The Artful Teapot
by Garth Clark
256 pages, 285 illustrations, 250 in colour
Watson-Guptil, USA, $39.95
Thames and Hudson, UK, £29.95
The Artful Teapot was published to accompany the major travelling
show of the same name, which has toured Canada and the USA and can be
viewed at the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, North Carolina,
until June 1, 2004. The exhibition and book draw on the extensive collection
of Sonny and Gloria Kamm - with around 6,000 pieces probably the largest
collection of one-of-a-kind art teapots in the world.
Those who were unable to visit the show may console themselves with Clark's
publication, which offers not only the opportunity to view many of the
works in 2D, but also gives various insights into the discourses surrounding
the world of tea, from its at times tumultuous 4,000 year history ('Opium
Wars'; the 'Boston Tea Party'), its ritualistic, pseudo-religious aspects
(the Japanese Tea Ceremony; English 'High Tea') or the 'romance of tea'
- its association with exotic lands and a perceived finesse, as exemplified
by tea "served in a silver pot in the wood-panelled dining room of
the Milan to Rome express".
Having touched upon the history and mystery of tea, Clark leads us into
the world of the art teapot with a look at Yixing and its influence on
the West. The Chinese Yixing teapot is really in a class of its own. Various
scholars have written about it, numerous websites are dedicated to it
and many a potter has been inspired by it. Most notable of these is perhaps
American ceramist Richard Notkin, who, appropriating the Yixing style,
created a body of modern, socio-critical works, e.g. his iconic 'Double
Cooling Tower Teapot'. Other artists mentioned in this category range
from modern Yixing master Dingfang Zhou to Dutch ceramist Jeroen Bechtold.
The teapot developed in China around the 16th century. In the West, elegant
teapots were wrought in silver during the 18th century and Staffordshire
potteries created whimsical cauliflower or pineapple shaped teapots. The
passion for the artistic teapot has certainly not waned over the centuries,
reflecting tea's unshakeable cosmopolitan position as the world's leading
One can broadly divide art teapots into two categories: functional and
non-functional. Form and function have been a concern in modern design
since the early 20th century (if not earlier) culminating in Walter Gropius'
ultra-elegant teapot 'TAC1', but also evident in the work of eminent British
potter Bernard Leach or America's 'mad potter of Biloxi' George E. Ohr.
Then again, art is not usually about function. Sometimes, like the fashion
conscious dresser who sacrifices comfort for style, the teapot maker will
sacrifice functionality for decorative effects or concept. So the teapot
leaves the realm of the dining room or teahouse and enters that of the
gallery and museum. The possibilities are endless, as the Kamm collection
shows with some stunning examples.
Among these are Michael Lucero's bizarre dual 'Eye Ohr' teapots of 1993,
Ken Ferguson's 'Teapot with Turtle and Hare' of 1997, with a decidedly
mischievous looking spout, and Richard Milette's 'Teapot' of 1992, which
references several major ceramic traditions in the form of trompe l'oeil
shards. The teapot lends itself readily to this artistic device, where
one material imitates another. Ah Leon's works convincingly mimic redwood,
while Gail Ritchie's tea set looks like it's made from birch bark. Paul
Dresang's subliminally erotic 'Bag' of 1994 has a pot emerging from a
faux pigskin bag, complete with ceramic zipper.
Other artists dispense with functionality altogether, working with the
concept of the teapot instead. In his mixed-media work 'Dear Mother' (2000)
Ron Baron creates an oversize statue of a teapot on a pedestal, made from
stacked cups, plates and other materials. Lazslo Fekete's 'Resurrection
of a Teapot' (2000) is an homage to the teapot, reminiscent of elements
of Hieronymus Bosch's paintings. Piet Stockmans' irreverent 'Twenty-Five
Teapots' of 2000 consists of cast and flattened teapots partly dipped
in his signature cobalt-blue slip. Hung neatly on a wall, they look like
deflated footballs. Then there are those artists who use what can only
be called 'impossible' materials, e.g. Daniel Chatt's beadwork 'Karilyn's
Tea Service' of 1997-98, Zoe Morrow's 'Five on the Line' of 1999, made
of woven five dollar bills, or John McQueen's basketwork 'Teaser-Vice'
(1999), made of twigs and string.
With over 250 colour images, The Artful Teapot is not only an in-depth
look at the Kamm's impressive collection, but also a general survey of
the teapot throughout the ages (with an emphasis on the contemporary).
I would like to commend Garth Clark for the inclusion of a short bio of
each artist - often omitted in such publications - at the rear of the
book, giving the reader, if he/she so desires, the opportunity to find
out more about the artists featured.
Cloth bound in oversize hardcover, this publication will be a fitting
addition to the tea lover's or teapot enthusiast's library, and a good
complement to Clark's previous book of 1989, The Eccentric Teapot.
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