Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis
Monday, 19 September 2011
Work from Still[ed] Life.
“Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be a sincere source of creativity. That tenet is confirmed by “Still[ed] Life: Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis” at the Taft Museum of Art.
Their 10 busts of the neo-classical sculptor Hiram Powers’ marble bust of Alphonso Taft, half-brother of William Howard Taft, are the clearest examples of art imitating art. Using 21st-century technology, they reproduced them exactly but on a smaller scale. The original measures 24 3/8” x 16 3/8” x 10”, but the Parker/Davis busts are all approximately 12” x 7” x 5 1/2”. They are presented individually on porcelain sconces, which are about 10 ½” high.
Rather than leaving their versions white, as the original bust, they added a second element, also referencing the Taft collection: surface decoration borrowed from 18th-19th European ceramic works. It’s both tempting and daunting to go off on a hunt for their specific references.
The sculptures are painstakingly hand painted with the designs overlaid on the surface, like a tattoo. Sometimes the base of the bust is decorated, leaving the bust itself white, and then they flip it so the bust is covered with pattern and the base is untouched. Sometimes they use the surface decoration logically, painting a bib or blindfold, which echoes the neo-classical convention of blank eyes for portrait busts. But in a more playful use of the patterns, the artists disregard the form entirely. For example in one bust, Chinoiserie flowers cover half of Taft’s face and extend down his shoulder and breast.
When discussing works made in any of the traditional craft mediums—glass, wood, fiber, metal, and clay—it’s always tempting to discuss how things are done. In the case of Parker and Davis, it’s not the ceramic process that intrigues but rather how they reproduce their models so precisely. Their technique harkens back to an 18th-century method: the pointing machine. (For a detailed explanation of how it works, see Wikipedia.org: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointing_machine.) It was invented by the French sculptor and medalist Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux (1751-1832).
The contemporary version of a pointing machine involves a three-dimensional scanner to make an electronic file of the object. That file directs a rapid prototyping machine to reproduce it at any size. With a model that is absolutely faithful, a mold can be made and any number of multiples produced at any scale.Too often in the craft mediums, technique dazzles, eclipsing aesthetics. Here it serves the artists well.