Manufactured Distractions and Intersections:
Digital Ceramic Transferware. FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg. August 2020.
Artist: Eugene Hön
Various themes and styles intersect throughout the body of work presented in this exhibition and its catalogue. A series of ceramic statements incorporate transfers as simulated fragments, in a way evocative of a world fragmented through multiple simultaneous forms of communication. There is, indeed, not one way of looking at things anymore.
Decorative compositions initiated with my ballpoint drawings were digitally printed to become ceramic transfers and subsequently fired on to ‘ready-mades’ in various shapes and forms. The transfers are applied in varying arrangements, to emulate shattered or restored ceramic vessels. The broken fragments fit together, yet the decoration on each juxtaposed shard contrasts sharply with the next one. This contradiction was achieved by slicing through an underlying, transfer-applied theme or style, making way for another and resulting in a jarring visual effect. In contemplating the vessel, the viewer thus encounters both decorative and rather distracting elements
The major solo exhibition, Manufactured Distractions and Intersections: Digital Ceramic Transferware, (FADA Gallery, August 2020), comprised of forty whiteware ready-made products onto which I applied printed ceramic transfers made from my ballpoint pen drawings. The drawings were scanned and digitally printed to become transfers and fired onto the ‘ready-mades’. The work was produced over five years as part of an ongoing investigation into to the relationship between drawing and ceramics. My aim was to pioneer creative and innovative ways of applying digitally printed transfers onto ceramic surfaces.
Various traditional decorative themes were investigated, particularly blue-and-white ware (see Series Three, Four and Five), and Kintsugi – the Japanese art of poetic mending (see Series Six and Seven).
The breakthrough came in a series of transferware produced in direct response to the Kintsugi repair techniques and processes, which I applied to restored works and a shattered readymade platter. Here, the Kintsugi techniques of tomotsugi and more precisely yobitsugi – patchwork repair (yobi = patched / tsugi = joining) are realised in new and re-imagined ways. A dynamic visually simulated approach to this age-old repair tradition is created by connecting related (Tomotsugi) and unrelated fragments (Yobitsugi), intersecting on the surface of the vessel, utilising the manipulated ceramic transfers of my scanned drawings.
The work that followed this breakthrough forms the core of the exhibition. Series One and Two – Manufactured Distractions and Intersections and Vicissitude I, II and III, sees the application of transfers as patchwork, simulated surface fragments, which emulate the style of Kintsugi restoration. For example, in Series One, transfers representing differing (often contrasting and contradictory )themes, styles and subject matter were applied onto the readymades to create complex juxtaposed compositions that read as simulated fragments. The ceramic statements explore the Kintsugitechniques of tomotsugi and particularly yobitsugi simulated patchwork repair, in a way that is evocative of a world fragmented through multiple simultaneous forms of communication. There is, indeed, not one way of looking at things anymore.
In Series Two – I and II, I deal with the theme of ‘beauty in the ugly’, inspired by the narratives captured in the book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond (2016). In it, he documents the shattered lives of evicted mothers and their children and their struggle to find cohesion in life. The fragmented circumstances of their lives are evoked through transfers depicting dung beetles laying their eggs in dung encircled by flies. As symbols of disintegration and decay, the flies represent landlords, amongst others, who prey on the vulnerable and poor. These images of depravity are juxtaposed with tulips – elusive and ephemeral symbols of beauty and dreams – which wither away amidst the vicissitudes of life.
In Series Two, to quote Claudia Lehner-Jobst (2020:72), “…plenty of space is left for the luminance of white porcelain to shine through, a stylistic device of the late Baroque”. I borrowed this device to reflect white privilege as it contrasts with the iconography of the destitute. The works make reference to a prayer written on an interior wall of a derelict building, located in the Maboneng Precinct, as told by one of its residents, Siyabonga Dludla. He makes his living as an informal trader selling skopo, sheep’s head, to commuters at a public transit hub. Simulated fragments of applied transfers depicting ants and flies invade the space of the destitute. They represent the landlords and their army of ‘red ants’ – the teams of men in red overalls who are responsible for the eviction of local residents occupying buildings illegally in Johannesburg.
The work makes a significant contribution to the field of ceramic art in two respects. Firstly, it develops the relationship between traditional Fine Art drawing techniques and ceramics through the introduction of a digital solution to rendering drawings on to ceramic surfaces. Secondly, the ancient Japanese Kintsugi techniques of repair are translated in contemporary innovative, and re-imagined ways, to produce the effect of visually simulated fragments on the surfaces of readymades.
Website: Eugene Hön