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A Chinese Aesthetic - The Ceramics of Vivienne Foley
Article by Stacey Pierson

Originally published in Ceramics Art & Perception. Reprinted by permission.

> Part 1

Along 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 scholar collectors.

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 potter.

In 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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