The artistic career of American ceramist Karen Koblitz has been driven, and defined, by wanderlust. Unlike the casual traveler, Koblitz’s globe-trekking has not centered on the greatest hits of tourist destinations but rather, pointedly and deliberately, in pursuit of enriching her worldview and enhancing her art knowledge. Cultural Diplomacy, a one-person exhibition in 2018, presented work of the last twenty-seven years, primarily pieces that Koblitz created in response to her international journeys. A close study of several individual pieces featured in the show reveal the profound multicultural connections Koblitz has forged during these experiences.
Charting the Influences:Italian Renaissance Ceramics
In 1970 a junior college year abroad in Florence, Italy, ignited a fiery curiosity in the young artist to study the history of Italian art. Koblitzs’ continued exploration of Italy’s art, architecture and culture led to her eventual return almost two decades later. From 1989 through 2003 Koblitz secured a position as a designer of maiolica dinnerware at the renowned Grazia Factory in Deruta. She spent her summers developing patterns based on the town’s centuries-old ceramic heritage and hand painting these designs on a variety of serving pieces. Deruta, with its more than 200 ceramic workshops, is known for producing brightly colored, highly decorative wares with Islamic and Moorish design influences. Building on this artistic tradition, Koblitz’s dinnerware designs for the Grazia Factory drew from the vibrant colors of the Umbrian countryside and the geometric motifs common to the tin-glazed historical patterns of Hispano Moresque pottery. In addition, Koblitz merged unique biomorphic flourishes and floral abstractions to create a
line of signature designs. This interplay of historical and contemporary ornamentation set Koblitz’s work apart, and her Grazia dinnerware and accessories were well received and commercially successful.
During her successive return trips to Deruta, Koblitz spent time becoming fluent in the language and culture of the Italian people with whom she worked and communed. She also made several trips to nearby Florence to research the prominent collections of historical ceramics in museums and the Renaissance terracotta sculptures of the Della Robbia workshop installed above altars and within chapels in many Florentine churches. This research directly impacted the direction of Koblitz’s work; she embarked upon the Italian Column and the Italian Lunette Series.
The ubiquitous Italian marble pedestals that elevate portrait busts of luminaries were Koblitz’s template for the column series, but characteristically, the artist appropriated the concept and fabricated a sculptural still life of her own vivid imagination. Koblitz’s glazed earthenware Italian Column #6 exalted an elegant pouring pitcher of Greco-Roman shape, jauntily positioned on a faux decorated cloth. The whole ceramic affair was a riot of delicious color and pattern, echoing the Persian/Turkish/Spanish influences that made their mark on early Italian pottery.
Ephemeral and memorable, the unglazed white porcelain sculptures had a ghostly materiality, seeming to provide a portal to the contemplative space where memories roam and unfold.