Andrew Lord began working in ceramics some 40 years ago—long before the medium’s recent renaissance in the art world—creating pieces that explore concerns far beyond those of functional household objects. Throughout his career, he has used forms such as coffee sets or vases as grounds on which to consider painterly notions such as how light falls, or to refer to other artists, including Picasso, Duchamp and Jasper Johns. Born in northern England in 1950 and based in New York since the 1980s, Lord makes nearly all his work by directly grappling with the clay, the final sculptures bearing signs of struggle between the resistant material and the artist.
Lord’s recent exhibition at Eva Presenhuber centered on three groups (all 2013) of 13 to 15 pieces based on ceramics by Gauguin—vases, dishes, bowls—and presented on three long trestle tables. Each of the collections is subtitled Carson mesa (Gauguin). According to Lord, he made the works as a means of investigating the French artist’s palette as well as the hues of natural light found in New Mexico. The pieces in the group titled by starlight are all a deep blue that recalls Gauguin’s Tahitian shadows, and drip with diaphanous pink and verdant greens; those in with snow falling have a clear, crackle glaze, over which are more delicate pinks, yellows, blues and occasional touches of gold. The final group, at sunset, is a riot of colors, including bold yellow, cobalt, ocher and a pinkish terra-cotta. Hanging on the walls around the sculptures were six reliefs, which depict ceramics and images by Gauguin and were among Lord’s first Gauguin-inspired works. Just short of two feet tall each, and resembling uninked printing plates, they are made in cast plaster and finished with a layer of wax. One of the earliest, girl with large head (2005), shows a half-bust, half-jug form that is repeated in three dimensions in each of the three sculptural groups.
As decorative or utilitarian objects, ceramics generally hide in plain sight, posing no threat to the domestic order. Gauguin’s pieces, however, with their unconventional forms and tactile surfaces, are of a more radical sort. In Lord’s versions—often about double the size of Gauguin’s originals, and displaying even rawer surfaces, gloppier glazes and colors that sing out brightly—the ceramics are taken even further. The by starlight group, for instance, includes a piece featuring a shallow, mushroom-pleated bowl-type form, into which steps a female figure, a hand steadying herself on one of two curved handles, a foot testing the depths. Unlike in Gauguin’s work, however, Lord’s receptacle is open at the bottom, the maiden justly fearful as she steps into the abyss. Nearby, also in by starlight, is a sculpture consisting of three flowers standing on their closed blooms, their stems intertwining as they reach up into the air; the intensely gleaming surfaces and the weightiness of the embracing stalks amplify the carnal quality of Gauguin’s arrangement. Lord’s remakings function as both an homage and a rejuvenation: a reminder of Gauguin’s vision and an exploration of how far his works’ themes and aesthetic qualities can be pushed.