TURKISH CERAMICS AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

Ceramics has alway been a field of cultural appropriation and there may have been little ceramic art without it. One of the most obvious cases is the appropriation of material culture both by and from Turkish potters. Istanbul’s great glory is its Iznik tiled mosques, so I was disappointed to find that, athough the walls of the Topkapı Palace are gorgeously tiled, the Palace’s collection of ceramics is from China, not from Iznik. If you want to see Iznik pottery, go to London, where the British Museum has the best collection in the world.

Topkapı Palace, wall with Iznik tiles.

The development of Iznik pottery was motivated by the desire to imitate Chinese porcelain, which was done in a roundabout way, covering the local greyish clay with fine white slip then painting it in brilliant colours under a clear glaze. There are Chinese motifs on Iznik vessels, with their characteristically Turkish decorations of tulips, carnations and saz leaves, in the form of the cloud patterns round the margins of plates. The Chinese returned the compliment by taking Iznik motifs and painting them in blue and white on porcelain dishes for export.

Border decoration on Iznik plate derived from Chinese cloud motifs

This Turkish pottery was naturally admired everywhere. In Britain in the 19th century it was copied and adapted without understanding. Its origins weren’t known because the Iznik manufactories were long gone. As every visitor to Turkey discovers, Iznik designs are sold everywhere, but the pottery comes from Kütahya now.

A 19th-century Cantagalli vessel using Iznik motifs.

A large cache of this pottery had been brought to England from Syria, so it was called Damascus ware. Some was found in Greece too, so it was also called Rhodian. The British thought that Ottoman Turks were incapable of creating such lovely work but that Persians were, so these wares were called Persian as well.

A “Persian” vessel by the Crown Derby Porcelain Company, mid 1880s. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

Under these confused names, Iznik patterns were put on tiles, which were all the rage at the time. Some were made by hand by William de Morgan for Sir Frederic Leighton’s Arab Hall, many more were produced in industrial quantities by Minton Hollis. The “Persian” style was freely adapted and elaborated by Crown Derby, with raised gilt patterns, to make amazing bling for export to the USA. Homage was also paid to the Iznik potters by the Cantagalli company in Italy, who made much closer copies.

Sir Frederic Leighton’s Arab Hall in Kensington, a mixture of antique tiles from Turkey and new ones from London.

THE 999 CENOTAPH

The 999 Cenotaph project, to put up a monument to health service workers, is part of the current of democratic statue-building that I’ve written about here and here that runs alongside campaigns to remove statues of slave owners.

Most of the statues in our cities were put up before universal suffrage and remain because of inertia and the fact that they’re invisible. The idea that they tell us about our history is laughable: no-one knows who they are in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.

Covid is changing Britain in many ways: more online shopping and online everything; more space on commuter trains; more outdoor exercise; less hugging and kissing; and more statues to ordinary people and public-service workers.

To support the 999 Cenotaph project visit http://www.999cenotaph.org.uk

VALENCIA (2)

La Lonja, the elegant and spacious medieval Silk Exchange in Valencia is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and justly so. The stonecarvers of La Lonja were given only the vaguest brief by the master mason – Ruskin would have approved of the way they were allowed to devise their own work. There are striking spiral-grooved pillars in the main hall and decorated door arches, one with a carving of the Virgin (above) with the motto Ave Maria Purissima.

But there are details at odds with the nobility of the building. Around Mary The Most Pure are men drunk and incapable, people pissing in bowls, a devil inflating a sheep’s arse, a dragon biting a woman’s tits and bums, bums and bums galore.

JONATHAN CHISWELL-JONES

I went to see Jonathan Chiswell-Jones’ pottery at the Artworkers Guild (AWG) yesterday at their beautiful home in Queen Square, the perfect setting for ceramics with allusions to William de Morgan. The building has changed little since the AWG acquired it about a hundred years ago. The name of every member past and present is carefully lettered on the walls and there are portraits of all the guild’s masters. This may give the impression that the AWG is old-fashioned but it’s not and its members produce very up-to-date craft work as you can see here.

Reduced lustre pottery is extraordinarily difficult to make and very few people try it. It requires three firings at different temperatures and precise control of kiln atmosphere to change the decoration (which looks like mud when it’s put on) to gold and silver in a magical alchemical transformation. The method was revived by De Morgan and copied by a few large potteries like Maw & Co. and Pilkington, who did it cheaper and put him out of business. Alan Caiger-Smith rediscovered it by accident in the 1950s trying to produce a red glaze and it took him twenty-six unsuccessful firings to get it.

ADAM KOSSOWSKI

The Adam Kossowski mural on the old North Peckham Civic Centre will be removed when the building is demolished and is to be put up on the new building, but there it will be above the first floor windows and it will be less visible.

The Everlasting Ministries Church that used to occupy the building has closed and you can see the state of the mural in the picture above. Amazingly, it’s almost completely free of graffiti – the graffiti you see is on the shutters over the windows.

This is a wonderful mural. It works from a distance as a general view of The History of the Old Kent Road, it works from six feet away where you can see the characters in the story – the picture below is Kossowski’s portrayal of a sneering King Charles – and it works close to, where you can see the details and textures the artist has added. Yesterday I noticed for the first time the little Camberwell Beauty butterflies in the corners.

None of that effect will be perceptible when the mural is ten feet above the ground.

I walked to the Old Kent Road from South Bermondsey and asked the way from a young man. He was studying digital media and was intrigued by the camera tripod sticking out of my rucsac. I told him about the mural and the Civic Centre and Kossowski’s time in a second world war concentration camp. “I live in the Old Kent Road. I’ve never noticed it,” he said, and came with me to look.

YOUNG POLAND

Stanisław Wyspiański, ‘Self Portrait’

The William Morris Gallery, one of my favourite boutique museums (the other is the Estorick Gallery in Islington), did community outreach, as musems do, to connect with the large Polish community in Walthamstow. The upshot is their current exhibition, Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement 1890 -1918, mounted in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute and the National Museum of Krákow. Young Poland is unknown to most in the west – I’d never heard of it before – and most of the exhibits in this show have never been seen outside Poland.

Vastomil Hofmann, ‘Confession

Young Poland is often regarded as a fine art movement with a record of patriotic, religious and pastoral painting, typified in Vastomil Hofmann’s Confession (above), but the Gallery decided to record the artists’ contribution to the crafts, often overlooked but very important.

In central and eastern Europe the Arts and Crafts were an assertion of national identity, one aspect of the struggle for independence, rejecting the forms and styles imposed by the imperial powers. While the British looked to the Middle Ages as they imagined it to be, the Poles looked to contemporary peasant life and art. Young Poland, which emerged in Kraków, focused on the Highlander people of the nearby Tatra mountains and adapted their architecture, interior decoration, textiles and dress in an attempt to create a national Polish style.

Stanisław Wyspiański (top), a key figure in the movement, might be called the Polish William Morris – a brilliant polymath, a painter, poet, playwright, textile designer, furniture maker and graphic artist – though the two men never met and there’s no record of any communication between them.

In one room of the exhibition there’s a large stained glass, a reproduction of a window designed by Wyspiański for the Kraków Medical Centre, in another a model of The House Under the Firs, a vernacular house by Stanisław Witkiewicz, another major figure, drawn from the Zakopane style of building. Witkiewicz is shown with the model on the left of the group above, the other men dressed in traditional Highlander costume.

In lighter mood there were reconstructions of toys from the Kraków Workshops, a co-operative of artists and craftsmen formed in 1913, who made use of folk patterns in their work. The picture (above) shows delightful original toys in the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków.

SCHOOL OF CHARLES VYSE (2)

I posted earlier about this little ceramic sculpture I picked up in an auction, speculating that it was made by a follower of Charles Vyse. After a couple of days looking in the archives of Camberwell School of Art I was pleased to find that I was right. Vyse taught modelling at Camberwell in the 1920s and in The Cambian, the college magazine, I saw a similar piece by J.West, a student. West never seems to have practiced professionally, like a lot of art students, and I’ve found no other pieces by him. Him or her? My first thought was that a tender piece depicting a girl with a baby must have been made by a woman, but the convention of the time would have been to describe a woman student as “Miss J. West,” so J.West was probably a man.

SOPHIE TAEUBER-ARP

In 1964 The Tate Gallery had an exhibition devoted to Hans Arp. It’s taken them almost sixty years to catch up with his more interesting wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp in the latest exhibition recovering the reputations of neglected women artists. (I wrote earlier about the recent MAK exhibition Women Artists of the Wiener Werkstätte.)

Sophie Taeuber-Arp is revealed here as embodying perhaps more than anyone else the idea of the Unity of the Arts, moving easily between painting, architecture, interior design, sculpture, tapestry, rug-making, jewellery, costume and puppetry. She also trained as a dancer with Laban and there is a dancer’s sense of movement and fun in her abstract compositions. She was never a painter descending to decoration or a craft worker trying to elevate her status – she believed absolutely that all art was of significance.

https://fb.watch/8vIweK8LsB/

PAULA REGO

Paula Rego, ‘The Family’ (1988)

Paula Rego followed a firm and undistracted figurative course through post-war fashions to become one of our greatest artists, standing head and shoulders above her contemporaries in subject matter, seriousness and technique. She was born in Lisbon in 1935 in the early days of the Salazar dictatorship, an only child in a liberal and Anglophile family. She described her upbringing as formal but mostly happy. They lived part of the year in Estoril, once a popular holiday resort much visited by Britons but now old-fashioned and abandoned. A mile along the coast in Cascais is the Paula Rego Museum, which, as it happens, was closed when we visited it a few years ago (as is often the case on holiday when you make spontaneous visits to art galleries on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) so I was glad to spend the morning yesterday at Tate Britain’s Paula Rego retrospective.

Paula Rego, ‘Salazar Vomiting the Homeland’ (1960).

Rego tells stories about oppression and liberation, of course, with violent and mysterious images, and it wasn’t surprising to discover that she was forty years in Jungian analysis. Her stories come from the same dark place as Grimm’s. She learned folk tales from her grandmother. She paints the sugar-coated nastiness of nursery rhymes.

Paula Rego, ‘The Barn’ (1994)

The dreamlike quality of her pictures is heightened by the distortion of the figures, which makes adults look like children and uncanny. Her painting could be described as surrealist and she acknowledges the early influence of Miró, but it has little in common with Dali’s glib images or Magritte’s small jokes and it’s not really a good description.

Her stories are chamber operas performed in a small, oppressive picture space, but by the 1990s she had aquired the confidence to fill her paintings with more figures. The Barn (1994), a large and complex piece with children, animals, dolls and flowers, is unannotated and unexplained in the exhibition. The Return of the Native (1993) is in ink and wash but much bigger than any previous ink and wash drawing, 10 ft by 5 ft, its curious detail recalling Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, also in Tate Britain, which Rego must know well. She goes to the same mad and troubling places as Dadd, who painted it while he was in an asylum, but Rego has the sanity of a person relating a dream at breafast.

Paula Rego, ‘The Policeman’s Daughter’ (1987)

Much of her work is done in acrylic, which allows quicker working and produces stronger colours than oils. In the 1970s she was influenced by Arthur Rackham, who also illustrated fairy tales, and she adopted his black outline in most of her figures. Later she began to use pastels and her pictures took on a softer and more subdued tone, but they remained huge, and, dealing with abortion, became even more intense and visceral.

Paula Rego, ‘Dog Woman’ (1994)

The Policeman’s Daughter (1987) and The Cadet and His Sister (1988) famously refer to the confluence of family and state power and have elements of sadism and fetishism as well. Rego is an artist of the unconscious and uncovers the psychic forces behind what appear at first to be merely political relations. There is always something ambiguous and unreachable in her pictures. Perhaps it’s not surprising that she describes herself as “a sort of Catholic”.