Curator, writer and historian, working across the fields of design, craft and contemporary art.

Work

Anne Marie Laureys

Commissioned by Jason Jacques Gallery, November 2018.

AML hand.jpeg

There is an extraordinary photograph of Anne Marie Laureys working on a pot, her hand thrust right into one of its innermost cavities. The first thing you notice in the picture is the similarity between the hand and the pot. Each is a complex cleft form, both plump and taut, with a curvature of lines articulating its surface. One was used to make the other. It is a case of art imitating life. Next you notice the specificity of Laureys’ gesture: the precise turn of wrist and thumb, the gentle glide of pressure exerted by her fingertips. It could almost be a sexual touch; certainly it is a sensual one. But it is also supremely technical. We know this from the extraordinary results that she gets, perhaps the most subtle and highly developed alterations of wheel-thrown form ever achieved.

George Ohr, teapot, c. 1897-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

George Ohr, teapot, c. 1897-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Laureys’ work is so organic that it can seem born rather than made, but in fact she has several precedents and contemporaries in mind. Paramount among these is George E. Ohr, the singular genius of late nineteenth century ceramics. He was the first to realize that the wheel could be just the first step in a process of form-generation. A sufficiently thin-walled vessel could be manipulated in numerous ways – pinched, ruffled, folded, collapsed, stretched, pierced – to create a wholly new asymmetrical vocabulary. Ohr met with little success in his own day (his towering egomania, justified as it may have been, was partly to blame). But when a cache of his pots was discovered by an antiques dealer in the 1970s, his extraordinary creations were re-released into the world. Soon enough, they became a key benchmark for contemporary potters. A recent exhibition, curated by Garth Clark for the Boca Raton Museum of Art, explored the breadth of this influence. The show took in a broad geographical swathe, including artists from Japan (Takuro Kuwata), America (Ken Price, Nicole Cherubini, Kathy Butterly), England (Gareth Mason) and, of course, Belgium – where Laureys lives and works. All of the ceramists included have developed their own idiosyncratic way with clay, calibrated to a particular, personally optimized balancing point between stiff and wet. And of them all, Laureys’ work was perhaps most directly in conversation with the “mad potter of Biloxi.” 

Anne Marie Laureys,  Random Growth , 2015. Stoneware.

Anne Marie Laureys, Random Growth, 2015. Stoneware.

Laureys’ masterful tactility comes across clearly to a viewer; it is easy to see, in her suggestive shapes, the traces of a searching anthropomorphism. That helps them communicates on several levels at once. She wants the pieces simultaneously to establish an analogy to “the mechanical body, muscles and hands; the sensual body of touching; the emotional body as the treasure chamber of experience; the social body being a human amongst others; and the thinking body ventilating ideas.”[1] The word “experience” is key here. All pots have a temporality embedded in them, but few convey the thrilling sense of coming-into-being as powerfully as Laureys’ do. They are as close to choreography as ceramics gets. One of her pieces, entitled Scaramouche, does indeed suggest the character of that name from the Italian commedia dell’arte, but also a long-sleeved dancing figure from the Chinese T’ang Dynasty.

Anne Marie Laureys,  Scaramouche , 2016. Stoneware.

Anne Marie Laureys, Scaramouche, 2016. Stoneware.

 In fact, Laureys once had a dancer come to train with her in the studio (he had to mime the actions of throwing a pot on stage, and wanted to get the movements right). As they worked, the word that popped into her head was Erlebnis – which is German for “experience,” but has vaster implications than our English term because of its etymological link to the word for life, leben. Martin Heidegger, the great German philosopher, set the concept of Erlebnis at the core of his thinking; for him the term denoted the ever-unfolding rush of time and space, which only aesthetics can ultimately make meaningful.[2]

One of the great mysteries - which preoccupied Heidegger, as it has many other aestheticians - is how the binding of form and matter that occurs in the work of art can be understood from the outside, by those who are not themselves the artist. Often in performance, and in teaching (if the teacher is any good), the energy comes from an imaginative leap. The apprentice mimics the master’s gestures, at first awkwardly, then with confidence growing into rightness. The theatre audience vicariously inhabits the dancers’ bodies. The child thrills to the roller coaster when standing underneath it on the ground.

Anne Marie Laureys,  Clouds by My Fingers , 2015. Glazed stoneware.

Anne Marie Laureys, Clouds by My Fingers, 2015. Glazed stoneware.

Just in this way, even someone with no throwing skills whatsoever can feel themselves forming the ribbon-like contours that course over the surface of Laureys’ pots. Unlike many ceramics, in which the marks of making are effaced with thick glaze, or erased through industrial procedure, hers present no barriers to the mind’s eye. Of course, that impression of immediacy is to some extent illusory. Laureys’ work wears its difficulty lightly, but it is definitely there. So how does she do it? For starters, she throws very thin, right at the limit of the material’s ability to hold its shape. Not for nothing has she titled some of her past works Clouds By My Fingers, for they have the evanescence and infinite variability of meteorological events.   

Once her archetypal thrown elements are fabricated, she proceeds in a combinatory fashion, perhaps stacking multiple vessels together, or adding an asymmetrical collar. This is less like Ohr than it is like another past master of the medium, Peter Voulkos – also gifted at the wheel  – who constructed even his largest sculptures primarily from wheel-thrown elements. If Voulkos concentrated his attention primarily on structure, though, Laureys has a more draftsmanlike sensibility. The center of compositional gravity for most of her work is the lip – where the pot greets its exterior, and affords views into the velvety space within. In her hands, the lip becomes an aesthetic erogenous zone. It is the spot where the elasticity of her clay is fully evident, as the wall’s dimension is revealed, a fleshy play of thick and thin.

Laureys’s work It’s a Toy Violet Brain exemplifies the sophistication with which she deploys the vessel mouth – or in this case, a series of mouths, like the soft cavities of some jungle plant, or deep sea coral. The pot-sculpture is made up of three principle volumes, separately thrown and joined. The largest of these, which serves as a base of sorts, has a deep fold across its mid-section, helping Laureys execute a near ninety degree turn from foot to lip edge. And that edge is something to behold – pinkish, partially flattened, opening up to a soft void. The shape of the opening echoes through the vessel form, a series of ribs rippling down the wall like sound waves.

Anne Marie Laureys,  It’s a Toy Violet Brain , 2018. Glazed stoneware.

Anne Marie Laureys, It’s a Toy Violet Brain, 2018. Glazed stoneware.

And that’s just the first part of the sculpture. Growing from this first component’s flank is another, more pliant thrown form; and then atop it, the crowning glory of the work: an absolutely extraordinary, baroque accretion. Here the lip is not just a single defined line, but a deconstructed cascade. Catch it from the right angle, and it looks like whorls of smoke issuing from a pipe, or the fabric swirls of a rhythmic gymnast. It is a wonderful example of the way she transmutes massy clay into a miraculous feat of levitation, seemingly as freed from gravity as it is from any familiar ceramic iconography.

This mimetic multivalence is enhanced by Laureys’ use of color. As previously mentioned, she never employs glazes that would disguise the sensitive surfaces of her pots, and in many of them the clay is left unadorned. (Ohr did this too, and his bisque wares – sometimes made of marbled clays – are among his most arresting achievements.) In other cases though, as with It is a Toy Violet Brain, Laureys sprays on pigments in a palette that is as suggestive and mysterious as her forms themselves. Though artificial, her colors nonetheless contribute to the oceanic organicism of the work.

 Laureys’ ceramics are so technically impressive and formally adventurous that it can be easy to lose track of their deeper sense. At the core of her work, she says, is the attempt to give physical shape to “metaphors of feeling.” Like many great abstract sculptors – Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Martin Puryear, and Ken Price spring to mind – she has been able to develop a very consistent artistic language while also infusing every work with its own individual character. Sometimes, working in the studio, she is aggressive. At other times she caresses the clay, coaxing it along. Some of her pot forms are poignant, downcast; others exuberant; still others reach upwards in a gesture of transcendence. Collectively, her works offer as many moods, as many emotions, as there are in a lifetime.

[1] Push: Anne Marie Laureys Ceramics (online publication, 2017), p. 13.

[2] See Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1950), in Basic Writings (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

 













 

And that’s just the first part of the sculpture. Growing from this first component’s flank is another, more pliant thrown form; and then atop it, the crowning glory of the work: an absolutely extraordinary, baroque accretion. Here the lip is not just a single defined line, but a deconstructed cascade. Catch it from the right angle, and it looks like whorls of smoke issuing from a pipe, or the fabric swirls of a rhythmic gymnast. It is a wonderful example of the way she transmutes massy clay into a miraculous feat of levitation, seemingly as freed from gravity as it is from any familiar ceramic iconography.

This mimetic multivalence is enhanced by Laureys’ use of color. As previously mentioned, she never employs glazes that would disguise the sensitive surfaces of her pots, and in many of them the clay is left unadorned. (Ohr did this too, and his bisque wares – sometimes made of marbled clays – are among his most arresting achievements.) In other cases though, as with It is a Toy Violet Brain, Laureys sprays on pigments in a palette that is as suggestive and mysterious as her forms themselves. Though artificial, her colors nonetheless contribute to the oceanic organicism of the work.

 Laureys’ ceramics are so technically impressive and formally adventurous that it can be easy to lose track of their deeper sense. At the core of her work, she says, is the attempt to give physical shape to “metaphors of feeling.” Like many great abstract sculptors – Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Martin Puryear, and Ken Price spring to mind – she has been able to develop a very consistent artistic language while also infusing every work with its own individual character. Sometimes, working in the studio, she is aggressive. At other times she caresses the clay, coaxing it along. Some of her pot forms are poignant, downcast; others exuberant; still others reach upwards in a gesture of transcendence. Collectively, her works offer as many moods, as many emotions, as there are in a lifetime.

[1] Push: Anne Marie Laureys Ceramics (online publication, 2017), p. 13.

[2] See Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1950), in Basic Writings (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

 













 

And that’s just the first part of the sculpture. Growing from this first component’s flank is another, more pliant thrown form; and then atop it, the crowning glory of the work: an absolutely extraordinary, baroque accretion. Here the lip is not just a single defined line, but a deconstructed cascade. Catch it from the right angle, and it looks like whorls of smoke issuing from a pipe, or the fabric swirls of a rhythmic gymnast. It is a wonderful example of the way she transmutes massy clay into a miraculous feat of levitation, seemingly as freed from gravity as it is from any familiar ceramic iconography.

This mimetic multivalence is enhanced by Laureys’ use of color. As previously mentioned, she never employs glazes that would disguise the sensitive surfaces of her pots, and in many of them the clay is left unadorned. (Ohr did this too, and his bisque wares – sometimes made of marbled clays – are among his most arresting achievements.) In other cases though, as with It is a Toy Violet Brain, Laureys sprays on pigments in a palette that is as suggestive and mysterious as her forms themselves. Though artificial, her colors nonetheless contribute to the oceanic organicism of the work.

 Laureys’ ceramics are so technically impressive and formally adventurous that it can be easy to lose track of their deeper sense. At the core of her work, she says, is the attempt to give physical shape to “metaphors of feeling.” Like many great abstract sculptors – Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Martin Puryear, and Ken Price spring to mind – she has been able to develop a very consistent artistic language while also infusing every work with its own individual character. Sometimes, working in the studio, she is aggressive. At other times she caresses the clay, coaxing it along. Some of her pot forms are poignant, downcast; others exuberant; still others reach upwards in a gesture of transcendence. Collectively, her works offer as many moods, as many emotions, as there are in a lifetime.

[1] Push: Anne Marie Laureys Ceramics (online publication, 2017), p. 13.

[2] See Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1950), in Basic Writings (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

 













 

WritingMarci LeBrun