The Power Plant

Shary Boyle: Lace Figures

Shary Boyle

Past Exhibition

Mar 24 – May 27 2006


Shary Boyle, Ouroboros, 2006. Porcelain, china paint, lustre. 16 x 26 x 18 cm. Courtesy of the artist.


Reid Shier

In her recent paintings, drawings and small-scale figurative sculptures, Toronto artist Shary Boyle has created a hallucinatory and libidinous universe with a spare, unsettling realism. Her fantastic landscapes and surreal tableaux are predominantly populated by women and animals whose transformations and fixations are inscribed in wounds, bruises, excretions, and disfigurements. The Power Plant is pleased to premiere a highly ambitious series of works that Boyle has produced over the past two years, in conjunction with her studies in the craft of fine-porcelain lace-draping. This arcane and delicate technique for adorning china figures has been re-imagined in Boyle's hands, and acts as a startling foil for the inherent violence of her subject matter. In these small, extravagantly detailed statues, the artist's fascination with repressed undercurrents in mythology and fairy tales finds an evocative and compelling new form of expression.

Boyle first began working with porcelain figures and lace-draping in 2002 after encountering eighty-six-year-old Viviane Hausle in Seattle, Washington. Hausle taught the technique as a specialized hobby craft, and a two-day course of instruction with her sparked Boyle's continuing engagement with the art and its history. Lace-draping was invented in the late nineteenth century by a German ceramic factory, the Sitzendorfer Porzellanmanufaktur in Thuringia. As with other fine ceramic figurines, an initial model is built in soft porcelain clay from individually moulded pieces – arms, torsos, legs, and heads – which are joined together before the lace-draping begins. Then, as Boyle describes it, "cotton lace, saturated in liquid porcelain, is carefully applied by hand over the greenware. During a firing of 1400 degrees the fabric burns away in the kiln, leaving only delicate porcelain filigree in its place. [It is a] time-consuming method of porcelain decoration [that has now] lost favour in the interests of mass production, and lace-draping has become a rarified skill. There are only a few factories worldwide that still employ the technique; [the] most famous in Germany is the original Sitzendorf factory, and in Ireland the Irish-Dresden Company.”

Boyle stresses that “In the eighteenth century economics of Europe, porcelain was an exclusively white, masculine domain of artisans and monarchies, with a product produced for the privileged upper class.” But the nature of the craft shifted in the twentieth century, and although porcelain had historically acted as a signifier and symbol of male prestige, power and good taste, the craft of china painting and porcelain decoration is now practiced in modern America as an almost exclusively female hobby-craft. Since 1950, when lace-draping was introduced into North America, hobby clubs and husband-and-wife teams have advanced the technique through small grassroots associations and home studios. Boyle continues to work with women throughout this intricate network, often employing and utilizing the individual moulds the hobbyists have made for their own figurines in tandem with adaptations of their craft techniques. Boyle states of this social milieu: "the performative experience of creating relationships with elderly strangers, while introducing and exchanging creative ideas between cultures and generations is a crucial aspect of my project."

Photo: Rafael Goldstein.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Porcelain, overglaze, lustre, and thread. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Porcelain, overglaze and lustre. Collection of the artist. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Porcelain, overglaze and lustre. Collection of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Porcelain, overglaze and lustre. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.