Ginger Geyer’s wildly original porcelain sculptures function as “mash-ups” of sensibilities, biblical and art allusions, and even genres. Take the relatively simple sculpture, “Placeholder for Hope,” for example: a placemat with napkins, some in napkin rings and some simply folded. These objects from everyday life are “decorated” with adaptations of the “Virtues and Vices” from Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua. Like the placemat and napkins, virtues and vices are everyday experiences—or habits. Without being didactic, the artwork makes us stop and connect to it and to the worlds it evokes. It is both whimsical and deeply serious.
“Placeholder for Hope,” like all of Geyer’s art, stands on its own as a work to enjoy—but behind it is another genre entirely—storytelling. Each sculpture is embedded in an ongoing free-verse narrative of the everyday and sometimes magical adventures of a “wise child” character named “Chlora.” Chlora is a resisting observer of the world she inhabits, especially the world of the assumptions of most adults about the way things are and the way things should be. While Chlora plays the role of a child in the narrative, her inner musings are those of an artist with a wide-ranging knowledge of art history, literature, biblical stories and verses, and popular culture.
The narrative is divided into twelve parts, one for each month of the year. For example, the November story takes Chlora to a Thanksgiving celebration at her aunt’s farm. On the counter is a big bowl of bread dough—in the narrative, a “real” bowl of dough, but also, in our “real” world, a Geyer sculpture of a bowl with a ragged piece of cloth over it. In addition to the story itself and the two-dimensional image of the sculpture that appears in the text, there is a text box, set off from the narrative, with the biblical quote: “ . . . and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”—Isaiah 64:6.” Back within the story, one of Chlora’s cousins pinches off a piece of dough and “sarcastically” quotes another scripture: “‘The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven; behold! It is within you’ whereupon he swallowed the dough.” (If you read this narrative on Geyer’s website, you will see pictures of the “Daily Bread Bowl” sculpture embedded as “illustrations”—including a detail of the sculpture in which the ragged cloth is lifted up to disclose the word “leaven.”)
As with “Daily Bread Bowl,” our experience of “Placeholder for Hope” is also deepened by the story in which the fictional representation of the sculpture appears. We discover (if we hadn’t noticed) that the napkin rings are golden crowns. As Chlora and her aunt set the table, Chlora asks, “Who wants to eat off these [virtues and vices]?” Her Aunt replies that “holiness is nothing but a set of habits, so we might as well get habitual about it.” Chlora then asks “What is the difference between a habit and a chore?” and thinks to herself that someday she will make her own set of china “somewhere between Judy Chicago’s dinner plates and Haviland.”
These are relatively simple examples of the way Geyer’s sculpture and text interact. Far more complex are the sculptures with multiple biblical and art historical allusions—for example, the patchwork quilt of “Patchwork Hospitality,” which contains 32 adaptations from art history, including Vermeer, Field, Tanner, Duccio, Byzantine, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and others. Or the “Chainsaw Catechism,” a chainsaw with bits of grapevine still clinging to it and, as a sculpture, with adaptations of Durer’s “Last Supper” woodcut, Kathe Kollwitz’s “Brot!” lithograph, Gauguin’s painting, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” and the image of a mosaic from San Vitale, Ravenna, “Christ Separating the Sheep from the Goats.”
Chlora discovers this chainsaw—or, at least, the narrative chainsaw—on a frosty morning in a barn:
Streaks of sunshine shot through slats in the walls.
It was a blinding light, with dancing dust
illuminated like a halo pulverized into bits.
Baby Jesus was born in a barn; his first glimpse of
daylight probably looked like this.
The barn was a sacred space, like Jackson Pollock’s barn
where he played his soft jazz.
The sheep and goats were cuddled up
like clouds in heaven.
“Unique” is an over-used word, but Ginger Geyer’s eerily realistic porcelain sculptures of everyday objects, covered with sacred art, and embedded in a poetic vision, as narrated by a spiritually awake but irreverent artist-child—well, there’s nothing like it.
- Betty Sue Flowers March 2010
Betty Sue Flowers is the former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum and an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. Flowers is a native Texan and graduated from the University of Texas and the University of London. She is the author of a number of texts, and edited the book and acted as a consultant to the 1988 documentary, The Power of Myth, a series of interviews between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. She currently resides in New York City.
See Ginger Geyer’s sculpture in the following exhibitions:
Ginger Geyer: Porcelain Sculpture at Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden
Ginger Geyer: The Porcelain Reformation, curated by Dr. Richard Brettell, at The MAC
April 10 – May 15, 2010