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John Bauer Ceramic Artist/Sculptor
"Never Subcontract Love or Happiness. We all look for someone more complete. We reach, we hope, we try to love we are loved." John Bauer
John Bauer (b.1978) Cape Town
Exhibition Modern Artists Gallery 14 Sept - 12 Oct 2013 - ongoing
John Bauer is an established ceramicist who lives and works
in Cape Town. His work has been exhibited world-wide, and collected by
two museums before he was thirty.
This present series was inspired by South African craftwork, John Bauer buys hand knitted woollen/cotton baby hats from care institutions which have been carefully crafted by disabled patients. He then uses a unique kiln firing process to convert the hats into a ceramic work of art Each piece sold gives back income for disability care facilities.
Bauer is globally recognised for his unusual, cutting edge developments
in porcelain production. Using Sung Dynasty techniques, the images on
his work rise above the surface of the clay. They are not negative
impressions, but positive ‘expressions’ from the clay’s surface.
Reproducing porcelain of a past age,
where skill and craftsmanship were an artist’s primary concern. By
appropriating rare coins, carvings, lace and organic substances John Bauer references the technologies of the past and archives them for the
John Bauer pushes the limits of what is technically possible in
ceramics. A sentimentalist, he salvages antique crochet cloth, linens
and lace and makes these materials immortal by recreating them, stitch
by stitch, in porcelain. He is able to enlarge them to gigantic
proportions or offers them in an extreme diminutive form. There is
always a surprise factor in his work. It is full of light and
translucency. Love is a central theme in Bauer’s work. He sometimes uses
the inspiration of netsuke, old coins, flowers, found objects and dolls
to embellish his work. His signature bowls carry his artwork of
mythical creatures and angels whispering words of wisdom and love.
John Bauer originally inspired by accounts he read of the pottery of the Ming Dynasty from China (4-5 centuries BC) states"Archaeologists digging up these ceramics came across the same recurring designs where a sophisticated production technique was being used which enabled the artists to create a multitude of works of refinement and quality, That sparked my imagination, I hope archaeologists of the future will think the same of my work. I'd like them to puzzle over the technique I was employing too; A combination of ancient techniques and contemporary ideas."
John Bauer an established potter lives and works in Cape Town. Collections can be seen at the Modern Artists Gallery UK and Anthropologie USA
Modern Artists Gallery UK
Crown Prince Abu Dhabi
William Humphrey Museum - Kimberly Northern Cape South Africa - National Collection
Iziko Collection Iziko Museum South Africa - National Collection
Smithsonian's Catalogue on Contemporary Craft
by Lloyd Pollack-Arthrob.ZA
I heard that Anthropology, an American craft chain store with 100 outlets
throughout the USA, had placed an order for over R100 000 with ceramic artist
John Bauer, I called him up and went to meet him at his home.
down the tree-lined streets of lower Claremont, I was struck by the spruce
front gardens, flower beds and shrubs. But this spick and span fizzled out
abruptly outside John's front gate where trim lawn yielded to unruly thickets
of weed. In this quiet haven, the hullabaloo of green, lavender and ochre
adorning John's house, seemed like an eructation at a tea party. The brood of
boisterous, terracotta troglodytes whooping it up on the garden wall, could
certainly face charges of disturbing the peace.
lanky, long-haired young man, attired as if roused by a fire alarm, answered
the bell, and conducted me into a lounge where bowls crowded every available
surface, swamping tabletops, swarming over sofas and cascading over the floor.
Everywhere there were choked ashtrays, dishes scummed with the remnants of the
day before yesterday's lunch, socks, toast, underpants and apple cores. Like a
bag lady, I sank cheerfully into the squalor, turned on my tape recorder and
started the interview.
soon realised that John possessed no protective social armour. He replied to my
every question with breath-taking candour, but it was only when I heard him
declare that only future generations would be capable of understanding his
work, that it would grace the world's greatest museums, command stupendous
prices, and inspire intense scholarly endeavour, that I asked myself whether he
could be that rare phenomenon, the genuine Outsider artist.
all Outsiders, John remains incarcerated within his psyche, the prisoner of his
own fantasies and obsessions. His art unleashes purely private urges and
instincts which expend themselves elaborating a personal mythology. Over the
past six years he has distilled this subjective inner vision, this saga of the
self, in over 4,250 porcelain bowls in which intricate figurative designs are
executed in a crisp low relief technique. Each bowl is numbered, and the
entirety form an enormous cycle in which the same themes and motifs recur. Each
bowl comments on every other bowl, and collectively the suite forms an immense,
interlocking apparatus of visual reference and cross-reference. What John has
created is an entire cosmology, a parallel universe.
MacGregor, an authority on outsider art, maintains that the creation of a 'vast
and encyclopaedically rich alternate world which can provide a place to live in
over the course of a lifetime' is typical of this kind of artist. Some of
John's motifs epitomise this desire for self-sufficiency: windows, doors,
staircases and roofs are tattooed on his figures' flesh, and their skin becomes
their sanctuary. Immured within a solipsistic universe of his own fabrication,
the outsider cannot address socio-political issues, or reflect on the world
around him. His art is perforce baffling and obscure, for its visual language
is self-referential, and inimical to conventional themes, genres and idioms.
potter projects all his ecstasy and despair into a fantasy domain where biographical
fact is transfigured into symbol, metaphor, parable and fable. John constantly
reappears in the guise of multiple döppelgangers - a classical, Graeco-Roman
God; a winged ephebe flying a kite, and an amply bosomed angel with male
genitalia. Messianism is rampant. Many alter-ego's present as Christ-like
figures, and John hopes that all he has learned about overcoming adversity is
embedded in his bowls which should heal their viewers, just as they healed
his sweethearts, Renata, Olga, Ida, Anne and Isabelle appear as intrepid
Amazons, Circe's and Lorelei or comely, naked lepidopterists netting comets
instead of butterflies. Inscrutable forces that could be supernatural powers or
subconscious drives, breeze in as perambulating fish or seraphim shorn of
scenarios enact themselves in the firmament, and they form a fête galante, for the cast's sole
aspiration is to love and be loved in return. This quest for love is the pole
around which this fictive world revolves, and it is also rooted in the artist's
own harrowing experience of abandonment and loss.
vanished from John's life with abrupt and brutal finality when he was six, when
his mother and grandmother were run down and killed by a drunken driver. He
sites the pursuit of love in the blue yonder, for, when a child loses a loved
one, he is told that she has gone to heaven, and the sky is where he imagines
that heaven to be. Yearning for a lost parent and a lost childhood paradise
also runs through John's recent production, in which doilies serve as backdrop
to the figures, introducing nurturing overtones of devoted, maternal
house-keeping and needlecraft.
is still the leitmotif, but here the accent falls on spiritual, rather than
romantic love. The doily's radiating lines, concentric circles and sunburst
patterns evoke rose-windows, mandalas and the explosion of rays that accompany
divine apparitions in religious painting. The artist intensifies these hints of
the miraculous by exploiting both porcelain's ability to reflect light, and the
age-old symbolism of light as an outward sign of divinity. The bowls' centres
are far paler than their perimeters. The white porcelain peeps through,
bouncing back the light, and creating a glowing effect of revelation. In this
context, the doily patterns become akin to the veil of Maya, Oriental
religion's metaphor for the earthly appetites and attachments that distort our
perceptions, blinding us to divine truth. On the bowls we dimly glimpse the
figures through this veil as they struggle to overcome temptation and attain
the tragedy, the family quit Port Elizabeth for Cape Town where John became a
latchkey child. No one provided affection, and when his miseries were
exacerbated by dyslexia, the void of absence was internalised, and all feeling
lived so long in utter loneliness, that I forgot what love was,' says John,
'and it was only when I started meeting girls as a teenager, that I
rediscovered it.' John's notion of love was shaped by his babyhood experience
of a primal union so intense it dissolved all ego boundaries, and his search
for love became a search for some surrogate for that envelopment in the mother.
surrogate became ceramics which John made from the age of 12, partly because
this was the only activity at which he felt he excelled, and partly to adorn
the stark, new Newlands house in a way associated with his mother and her flair
bowls not only filled the empty house, they also filled the yawning void that
opened up around John on his mother's demise, and the voracious urge to fill
the vacuum, the empty space where feeling should be, explains the obsessive
character of John's enterprise. The artist's self-belief is fanatic, and his
commitment to the dream of ceramic perfection is absolute. He spends most days
alone in his studio, and his rate of production is frenzied. Work is a
compulsion, an obsessive rite of remembrance and commemoration as well as a
mechanism of self-affirmation that vanquishes feelings of singularity and
rejection, obviating the need to solicit society's approval.
inspiration issues from somewhere beneath the conscious mind, and wells forth
in a jet of vivid and startling images. The physical action of manipulating the
clay fills the artist with euphoria, and the bowls perpetuate this fever and
exaltation. John's designs are neither prettification nor embellishment, they
are art, art as redemption and transcendence; art as revolt against the
mainstream; art as the toppling of conventional notions of beauty. Every canon
of taste is systematically violated, for there is a flagrancy to John's
imagery, a rawness and immediacy that makes it brazenly other.
an outright refusal to read and write, and an unswerving determination to have
no truck with tertiary institution, insulated the artist from cultural
indoctrination, enabling him to achieve blazing originality by blurring gender:
shuffling the human, the bestial and the divine, and blending distant echoes of
old master sacred painting, with vague reminiscences of movies, cartoons,
comics and children's books. The result is a stream of passionate and uncouth
images that remains untainted by training, tradition or outside influence.
bowl is a page in a many-volumed ongoing diary that evaluates the artist's
life, records his thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams, and fantasies, and
defines what made him the person he is. This is a form of moral accounting, a
weighing up of the past and the present, uncovering why what went wrong, went wrong,
and why what went right, went right. To my knowledge no other ceramist has used
the medium for such ruthless self-scrutiny, and it is this intimate, personal
dimension that suffuses John's anarchic creations with an unflinching rigour