Claire Verkoyen: Refined and Alienating

By Berk, Anne | Ceramics Art & Perception, March-May 2008 | Go to article overview

Claire Verkoyen: Refined and Alienating


Berk, Anne, Ceramics Art & Perception


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FOR THE EXHIBITION PRETTY DUTCH IN THE PRINCESSEHOF in Leeuwarden, the Dutch ceramist Claire Verkoyen (1959, Willemstad, Curacao) draws her inspiration from 18th century Dutch Porcelain. The natural motifs are simultaneously refined and alienating.

A mosquito floats on gossamer wings across the ivory surface of a soberly shaped porcelain container, as if it has escaped from the border of delicate golden tendrils bearing miniscule flowers. This edging en circles the cartouche, correctly placed in the centre of the container, while the elegant border frames an unusual scene: tropical flowers in a classic beet-root-red glaze, blooming so abundantly that their offshoots threaten to overrun the frame. And in the foreground a tiny cricket, is the solitary witness to this unbridled growth. With a high degree of professional ex pertise and the necessary humour, Verkoyen has given historical decorations a new twist, but she also presents nature in a different light.

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Claire Verkoyen's passion for ornamentation is obvious, but in Holland, land of the iconoclasts and of Mondriaan, the mistrust of decoration and aesthetics is firmly ingrained. Too much of ought is good for nought, as the saying goes. No wonder then that Minimal Art was able to take root so readily here, including in ceramics. Artists such as Jan van der Vaart (1931-2000), Geert Lap (1951), Wouter Dam (1957), and Netty van den Heuvel (1956) make abstract ele mental forms in monochrome colours. Decoration was taboo, regarded as excessive and only 'permitted' when the patterns were the result of manipulating the pigmented clay, as do Babs Haenen (1948), Johan van Loon (1934), and Saskia Koster (1955). "Ornamentation is a crime" declared the Austrian architect Adolf Loos in 1908, but a century later decoration and figuration are once again in heavy demand, and Pauline Wiertz (1955) and Claire Verkoyen have been at the forefront of this.

Verkoyen, the daughter of an art-historian and a teacher, followed her own path. At the Sint Joost Academy in Breda she received tuition from the process-oriented Anne Ausloos and Johan van Loon, who does have an interest in patterns because of his background in textiles. The accent in the academies at the time, however, lay on a sculptural, elemental approach and Verkoyen initially adhered to this. In 1995, however, she discovered the possibilities of the ceramic silk-screen in the framework of the project Action/Reaction (Aktie/Reaktie) initiated by the ceramics manufacturer Koninklijke Tichelaar in Makkum. Since then, she has ceased making sculptures. Her attention shifted to decoration, which she applies to a ceramic base. And in the course of time she has gone from strength to strength. In the last quarter of the previous century the modernist quest for reform proved to be at a dead end.

In the search for the essential, the forms were stripped to the bone until nothing remained except the idea, the concept. It was impossible to continue going forward, only back, and the post-modern artists reoriented themselves towards the past. And in so doing the previously much-maligned decoration and figuration re-emerged.

The exhibition of lavishly painted 18th century rococo crockery, with the indicative title Pretty Dutch, thus dovetails with the reassessment of decoration and beauty. And the invitation for contemporary artists to react to the historical forms and motifs is entirely fitting in the post-modern era. 'Dutch Porcelain' is the term used for the porcelain that was produced between 1759 and 1814 in Weesp, Loosdrecht, The Hague and along the river in Ouder and Nieuwer-Amstel. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) imported the porcelain from China, because the secret of porcelain production was not yet known in Europe. Attempts were made to imitate it in order to meet the heavy demand, and hence Delft Blue is not painted on porcelain, but on earthenware covered with a white pewter glaze.

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