Chinese Aesthetic - The Ceramics of Vivienne Foley
Article by Stacey Pierson
Originally published in Ceramics
Art & Perception. Reprinted by permission.
> Part 1
with this lustrous black glaze, Foley also produces a thick crackled
white glaze which includes dolomite. As with the black magnesia
glaze, the white dolomite glaze is applied to simple sculptural
forms and thus enhances the form rather than disguises it as is
common with many celadon glazes. The crackle in this white glaze
can be seen as a subtle reference to historical Chinese ceramics
where crackled glazes were first developed and used initially on
imperial stonewares for the Southern Song court. The crackle on
these examples was often stained after firing but, on Foley's work,
the crackle is left in its natural state where it resembles the
'cracked ice' that was so often commented on by ancient Chinese
It is Foley's black glazes, however, which have proved so successful
in recent exhibitions and are prominently displayed in magazine
spreads. The magnesia glaze has the surface sheen and smooth texture
of classic Chinese black glazes but Foley also produces a matt black
glaze that is applied to some of her more complex constructed forms
which manage to be both spherical and angular at the same time.
The matt black surface and thin walls of these vessels recall some
of the earliest thrown ceramics produced in China – Longshan black
wares from c. 3000 BC. Like Foley's pots, these Neolithic Chinese
vessels are almost more sculptural than functional and their relative
lack of surface decoration serves to highlight the skill of the
all of her work, Foley's skill as a potter is immediately evident
and this quality reflects her study of ancient Chinese porcelains.
Recently, Foley returned to London after many years in Ireland and
has, in a sense, returned to her roots in classical Chinese ceramics.
In order to be more commercial, Foley has in the past produced more
highly decorated ceramics with somewhat bolder, more contemporary
glaze colours. In her exhibitions at the James Graham Gallery in
New York and Bowwow in London, however, her work has been carefully
edited to concentrate on what she does best: simple monochrome colours
and bold sculptural forms. As a result, she seems to have finally
become part of the decorative arts 'zeitgeist' with her pots now
seen in interior design magazines all over the world. As a curator
of a Chinese ceramic collection, however, it is satisfying to me
to see that Foley's return to a more Chinese aesthetic has brought
her such great success after many years of hard work and that her
original inspirations are still such a strong influence on her work.
Stacey Pierson is a curator at the Percival David Foundation Chinese
Ceramics Collection, London University, and a writer.
> Part 1
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