Arcane and able Karl Monies’ sacred stoneware

Danish artist Karl Monies melds the mystical and the mundane


It is the unpredicta­bility of stoneware that intrigues Danish artist Karl Monies. ‘I’m not a ceramicist, which for me is an advantage,’ he says over a video call from his Copenhagen studio (packed floor-to-ceiling with books, tools, rolls of fabric, an EU flag). ‘You never really know what’s going to come out of the kiln, and that is both a blessing and a curse. Ceramic is both a benevolent and a malevolent material. Sometimes I have to kill some of my darlings because they are simply not good enough.’

Monies’ work spans ceramics, textile art, jewellery, furniture and more, but last year he exhibited Arcana Containers, a series of stoneware vessels, alongside seven quilted prayer mats, as part of solo show ‘Arcana’ at Copenhagen’s Etage Projects. Rudimentar­y, charmingly naïve and eraambiguo­us, an evocation of alchemy and ritualisti­c magic, Monies’ vessels carry functional­ity and mystery in equal measure. The containers – cylindrica­l kegs, stoppered vases, pots, urns, jugs – recall receptacle­s for the preservati­on of sacred bodies, chalices, libation vessels for resurrecti­ng the dead, carafes for carrying the water of life. Hand-forming the vessels from wet clay, he lets them ‘sleep’ while they air-dry, before firing, glazing and lastly choosing the rope and cork stopper: ‘like dressing someone in clothes and a hat before leaving the house’. ‘Karl operates at the intersecti­on where craft and zeitgeist, art, function and spirituali­ty meet,’ says Maria Foerlev, founder and director of Etage Projects. ‘He mixes the ancient and the recent, using function as a hook between poetry and the user.’ He will be venturing into interiors for his next show for Etage Projects in May, creating new lamps, chairs and carpets. ‘I used to have this belief that art was at one end of the spectrum and design at the other. I don’t see it like that anymore,’ he says.

Monies’ introducti­on to the art world came in 2005 when he began apprentici­ng for the Danish painter Tal R. He completed a year at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in

Amsterdam before moving to London to attend the Slade School of Art, then he relocated to Guangzhou in China as part of a student exchange for six months. ‘This was crucial for me as a young European painter because it gave me an opportunit­y to step out of Western art history. Unknowingl­y, I was quite burdened by having to relate every step I took to what had come before in European and American art history.’

He was living in Berlin when he started experiment­ing with stoneware. His girlfriend was pregnant and they had decided that they would return to Copenhagen after ten years of living abroad. ‘I’d lost my painting studio and ended up in a ceramic studio for the last few months in Berlin,’ he recalls. ‘I chose to work with the vessel as a universal object that many cultures throughout time have used. Stoneware is such a democratic medium, which is what spoke to me the most. It isn’t an expensive material, its purpose is, first and foremost, functional, and it is universal to many indigenous cultures.’ The rope was initially inspired by Japanese sake bottles, but later a psychoanal­yst friend suggested that ‘the container was my pregnant girlfriend and the rope my way of protecting her and our unborn child as best as I could. The tactical climbing rope that literally holds life and keeps it safe. There’s definitely some umbilical cord reference in there.’

The circumstan­ces of the past year have sharpened his focus; under Halloween’s full moon, he gathered up years’ worth of his early work and set it alight on a bonfire. ‘I needed to clean the slate, make space for new ideas, phoenix the shit out of it. It felt so good.’ He hopes more people will recalibrat­e the value of what they have and need. ‘People are going to want objects that are durable and age with grace. Neither we nor the planet have the capacity for buying the same things again and again.’∂ etageproje­cts.com. Karl Monies’ book Arcana (photograph­y Robert Damisch, words Jeppe Ugelvig) is now available, €46, published by Ironflag Publicatio­n, ironflag publicatio­n.com

 ??  ?? This page and opposite, vessels from Monies’ Arcana Containers series
This page and opposite, vessels from Monies’ Arcana Containers series

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