Christie Brown: Anti-Hierarchical Hybridity

The impression of transcendence conveyed by classical portrait busts mingles strangely with the earthly connotations of lop ears and ovine noses, as if an affinity of contraries were forming in a liminal space between the exalted realm of gods and heroes and the mundane plane of ordinary living things. The result, in the recent figural sculptures of British ceramist Christie Brown, is an effect of somnolent ambiguity, a dreamlike suspension between apotheosis and kenosis in which the familiar tends toward an elevated, mystical state and the ethereal gravitates towards the ordinary. The obvious value of this disruption of polarities is that it invites a fresh vision in which former hierarchies collapse and dissipate, leaving in their stead unfettered possibility. Just as important is the proliferation of potential avenues through which Brown’s work might be interpreted, many of which are plausible simultaneously and none of which triumphs definitively over the others.

An enthusiast of the Freudian and Jungian legacy in matters of the mind, Brown is at ease with the concept of symbolic over-determination; in fact, her recent work implicitly embraces multiple meanings through a wide-ranging intuitive rather than logistical approach to making. Within the context of Brown’s career, these intuitively fashioned sculptures with their laissez-faire attitude toward interpretation bear the implications of a kind of liberation. Emeritus Professor at the University of Westminster, where she taught until 2016, Brown had for most of her artistic career been conscious of the need to reconcile her work with the demands of research assessment in academia. However, with the prospect of retirement and the looming opportunity to exhibit a new body of work at London’s Arthouse1, she found her concerns for that kind of accountability diminishing.

“The academic environment requires you to focus on particular questions about theme, context, content and methodology,” she explains, “but with the exhibition at Arthouse1 I realized that I didn't need to conjure a complex research narrative around the work. I was free
to go in an intuitive direction.”

While the degree of this freedom was unprecedented, the exercise of intuition was not in itself new to Brown, who has always read in the small imperfections inflecting otherwise uniform and anonymous press-moulded parts, an invitation to emotional response. The similarity of the fortuitous flaws in moulded clay, to the unique traits that render a particular human identifiable among the repetition characterizing humanity as a whole, grants them an uncanny power to conjure personality and even invoke, through the imagination, the kinds of narratives that define lives. By constructing her figures rather than forming them integrally in a single mould, Brown has long exploited the combinatory expressive potential of minor cracks, warpage, and variations in texture.

A press-moulded head, for example, takes on a range of connotations not only through the unique traits it acquires when exiting the mold but also through its relationship with other multiples bearing slight variations of form.

I regret that we voted to leave Europe. I think it’s a big mistake.