Stephen Bird, Vincent with Sunflowers (2016), QUT Art Collection. Purchased 2016. On display in Earth & Fire: Ceramics from the QUT Art Collection, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, until May 21. Stephen Bird was born in Stoke-on-Trent, the revered birthplace of English manufactured pottery, including Royal Doulton and Wedgwood, yet his ceramic work sabotages that tradition and convention in favour of satire and subversion.
His highly modelled and startling.
He examines subjects such as gruesome murders, religion, dismembered body parts, history, lust and sex in pieces such as Adam and Eve Against a Tree, Not Too Big, Pink Plate with Ink and Eyes and Cruel Britannia.
Bird believes that ceramics are seductive and therefore you can get away with a lot, and he does.
He said in a recent interview that when people come to his house for dinner they see these pink lustre plates on the walls but “it can be 20 minutes before they register that they are looking at scenes of oral sex”.
He further explained: “I use humour, propaganda, trompe-l’oeil and meaningless violence to retell archetypal myths and make observations about complex collective issues including politics, cultural imperialism and the global power struggle,” he says. individualistic, hand-formed, painted ceramics are rather
Born in 1964, Bird was brought up in Scotland, where he graduated from art school in 1987 as a painter. But one day in the summer of 1996 he was given a bag of clay. He decided to use it and made pieces that he fired in his fireplace at home. He was obviously hooked because he went on to complete a further three years of study in ceramics.
Bird realised that he wanted to make ceramic vessels with figures by blending clay sculpture with painting. It was about this time that he also started travelling regularly between Scotland and Sydney, where he moved permanently in 2007.
One of Bird’s works, Vincent with Sunflowers, is a recent addition to the QUT art collection and is now on display at Brisbane’s QUT Art Museum in Earth & Fire: Ceramics from the QUT Art Collection, which features 50 years of ceramics, from the 1970s onwards, through such artists as Milton Moon and Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, through to a newer generation of artists such as Bird.
The museum’s senior curator, Vanessa Van Ooyen, gives me a tour of Earth & Fire and we stop before Bird’s Vincent with Sunflowers. “I have been watching Stephen Bird for some time,” she says.
“I love his work because I think of him as the punk of Australian ceramics. He had an exhibition recently at Wollongong Art Gallery and he called it the Bastard Son of Royal Doulton, and I just think that is so funny. Apparently he had a conversation with the Royal Doulton family and they found it quite funny as well.”
In Vincent with Sunflowers, Bird is playing with the idea of ornamentation and domestic ceramics displayed as precious objects. At first glance it is like a platter of food but look closer and it is body parts as well.
“It is just a big penis hanging between the legs of the figure but at the same time he has cast a paint brush in it,” Van Ooyen says.
“I see this as the supremacy of the male artist and the phallus. And then you have the reference to Van Gogh and the sunflowers, which is also about that male heroic artist.
“The piece could also be a religious icon because you have Shiva, hands in prayer, and the beautiful gold glaze.
“He is just dismantling so many popular cultural tropes. And just looking at all these references, I think it is hilarious. Humour is crucial to his work.
“I think Stephen Bird is one of the contemporary ceramic artists in Australia who is really pushing the boundaries of ceramic practice.”
Glazed earthenware, 52.5cm x 44cm