My Flamboyant Teapot
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Oct 01, 2011
The second All Ceramics Exhibition, the biannual event that showcases some of the best in professional ceramics and pottery in The Bahamas, is upon us again. This time, it’s all about teapots.
But these aren’t your grandmother’s porcelain white teapots with dainty flowers and gold accents—these teapots are meant to be seen and heard, and in some instances, even read.
Indeed, this year’s theme for the ACE, “My Flamboyant Teapot”, which opens this coming Thursday, bought out some characters: teapots disguised as pineapples, as gourds, as elaborate faces and coral reefs, as treasures inscribed with secrets.
Curator of the exhibition and creator of ACE Jessica Colebrooke said she thought the theme would inspire some funky creations, and she was right. Creations in the show come at viewers held in the cusps of a sculptural shell, or as large as a watering can. They hail from the very earth, from the tropical sea, from continents far away, from the body. They are meant for more than Earl Grey and English Breakfast.
Teapots, even strictly traditional, are strong cultural and domestic icons, becoming the subject of many collectors worldwide. It’s with this in mind that these artists built their own elaborate versions.
“When you see these things, there’s a nostalgia behind it,” says Colebrooke, whose own funky creations are included in the show.
Her playful pineapples and coral reefs flirt with unexpected textures and colors in a teapot shape and are certainly flamboyant. Yet her stark and earthy gourd-like faces and figures take on a more thoughtful tone, challenging the very cultural attachments we have to the traditional teapot by alluding to it as a colonial westernized object through her use of African themes and shapes.
Either way, Colebrooke presents her viewers with refreshing and surprising shapes in a traditional paradigm.
“When I create my teapots I keep in my mind that collector who may want a teapot but wants something different, something that can stand out, something that can be talked about whether they want to use it or want it as a showpiece,” she says.
The theme, she says, was inspired by Jackson Burnside, who approached her in 2003 to make a series of creative teapots for the Doongalik Marina Village Art Gallery.
“I was like, really?” laughs Colebrooke. “I wasn’t into doing teapots. I had done so may of them in college. I was tired of them. I didn’t want to see another teapot or teacup.
But for Jackson to ask me that, I was honored.”
Her reluctance soon passed as Jackson handed her a book of “100 Teapots” to inspire her; after skimming it, she set out to create her series which sold rapidly at the art gallery. As she realized the possibilities for teapots were endless, she knew it would be a great theme for the second All Ceramics Exhibition, years later.
It’s fitting for an exhibition that may, over the years, become the single most professional showcase for ceramics in The Bahamas, becoming as much of “an event” as the annual art tour Transforming Spaces and the National Exhibitions by The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.
Yet the All Ceramics Exhibition has an educational component—its application fee and proceeds from the sales go towards the Denis Knight Choice Award, a scholarship of $1,000 that goes to a College of The Bahamas student who displays promise and talent in the field of ceramics.
This year, the first award was given to Alistair D. Stevenson, who is completing his Bachelor’s of Education degree in Art at COB.
“I thought that was an excellent idea because I was a student there and if I had that, that would have helped,” says Colebrooke. “Every little bit counts, and I’m thinking a thousand dollars can help them, even if they need it just to purchase clay.”
The award came out of the first All Ceramics Exhibition, which was dedicated to Denis Knight for all his pioneering efforts in the field of ceramics in Bahamian art both through his work and as a teacher at COB.
“I remember going to his shows as a student, especially the ones where he collaborated with Brent Malone, and I thought it was just flawless and awesome,” remembers Colebrooke. “I got so inspired.”
Colebrooke points out she didn’t plan to create a scholarship out of the first All Ceramics Exhibition, yet she did decide to dedicate the event to Denis Knight himself, who she says created the “spark” in the ceramics community of The Bahamas. It was only during the opening of the exhibition itself that she announced the decision to form a scholarship after the man who guided and shaped the talent of so many talented Bahamians who passed through the halls of the College of The Bahamas.
That First ACE was indeed a pioneering effort itself, with eight artists participating in an exhibition that Colebrooke, as a master ceramicist herself, started in order to bring attention to ceramics and pottery in The Bahamian art community.
“When I exhibit and do my commercial line, it’s to show other persons out there that there is another world outside of the painted canvas,” she says. “I figured the best way to do that was to teach classes and have an exhibition to raise awareness and bring together those persons who are practicing.”
The result, she says, was exciting—yet she was disappointed in the lack of professionalism that resulted since she knew the All Ceramics Exhibition had the potential to become a revered platform in the art world.
“The show involved whoever was inspired and touched by clay,” she said. “It had a lot of promise but I was still looking at the fact that not a lot of professional potters and ceramicists came out.”
For the second ACE, she asked professional ceramicists and potters specifically to enter their work. She also knew she had to streamline the results, so she created an exciting theme and that could loosely tie all the work together while allowing the individual flair of the artists to shine through.
Unfortunately, she points out, only two artists responded with such guidelines—making this year’s ACE a three-person show and causing Colebrooke to mourn the lack of initiative she feels exists in the Bahamian art world.
“What are we doing in ceramics today? Whenever we come out, we should try and do something inspiring,” she says.
“Artists are laying dormant, so how we can now encourage other person in this field? You have to be doing something, you have to be putting work out, and you have to be challenging people. I learned that from Denis and Antonius and Jackson—you have to keep working.”
Nevertheless, she says, she was going to go ahead with the show and pick up the slack by creating extra teapots herself. Plus, she points out, the entries she received from the two applicants—Sue Bennett-Williams and Quentin Minnis—were exciting and of the caliber she always imagined for the ACE.
Indeed, the teapots invite conversation and closer inspection. Minnis’ three creations seem to come straight from the earth, their muddied colors patterned with the briefest of impressions of brain coral and leaves—with their somewhat ancient silhouettes, they seem to be urns of fossilized matter, promising the discovery of some long-forgotten past.
In the same vein, Sue Bennett-Williams’ teapots imply there is more than what meets the eye. The text on their bodies come across as loud and declarative—yet despite this strong presence, their spouts which are as long and as red as tongues are stilled, unable to utter those words inscribed. The secret in “Secret Teapot” is that is separates into a cup and teapot— yet it seems to draw upon the ancient art of tea-leaf readings, the promise of secrets poured along their great red tongues awaiting those who wish to know their futures.
Those who go view the fascinating pieces by these three artists on display at “My Flamboyant Teapot” will certainly be drawn into a world where they are invited to muse on the culture, histories and many uses of the teapot through time and places—and certainly will never wonder what more can be done with teapots in clay.
For as Colebrooke points out, the possibilities are endless, and the most important aspect to her—as it should be to other artists—is to provide possibility to inspire those who need it the most in order to grow the world of ceramics and clay in the nation.
“What I really want the art community to see and the Bahamian public to see is that there is a lot of talent here,” she says.
“I think if given the chance, the right opportunities and support, it would really help this country go in the direction it needs to be. We have to take art to the level of professionalism, and we have to inspire people.”
“My Flamboyant Teapot” opens October 6th at Doongalik Studios on Village Road between 6-9 p.m. and runs until October 28th.
For more images from “My Flamboyant Teapot”, check out our online gallery at www.thenassauguardian.com.