The Great Kiln
Like an up-ended udder, whose bovine nipples squirt smoke instead of milk into the skies across Mumbadevi, a hydra-mouthed suraahi, an ewer misinterpreted from written instructions put out by the Reay Arts Workshop, a torso shaped by fire brick, deflated by gravity, its resultant the shapelessness of an odalisque portrayed soon after childbirth, a belch born of fires in the stomach, it remains an acknowledged embarrassment, unpretty, but functional. Function, it seems is the great driver of the coming aesthetic. It is the new age of utilitarian exploration whose inherencies call to be tweezed out and laid bare for edification, and profit. The ceramics master holds himself as precedent, progenitor of a school soon to subsume the salon into a retail boutique. More is more. To the east, incoming vessels align prows with vaporous polychrome columns twisting Berniniesque, nor’-nor’- west making chromatic variations with potassium perchlorate, zinc chloride and white phosphors against the background of the Satanic Mills, uniform smokers of Tuscan gray that spray vertically from lenticels and commingle to a wash. Cylindrical leeches populate the first reclamations that betrayed the islands and made them captive. Bosun’s mates cheer; they veer to the vapours rather than make for the untrustworthy tree in front of the Town Hall (or the Prongs lighthouse, still incomplete). Unlike the burning of hay and dung the school smokes reliably, a Habana cigar exhaled in perpetuity, by night and by day, such is the influx of business that Wonderland perpetuates. Just one damn order after another, Terry be praised! Upstairs, beyond the large windows the painters’ class silently curses heat that has leached the Bombay humidity, oils crack even as they are slapped on canvas. Marble, freshly supplied from Naples loses sheen to toxic caresses of cobalt carbonate that fixes the glaze or to opacifiers like zirconium oxide that give human sized urns their cabaret bulge so prized by fin de siècle aristocracy.
Left: A photograph of Christopher London’s book Bombay Gothic, open to the page featuring the rear view of the JJ School of Art, according to British architect William Burges’ design proposal (1866)