Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

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

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