ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Studying human activity through the recovery of material culture

Bouke de Vries
Studying human activity through the recovery of material culture

Galerie Ron Mandos proudly presents Studying human activity through the recovery of material culture, by Bouke de Vries (NL, 1960). A presentation of his latest sculptures all constructed from recovered Chinese and Dutch white Delftware ceramics. With his latest works, de Vries seeks out the human connection with ceramics through history and its prominent place within archaeology. Made from the very earth of the land of their origin and primordially transformed by fire, the partly Chinese and partly Dutch ceramics are chosen for their important place in ceramics history. De Vries often works with these two, the Chinese carry a large variety of materials and the Delftware has such an important place in his native Dutch history and culture. The Chinese works cover the Han, Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties. Some items were grave goods, intended to help the deceased in the afterlife; a common cultural phenomenon, which almost seems to be a universal approach to death in ancient cultures.  Other items are from marine archaeology – ships laden with ceramics, lost and lying undisturbed on the sea floor for hundreds of years before being found again in recent decades. The Dutch works focus on 17th- and 18th-century fragments of white Delftware, itself a material originally conceived to mimic Chinese porcelain. Unadorned with the usual cobalt-blue decoration, it was a material of everyday use, domestic or commercial, and when damaged was thrown away into cesspits, again lying undisturbed for hundreds of years until it was unearthed recently, often by amateur archaeologists. The archaeological ceramic remnants are the jumping-off point for a new narrative in de Vries’s latest sculptures. They tell a new story and perhaps one day they too will disappear back into the earth and will again be found in some unimagined future.

Bouke de Vries was born in Utrecht and studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and Central St Martin's in London. After working for John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zanra Rhodes, he switched careers and studied ceramics conservation and restoration at West Dean College. As a private conservator, he faced issues and contradictions around perfection and value: 'The Venus de Milo' is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.’ Using his skills as a restorer, his ‘exploded’ artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma.Instead of hiding the evidence of the dramatic episode in their lives, he emphasizes their new status, instilling new virtues, new values, and moving their stories forward. De Vries lives and works in London. His works were shown a.o. at Somerset House, London, York City Art Gallery, York, MIMA, Middlesbrough,Holbourne Museum, Bath, Taiwan Ceramics Biennale, Taipei, Gloria Maria Gallery, Milan, Holbourne Museum, Bath,Gemeente Museum Den Haag, Coda Museum, Apeldoorn, and the Ariana Museum in Geneva.

ABOUT Bouke de Vries

Born 1960 in Utrecht, NL
Lives and works in London, UK

Bouke de Vries studied at the Design Academy  Eindhoven, and Central St Martin’s, London. After working with John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zandra Rhodes, he switched careers and studied ceramics conservation and restoration at West Dean College. Every day in his practice as a private conservator he was faced with issues and contradictions around perfection and worth:

‘The Venus de Milo’ is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.’

Using his skills as a restorer (c.f. Ron Mueck’s model-maker skills), his ‘exploded’ artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma. He has called it ‘the beauty of destruction’. Instead of reconstructing them, he deconstructs them. Instead of hiding the evidence of this most dramatic episode in the life of a ceramic object, he emphasises their new status, instilling new virtues, new values, and moving their stories forward.

The more contemplative works echo the 17th- and 18th-century still-life paintings of his Dutch heritage, especially the flower paintings of the Golden Age, a tradition in which his hometown of Utrecht was steeped (de Heem, van Alst, van Huysum inter alia), with their implied decay. By incorporating contemporary items a new vocabulary of symbolism evolves.

These ‘dead natures’ – natures morts – give everyday household objects, a plate, a milk jug, a teapot, a modern poignancy that refers back to the vanitas and memento mori paintings of that period. An installation in de Vries’s London house is arranged in the manner of Daniel Marot with white Delft domestic pottery rescued in fragments from 17th- and 18th-century rubbish tips, now dug up and partially pieced together. Among them are two small artists’ paint pots with the pigment still in them, as possibly once used by – who knows? – Vermeer or Rembrandt.

 

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