Private View Tuesday 17 January 2012, 6-8pm
Kate MacGarry is pleased to announce Renee So’s second solo exhibition at the gallery.
Identified by its bulbous shape and the moulded face of a bearded man, Bellarmine was the English name given to the stoneware vessels imported from Rhineland, Germany from the 1500’s to the 1700’s for storing ale or wine. They later also came to be used as ‘witch bottles’ in the Elizabethan era –holding a boiled concoction of urine, fingernail and hair clippings with iron nails and pins– to protect oneself against witchcraft.
Bellarmine ware was initially very well executed, with the face on the vessel thought to represent a ‘wild man’ found in popular European folk traditions of the period. As the vessels were mass-produced for the English market by less skillful potters, the mask became progressively less naturalistic and more stylised until it developed into forms nicknamed the Bellarmine. The name ‘Bellarmine’ is in reference to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542–1621), who was strongly opposed to the Protestant church, and perhaps in mockery of the Catholic prohibition of drinking.
The work in this exhibition recalls the history of anthropomorphic ceramicware with their gradual stylization and abstraction over time and their multi-purpose function. The bulbous rounded form of the jug becomes transferred to the beard and the hair, and the simplified face becomes a mask devoid of specific facial features. In some sculptures, two Bellarmines become one by turning one upside down in a similar fashion as a King on a playing card or in varying degrees of rotation.
So works with ceramic and wool, creating sculptural and knitted portraits that suggest a multiplicity of lineages and styles. Her ceramic busts are built piecemeal from the base upward, borrowing conceits from military and aristocratic portraiture, theatre costuming, and ritual masks of ancient civilizations. Often crowned by curled wigs that seamlessly descend into honeycomb beards, So’s faces are structured by browlines reminiscent of gladiator helmets and facial features scoured into the clay surface like primitive artifacts.
RENEE SO born 1974, Hong Kong, lives and works in London.
Her work has recently been included in: Keno Twins 5, Barriera, Turin; first show, Kaliman Rawlin, Melbourne (both 2011); Keno Twins 4, Villa Merkel, Esslinger, Germany; Keno Twins 3, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne; Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London (all 2010); Jean_Luc Blanc: Opera Rock, CAPC – Musee d’art Contemporain, Bordeaux (2008) and SV07, Studio Voltaire, London (2007).
So also had solo exhibitions with Hopkinson Cundy, Auckland (2011); Uplands Gallery, Melbourne (2010) and Kate MacGarry (2009).