An artist long devoted to the lost causes of notorious public characters, Mark Thompson’s The Brothers Grim exhibition opens at BMG Art on Friday, 19 February 2016 at 6.30pm and runs through to Saturday, 12 March 2016.
With his unsettled figures, their deprecating gestures, strange habits, surreal juxtapositions and
underlying disturbance of weird wonderland, this is pottery that purrs like a Cheshire cat. Few manipulate clay in this manner.
Collectable since birth it would seem, the ageless enfant terrible of Australian ceramics, Mark
Thompson’s signature of informed but elusive fantasy is always uncommonly skilfully executed
and powerful. Vitrification and verisimilitude only add to the candied, cheesy, cabinet-of-curiosity
deception/revelation of his works. Like the questionable nocturnal attractions in the carnival in Ray
Bradbury’s Something wicked this way comes (Simon & Schuster, 1962) the familiar is revoked and its other, less familiar side, resurrected.
On one level Thompson’s works might be seen as offering smirking ripostes, jokey jocular barbs, edgy entendres, puns and lampoons. On another level they are less accessible, more suggestive, strange and disquieting. Contradictions and the push-pull of recognition versus revulsion, attraction versus repulsion are constantly at play. Tensions resolve slowly. Like the xenogenetic brood parasites in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (Michael Joseph, 1957) strange substitutions seem to take place.
“This exhibition is working from a base of knowledge that straddles the worlds of opera/theatre and ceramics”, says Mark Thompson. “The figures are often dressed in versions of opera costumes, the designs of which have come from my recent work with Opera Australia (e.g. AIDA, last years’ Opera on the Harbour). ”
Thompson describes his work as “Traditional antique style Meissen figurines with an overlay of humour, strange, blackened and antiqued, half size nude women with Baroque headdresses based on religious iconography and 18th century chandeliers, poised as if to take tea. These are all images meant to provoke in the viewer a memory of the familiar. That is, they look as if they are old but the otherness of the overlayed idea has nothing to do with the original. ”
Thompson retains something of the prized arcane traditions of the great 17th century Meissen hardpaste modeller Johann Joachim Kandler – but is it only something? Are these Chinoiserie dolls and figurines meant to be nick-knacks for semi-detached urban palaces? conversation pieces for medium security condominiums? mantle-piece reassurances of 3D figuration in the age of the flat screen? Perhaps, but, as well as the familiar, in creeps the realization that we are gazing on elements of a staged, glossy (but haunted) carnival world.
But this is not just about virtuosity, though certainly few can model clay like Thompson.
Look again, for these at-first-glance sideshow diversions of phantasmagoria hint at darker
secrets. Thompson’s tableaus enter our consciousness like actors emerging from the wings
in an opera where the main event takes place upon that spectral stage; the recesses of the mind.
An artist long devoted to the lost causes of notorious public characters, including actors,
alchemists, apparitions, boulevardists, brats, coiners, collectors, conjurers, filibusters, flaneurs, footpads, fortune tellers, fraudsters, highwaymen, housebreakers, idlers, incendiaries, larrikins, muses, mutineers, palmists, pickpockets, pirates, rake-hells, receivers, rioters, scholars, sharpers, scribblers, sots, subscribers, swindlers, tinkers and other persons of noted habit who deserve a break. Thompson puts polish on these tarnished regimental enlisted, and offers up their images as redemptive (if minatory) mementos.
The Brothers Grim
Exhibition at BMG Art
444 South Road, Marleston,
South Australia 5033
Dates: Friday 19 Feb – Saturday 12 March 2016
Times: Tuesday – Friday: 11.00 am - 5.00 pm, Saturday: 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm