Art + Object August 2013 Catalogue
Derek’s expression is dour. His brow deep set, the tip of his long nose snubbed. His eyes are minute, his clay lips pursed in a miserly pout. His face emerges from the form of a gigantic clay bag, bulky and rough-hewn, the surface indented with fingerprints. Two threads of shipping rope fix Derek to the ceiling. The simplicity of the pale rope evokes the unfashionable art of macramé, now lost in the mists of time. Made out of stoneware Derek is presented as though he could be a container for a hanging plant, the tendrils of a fern frothing around his ancient face like dreadlocks.
Instead, this ponderous artwork is an empty vessel: a repository for the depths of the imagination. Francis Upritchard is crafty. She breathes life back into folk. Her nimble cast of waifs, wastrels and far-reaching sloths blend anthropology and the anthropomorphic, the museological, the affecting and the endlessly amusing. Upritchard has long established an international art career. She’s known for creating relics from the recent past: recycled fur coats are reborn as monkeys, ceramic pots from op shops turn into haughty headed urns. Her aloof sculptural portraits are posed and poised on artisan furniture. Design and craft form the backbone of her exhibitions, yet Upritchard’s lightness of touch can make it look like she is just pottering. Don’t be deceived. Her gurus are not guileless. These frail, fluorescent hippies are also the sages and seers of our troubled times.
Derek was originally suspended alongside his twin, Brian. The pair debuted in Bogagnome, Upritchard’s 2007 exhibition at Ivan Anthony Gallery. A year earlier, she had won the Walters Prize for Doomed, Doomed, All Doomed. The judge, American curator and art historian, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev said; “Upritchard celebrates the hand-made. Her “poor technology” seems to me increasingly topical in today’s high tech digital age.” Derek might well agree. The hand held properties of the clay draw the viewer in close. The materials define the mood. This work is heavy, man. A medieval sense of morality hangs in the air. Combining the words bog and gnome Upritchard’s exhibition title plunges the viewer into the pre-industrial past. The surface of the stoneware is unadorned as though utilitarian. Yet Derek is a form without function. His face could be a god or a gargoyle or perhaps just a man still mired in the mud?