Figures of the Nineties
Britain has a rich tradition in figurative clay, reaching back at least to 200 A.D. – to the Roman relief of gladiators on the Colchester Vase, and later, to the more crudely modelled knights in armour elaborating a medieval jug found in Nottingham. From the 18th century, we have the spectacular range of figures produced principally in Staffordshire, and then in the 19th, the bolder individuality of commemorative ‘cottage pots’. The surreal animals of the Martin brothers takes us into the studio practise of our own time. The work of the four artists here also encompasses the broader concerns of high and popular culture, politics, and that continuing obsession – the sexuality and sensuality of the human body.
It is with the body as female icon that Mo Jupp has so persuasively worked, his references various – Cycladic and Egyptian art, classical contrapposto and Giacometti among them – all assimilated in fluid curvilinear forms. Neil Brownsword’s collages are more explicitly sexual, in part using discarded moulds from the Stoke potteries where he once worked; making bawdy and disturbing mènages, narratives reminiscent of William Burroughs. Stephen Dixon’s vigorously modelled tableaux also address Staffordshire history (for instance Obadiah Sherratt’s genre pieces), but his animated satires are fuelled also by modern art and media imagery to make their sharp socio-political points. Christy Keeney evokes a lonelier emotion in flattened semi-reliefs, their expressive contours and economic drawing washed with pigment, sexually ambiguous, but charged with story-book poetry.
If this work confirms a reinvigorated figurative spirit in the nineties, it also reminds us of the sheer complexity of our human condition, the language her celebratory, but also about pathos, and a distinctly darker aspect.
David Whiting, 1999
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