mimicry, giving way to a host of possible dispositions who become united on account of their mutual voracity for embellishment. I’ve come to adopt the term ‘hyperbolic surface’ in reference to such explicitly ornamented items as I’ve been continually charmed by the audacious power of their designs to evoke characters who are at the same time ebullient and tyrannical all by virtue of their sheer excessiveness of form.
After all, a radiator is simply a radiator… Until it is engulfed from head to toe in embossed gold enamel floral motifs. Then what is it? This simple inquiry, strangely enough, perhaps best serves for the task of logically deconstructing the subconscious thesis question that has been pervading my explorations in the studio over the past year. And I even have an answer for it. But be warned, it’s inspired by my obsession with Dickensian and Tom Waitsian character descriptions whereby said authors make a frequent point of exploiting the traits of street urchins in so far as they contrast the refinery of bureaucrats and the extant to which peasant girls in turn assume the role of character foil to queens of state. So here you go: He is a geriatric radiator. Dressed up for a night of bingo which will invariably involve one or seven double-jamesons-and-gingerale followed by a pit stop at the seedy cabaret next door to take in the traveling burlesque show. Or, (in less poetic terms), what I’ve learned through my current studio research is that the adornment of our surroundings lends itself irrevocably to the fetishizing of objects, which in turn gives way to the habitual constructing of various theatrical roles. Roles for which imagined characters of all stripes are continually conscripted and devoured.
So enjoy these decorated objects, I hope they charm and enchant you as much as they do me!
I’m presently in the process of completing a body of work informed specifically by the above observations and ideas and I can not wait to share it ! The random image mash-ups below are just a few that I will be using in a small picture book which will be accompanying my upcoming exhibition.
Lately I’ve become immensely inspired by antiquarian Russian textile and garment designs of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In terms of craftsmenship, the bespoke intricacies of the carefully manipulated fabrics and the intensive appliqué embroideries found in both the traditional costume and working class clothing of this region require no introduction as the delightful crown-jewel in any and all hypothetical charcuterie boards of delectabley rich non-western fashion (and all other supposed metaphorical cornucopia denoting visual pleasure-trips). It has always seemed to me that where unapologetically rigorous processes of making are present, so too is a person of the most scrupulous disposition. Therefore, I love speculating what sorts of people the seamstresses and tailors were who over-saw the creation of these marvelous concoctions. Needless to say, I would love nothing more at this moment than to visit the Kremlin Museum in Moscow to feast my eyes on the regailia of the tsars . . .
The patterns are decadent, yet the proliferations of pearls, abstract embroideries, trestles, and latticed filigrees should not, in my opinion, be dismissed as mere kitschy ornamentations. Even by todays pared down standards. I make this defence on account of the specific and deliberate integration of pattern against the bizarre silhouettes unique to these clothes as they come together to create forms which posess an oddly self-contradictory nature. The tent-like, boxy outlines, topped with graphic decorative floral motifs are simultaneously evocative of masculine and feminine essences while pesistantly upholding an unspeakably regal aura. In the case of the Sarafan or Dushegreya, for example — we are nolonger observing a womens quintessentially femine attributes, but her very architecture as a unique abstract form in space. She is a bizarre in-between character who seems both ebullient and ecclesiastical, delicate and reppelent. This fabulously duplicitous nature is reinforced by the incredulous spatial expanses of the textiles punctuated by seemingly precarious areas of dense energetic patterns suggestive of both playfulness and militant utility.
There is something amazing about these contrasts which imbues the clothes with an inexplicable sense of vitality and charm making each piece seem almost imperious to the wearer in its unflinching adherence to what appears to be a specific and tightly observed aesthetic mandate — denoting no specific function but to glorify their very selves as unique objects with specific personas of their own. In this way, I sort of relish in what Donald Judd would have thought as these clothes possess a self-referential quality that could be said to brush shouders, if very cooly, with the strict dictums of minimlist doctrine even in spite of their extremely embellished surfaces. In so far as textiles may become autonomous as unique and specific forms against their owner’s physique, the clothing of russian noblemen and women of the past 300 years may indeed just take the cake. Which makes the viewer wonder; is the person wearing the thing, or is the garment wearing them?
This is a simple question, but when asked in the context of viewing these clothes as sculptural objects, makes them rather profound in their unique charge as mere accessories at the disposal of the wearer… What is perhaps most fascinating is the fact that in spite of behaving in this capacity, the clothes actually do very little to accentuate the curvature of the body as most formal wear attempts to do. (Atleast in my opinion). Look no further than the excellent kokoshnik in its variety of iterations which no doubt harken George Lucas characters. Alas, fantasy comes to life.
^ above image: The Russian Sarafan
^ above image: Fedorovna’s coronation herald’s boots and coachman’s jacket. From Magnificence of the Tsars: Ceremonial Men’s Dress of the Russian Imperial Court, at the V&A.
^ above image: The last Tsar: Nicholas II and the empress of Russia, Alexandra Fedorovna in 1903
^ above image: Russian Costumes, 17th and 18th centuries
^ above image: “A wardrobe fit for an Emperor from the collection of the Russian Kremlin Museums. Beginning with Paul I in 1797, every emperor would go to his coronation in military garb.” — (found here)
^above image: variations of the kokoshnik (found here)
^above image: “Léon Bakst Tunic from costume for the Blue God c 1912 from Le Dieu Bleu” (found here)
^above image (found here)
^above image: “Girl in a headdress and dushegreya (beginning of the 20 century) / Northern Russia, Pskov Province / Collection of Natalia Shabelskaya”
^above image: “Woman in Toropetsky pearl headdress and a shawl / first half of the 19century / Abram Klyukvin”
^above image: gorgeous polychrome embroidery . .
^above image: a traditional womens dushegreya (found here)
^above image: ballerina, Alexandra Balashova
^above image: (found here), below images: traditional russian folk costume