In the hands of Kurt Weiser, (b. 1950) the centuries-old tradition of china paint on porcelain is given new life. Weiser’s sumptuous, provocative teapots and jars, resplendent with lush jungle scenes, can be both alluring and unsettling. Detailed depictions of tropical splendor become wayward reveries as radiant colors and subtle distortions transform classic porcelain vessels.
Weiser, trained in ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Michigan, originally worked in an abstract, non-representational style with minimal surface decoration. While director of the Archie Bray foundation in Helena, Montana from 1977-88, he began to feel limited by this approach and contemplated new ways of working. Around 1990, he took the first step towards his current style when he covered a porcelain teapot with intricate botanical imagery using black and white sgraffito. After making a series of visits to Thailand, where he was inspired by the region’s luxuriant, intensely colored flora and fauna, a black and white palette no longer satisfied him. Seeking to capture Thailand’s richness, he began to experiment with China paints. Soon his skill as a colorist became an indispensable element of his work.
With the introduction of color into his work, Weiser also began to indulge his narrative impulses by incorporating figurative elements, drawn both from fantasy and art history, into his jungle scenes. Weiser’s figures, often nude and distorted across the planes of his vessels, move through steamy, Eden-like landscapes, interacting with the natural world they encounter. Themes of lust, predation, scientific curiosities, and the vulnerability of both man and nature abound in these scenes, resonating curiously with the cultivated vessel forms and refined medium Weiser has chosen.
Although Weiser has worked in this style for more than ten years, his work continues to evolve. The technical challenge of the overglazing process he uses, which requires multiple firings for each vessel and careful attention to the order in which colors are applied, forces him to thoroughly consider each piece he creates. Through refining this method of working, he has learned to take full advantage of the three-dimensionality of his surfaces by extending his scenes to fully encompass each vessel. In his recent work, he says that the softened, amorphous forms of his vessels should blend with their seamlessly painted surfaces so that the pots fade from view and “the painting is the three dimensional reality” floating in space as would a dream or reverie. Whether Weiser’s work is interpreted as three-dimensional painting or sensuously decorated porcelain, the pots he creates are among the most vivid and decadent of modern ceramics, providing a distinctive contribution to the ever-expanding medium.