Considering the simple decoration that’s found on 17th & 18th Century redware plates, cups, pans, and even crocks, it’s easy to imagine that a settlement, such as Jamestown Colony, was a place where “simple living” pervaded one’s everyday life.
Tulips, birds or even rudimentary slip trailed graphics (characterized by squiggles, cross-hatching and repetitious patterning) tell of a time when artistic refinement was as charmingly simple as the people who crafted these rustic wares.
Yet truth be told, 17th and 18th century living was far from simple. And even today, in a world that’s full of modern conveniences, life can be as equally difficult to navigate. Yet there’s something still inherently appealing in the redware pottery that’s being made by today’s generation of studio potters. It is work that captures the ideological peacefulness that surrounds the thought of downshifting one’s lifestyle in a quest to attain a fair measure of romanticism, not unlike that of the late 18th century.
This feeling of simplicity, the one that I find so appealing in antique wares, is also present in the decorated redware made by Ron Philbeck, a potter based in Shelby, NC. Philbeck’s work; imaginatively contemporary in its artistic zealousness, embodies a soulfulness which brings to mind an acute understanding of everyday life.
By no means am I saying that Philbeck’s work is simple to craft. Technically speaking, these slip coated forms are meticulously worked. Sketching, and then scratching away at bone-dry slip, reveals images that metaphorically jump from his imagination and onto each piece. Whether a plate, mug or jar, each work of art is etched free-hand and is a one-of-a-kind creation.
Philbeck’s sense of simplicity is exemplified by a collective discourse of imagery. Many of his surfaces focus on one direct subject supported by many graphical elements, yet what’s crucial in its success is that the compositions do not clutter one’s mind. Philbeck shows keen insight into applying the sgraffito technique — once used by past potters to spiritize their own creations — by blending a folk-art sensibility with a decisive sense of fun.
For instance, Philbeck allows animated bunnies the freedom to playfully spring across an open field. Or, he presents quirky portrait-like illustrations of pigs, goats, or even the occasional opossum on platters, bowls, or teapots. On one charger, Philbeck even pays homage to the tradition of dating plates; a rabbit generously leaps over the year “2011.”
Perhaps my favorite installment to Philbeck’s redware grouping is his “Clothes Line” series. The platter shown below demonstrates this artist’s ability to successfully capture the quietude of daily living with heart and soul. People living in all corners of the globe hang laundry, every minute, of every day. It’s a groove in life, just as one rises to go to work.
Here though, Philbeck brings this routine task to our consciousness through sgraffito-decorated redware. Philbeck’s choice to present such imagery is certainly contemporary in thought, but the chore isn’t, nor is this technique. It’s a perfect fit — the mundane peacefulness of hanging clothes out to dry on a sunny, breezy day, as told on the surface of redware.
There’s something wonderfully captivating about Ron Philbeck’s work; both in the art and the clay canvas it is on.
To visit Ron Philbeck’s website, click here, or on any bunny!