The Political Imagination of Mara Superior
Hubbs, Joanna, Ceramics Art & Perception
IN THE PAST NINE YEARS MARA SUPERIOR, KNOWN FOR her whimsically beautiful porcelain pieces particularly centred around fanciful teapots, has changed the tenor of what she calls her story-telling works to focus on political events that have rocked this country. I began this interview by asking the artist fundamental questions regarding her development and vision as an artist:
JH: What are the historical and/or contemporary roots of your work?
MS: I have a classical art school education majoring in painting. Art history has always been a source of my nourishment. I am an art sponge. I cannot choose one influence since different sources inform each piece that I make. A few of my passions include: Egyptology, Persian miniatures, Greek and Roman art, Giotto, Duccio, Simone Martini, Cranach, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Bonnard, Matisse, Saul Steinberg, David Hockney (as well as the history of Asian and European ceramics) textiles and music. When I discovered porcelain it opened up a third dimension, offering infinite forms, textures and shapes on which to paint as well as to tell stories.
JH: What are the most challenging aspects of making your art and how has it evolved over time?
MS: Porcelain has its own particular technical problems: high shrinkage, cracking, a long work cycle, the unpredictability of an outdoor gas kiln and the uncertainty of the object successfully surviving the firing, especially when working close to a deadline. In spite of all of this I have stayed with reduction high-fired porcelain because it fulfils my idea of exquisite beauty in a material integral to my content.
I put my idea down on paper and, from years of experience, I try to figure out the best way to execute it. It is all risk and innovation--no one has told me how to make things--which can often result in a certain amount of loss.
I have an intuitive approach to the process of creating appropriate forms and shapes to combine with the surface iconography that tells my stories. Although I use my own visual grammar and have a cast of characters reappearing in my imagery, the infinite possibilities in the variety of shapes have kept my design sensibility from becoming static.
In the beginning of my career I was very excited by the utilitarian aspects of porcelain as well as its aesthetic possibilities. I made things that I joyfully handled and used in my everyday life. Over time as my skill and ideas improved and developed, I became less interested in function and more intrigued by the possibilities of relief sculpture and the teapot with its technical challenges and iconic form full of historic references. Eventually the teapots grew in complexity. They became oversized, multi-spouted extravagances built with stacked forms and covered with intricate images, text and relief. They had no relation to function but retained a conceptual link to the history of porcelain.
My teapots now retain only a vestigial connection to their ancestors and are simply a format for an idea. Most recently I have been utilizing wooden forms covered with tiles as a building unit in my constructions, opening new possibilities of shape and scale--an ongoing adventure. Form and surface are integrated into one concept. Making art is about choices, decisions, preferences and changing your mind. The nature of my content has been reverential, ceremonial, commemorative and celebratory. The iconic teapot form has embodied all of these to me but now I have begun to move away from some of its limitations and am finding new, more relevant forms to enhance and carry my stories.
JH: How has your attitude toward your work changed in the past decade or so?
MS: I have always worked from an idealized reality and a perspective of beauty and consciously did not choose to use my work as a platform for disturbing content. …