Sunday, 2 February 2014




I came across these "mind boggling ceramic sculptures" on a blog I often peruse on the regular called My Modern Metropolis. That's right, these charming little critters are indeed ceramic and are the creation of West Virgina artist Brett Kern. These particular pieces are just a few examples of the works Kern featured in what I believe is his most recent exhibition,  hosted by Concord University's art department in Feb/March 2013. As you may have guessed, they are meant to mimic inflatable toys, air valves and all.

Brett Kern via My Modern Met 

I don't know if it's because I enjoyed the "Animal Stories" exhibition at Toronto's Gardiner Museum so much, but lately I have really been quite interested in ceramics. And apparently animal-themed ones at that. I have practically no background knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the art of ceramics but, heck, isn't that the beauty of art? You can still enjoy it even if you have no idea what's "really" going on!

Ceramic sculpture by Janet Macpherson,
an artist who featured similar works to this
in the "Animal Stories" exhibition

I especially enjoy when ceramic artists explore really playful and colourful themes (literally and figuratively), as I find that it really challenges perhaps more typical perceptions of ceramics as "just" impractical, usually expensive, decorative pieces or vessels for holding things. Who knew ceramics could be so fun or carry such diverse stories (well, I didn't anyway)! In the case of Kern's critters below, the artist uses them not only to visibly express nostalgia for his childhood, but also as tools that help preserve his childhood memories.

Brett Kern via My Modern Met

In discussing his inspiration for these pieces, Kern states "Movies, television, toys and games dominated the cultural landscape of my youth. I am a product of this specific time period, and I like to think of my artwork as the fossils that will help preserve it"(Kern, My Modern Metropolis). If you'd like to learn a bit more about Kern's thought process behind these works, he has a great write up addressing this on his personal website. I particularly liked the connection he drew between the mold-making process of his works and the natural process of fossilization.

Brett Kern

While many of his sculptures keep with the inflatable dino theme, Kern has mimicked other objects in his creations as well, like the basket of whoopie cushions below. He has also collaborated with other artists like Justin Rothshank, whose own ceramic designs Kern tattooed onto his dino sculptures.

Bret Kern

Kern and Rothshank

As a final note, I just wanted to mention that Kern also has his own Etsy store and, from the looks of it, makes out quite well selling his works commercially. I think this raises some interesting points regarding the commercialization of art. For example, does the fact that Kern can essentially make these works to order for interested buyers detract at all from their meaning as "artworks"?

I know I certainly wouldn't mind owning one of these dinos or perhaps a woodchuck if i had a spare $600 kicking around. However, despite the fact that these are all handmade by one person, I still technically wouldn't really be investing in a "one of a kind" artwork, as he sells many of the same kinds of sculpture. In that case, do these objects then just become expensive, reproducible trinkets or are they still works of art despite their reproducibility (the words of Bourdieu are already ringing in my ears)? I'll leave you to grapple with these philosophical musings while I continue to browse Etsy.


1 comment:

  1. To finish with the end, etsy is such a fascinating space to study I believe in relation to the nature of the contemporary DYI/crafty artist (or is s/he an artist?). It seems like etsy is a space quite high in the digital taste hierarchies (Bourdieu ringing in my ears too!) as it allows for artists to display cultural capital by association with a space (or is it a space?). I am full of questions today - probably because I just finished teaching and getting ready for tomorrow's class :)