Taking Grandma’s Plates for a Spin

The Daily Pic: Robert Dawson brings tradition up to speed.

These six plates are by the Englishman Robert Dawson. Dawson may be one of the smartest, most innovative artists of our time. The only reason he’s not famous is because he’s chosen to use his smarts in ceramics. But instead of seeking higher status by pushing pottery toward the issues of fine art, as some of his peers tend to do, Dawson makes clay talk about its own history. In these six plates, he’s literally given a new spin to the great blue-and-white tradition, making each one look like a classic dish in rotation. And he uses this device to talk about some of the central facts of all claywork. His plates take circularity, the principle behind thousands of years of thrown pottery forms, and make it the principle behind their surface transformations. They also stretch out normal pottery time: Dawson takes the spinning used to make a plate, in the privacy of the workshop, and puts it on public view as the final stage in its decoration. And, of course, all this is just illusion: His plates are almost certainly cast, not thrown, and the only spinning that went on in their decoration is virtual, inside Dawson’s computer. He’s representing ceramic traditions, not repeating them.

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