Friday 3 March to Saturday 22 April 2017
Audio Guide: listen to Paul Scott's introduction to the exhibition
For over twenty years, the basis for Paul Scott’s work has been the enormous variety of industrially made transfer-ware ceramics that have been produced during the last 250 years and have graced the tables of households throughout Britain. The scenes and imagery that are the hallmark of these highly decorated but functional objects entered the popular imagination largely by stealth as furniture for the home.
Scott works onto these everyday objects as a collagist might, re-purposing these cultural artefacts in such a way as to offer new narrative interpretations that encourage re-examination. Drawing from his encyclopaedic knowledge of and fascination with the material, he alters, erases and adds new images to the intricately detailed scenes and patterns of these domestic items, whereby the imagery is ruptured and recalibrated for a contemporary world. Scott’s interventions enable him to explore a range of issues from ecology to the refugee crisis.
In the same way that mechanical reproduction did for art – as noted by Walter Benjamin – the technical ability to transfer detailed etched images onto fired ceramics, coupled with advances in mechanisation of the pottery industry at factories such as Wedgwood and Spode, meant that large numbers of the population could afford this decorative mass-produced tableware. In Home Truths, his current exhibition at PEER, over forty of Scott’s works are shown in the context of selected historic pieces from his collection. In this way, Scott emphasises the placement of his work in a continuum whereby the conditions of industrially produced ceramics in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the types of imagery used – and the contradictions implicit within them – become the ground for his current work.
One of the more popular themes since the 18th Century consisted of pastoral scenes of contented peasants amongst cows and fields. These bucolic idylls bore no resemblance to the harsh realities of the rural poor, yet it was these aspiring working and labouring classes would strive to adorn their dining table with such images. Scott’s readings of these everyday objects are made more complex as he removes or adds further elements. Cows are seemingly airbrushed out – the artist’s reference to the eradication of livestock during the foot and mouth crisis – wind turbines appear on the horizon, or a fighter plane is seen shooting across the sky transforming this romanticised setting into something altogether more sinister.
Scott not only engages with the dense lexicon of meaning that can be mined from the designs and images, but also considers the production of the objects themselves and the role that they have played in an industrialised capitalist society. Well into the 20th Century, the Staffordshire potteries employed thousands of skilled and unskilled men, women and children, making it key to historic strength of Britain’s manufacturing base. Its dramatic decline in the past fifty years as a result of cheaper manufacturing from abroad, particularly China, became another important focus of Scott’s work. Tableware rescued from the closed Spode factory has been reworked and recast by Scott to become powerful signifiers of the demise of a cornerstone of British manufacturing.
Publications available at PEER: Horizon, Transferware and Contemporary Ceramics (2015) eds Paul Scott and Knut Astrup Bull (£25 signed) and Paul Scott, Cuttings, Ruins, Refugees and Wild Roses (2016), The Scottish Gallery (£8 signed).
Paul Scott is a Cumbria based artist with an international reputation. He creates individual pieces that blur the boundaries between fine art, craft and design and his practice also extends to research, writing and curation. His work in several public collections including The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design Norway, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, National Museums Liverpool, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn Art Museum USA. Commissioned work can be found in a number of museums and public spaces in the North of England, including Carlisle, Maryport, Gateshead and Newcastle Upon Tyne. He has also completed large scale works in Hanoi, Vietnam and Guldagergård public sculpture park in Denmark. He has been Professor of Ceramics at Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO) since 2011. His current research project New American Scenery has been enabled by an Alturas Foundation artist award. Paul Scott is represented by The Scottish Gallery.
Photography: Ollie Hammick
We would like to thank PEER Visionaries, Sarah and Gerard Griffin, for their support of this exhibition.