Catalog Text by Anne Bony
Our soul is transitive. It needs an object which affects it, immediately, just like a direct complement?
Awed since the eighties by the beauty of modern ceramics, Kristin McKirdy chose to make it the topic of research at university level. In 1991, she consolidates her intuition about the beauty of handmade objects with a Master of Fine Arts, guided by California ceramicist Adrian Saxe. With him, she confirms gestures, techniques, but more than anything, the soul element which makes of an object a work of art. Returning to France, she simultaneously works on a kind of figurative sculptural production made of limber vertical forms and a potter's production which she exhibits at creative art fairs. The utilitarian pieces give her the opportunity to capture form, to redefine it, to minister upon the pot a demanding mutation.
The work I do revolves around the vocabulary of ceramics. Without altering the object, she underlines its beauty. In her hands, clay returns to the authentic primeval pots, leathern pouches, calabashes, fascinating objects of a repertoire drawn up from the origins of civilization. She finds anew the primitive meaning of the pot, its fundamental function as container, the companion of man from birth to death. Her creation is highly charged symbolically, linked to the nourrishing earth, generous and plentiful provider. Kristin is demanding, she relentlessly probes the virtues of clay as material and its potentialities. She declines archetypal forms, then progressively relinquishes them, fondling and manipulating matter with great energy and infusing it with her own sensitivity. The art of ceramics has always referred to the human figure, as testified in the specific lexicon : the belly, the neck, the lip, the foot. She appropriates it. For me, that is a part of the identity of ceramics, I am not trying to emphasize it, it already exists. She builds up around empty space, raising a skin which encases an ideal volume, ceaselessly returning to the genesis of the potter's work with an approach that differs from the sculptor's, the latter composing his shapes by removing matter. Her thought traces a subtle alchemy between mass and void.
Some pieces, seemingly simple, pots, vases, bowls, deliver an intimate subtlety which is specifically hers : she invents a double skin which endows the piece with a surprising dimension, diverting the object from its utilitarian function. This inside veil wears a pure and shiny glaze, emotionally and esthetically attracting the eye within a void that confuses the senses. That choice enhances the fragility and smoothness of the innards of the vessel, in contrast with the outer surface, treated, as befits rough clay, with a lusterless slip.
To bear witness to her work entices profound thinking on the path taken by ideation : to comprehend how it unfolds, one must find the theme from which the form flows. The forms repertoried by Kristin McKirdy take root within her peerless mastery of her craft. She is drawn irresistibly to voluptuous full bellied vases and pots, through which she can compose hybrid volumes. Her basic inspiration is human nature, she invents a generic, embraceable form, a womb which stands erect with full and sensuous curves, much like a Moebius ring. Hollowed out circles punctuate the polished outer coating with soft colours. A formal genesis evolving through a mutation in a scale of subtle variations, albeit discreetly and perennially connected.
The transition toward novel ground, in combination with her art of composition, is linked to a sense of freedom, of suspended time that she lived with great intensity during her two year residence at the Manufacture de Sèvres (2008 ; 2010). Preceded on the site by such great artists as Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, ceramicists Émile Decoeur and Jean Mayodon, decorators Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann and René Gabriel and more recently designer Pierre Charpin and architect Christian Biecher, Kristin welcomed the invitation of Manufacture director David Cameo, to interact with the twenty-seven master craftsmen that make up the DNA of the national manufacture founded in 1745. A priceless parenthesis very much to the taste of the solitary artist McKirdy, where she was able, with the help and savoir-faire of the white gold specialists, to create a magnificent piece of work. She speaks about the five months she worked with the craftsman who helped her shape a composed still life, during which time she was free to throw herself into a kind of creative wandering, producing hundreds of drawings. Forgotten in her sketchbooks, some of those spring back in spite of herself when she begins to work on the exhibit for the Pierre Marie Giraud Gallery. I surprised myself with what I was in the midst of creating. The forms she shows today may have been inspired by her Eleven elements on a celestial blue support, a piece she produced for Sèvres. These elements were hand molded into a variety of shapes, full, free, undefinable, a juxtapostion of small bones, a variety of body forms, in an awesome creation.
An intuition that Kristin comes to confirm, magnify and turn around, in a series of five untitled large pieces which call for embrace, with their very sensuous volumes, a medley of rotund, firm and unique characters engaged in a danse full of gaiety and motion. These vertical sculptural figures impose their curves and counter-curves, the basic forms built up with coils, then cast off in a humorous helter skelter strategy, sensuality and the wish not to yield to elegant perfection. I allowed myself to get carried away by what was going on. The surfaces are natural, rough, underlined with discreet scraping. The uniqueness of this pageant of five fanciful characters comes from a satiny white glazing neatly lining the rotund limbs, an effect that is strengthened through anomalies, round protuberances which animate the surface and seem to break up the fullness of form. That represents the expression of the being, each individual's personality. An interpretation of private space, of intimacy. These forms exude a feeling of coherence, a dynamic and bold engagement. Kristin reminds us of Hans Arp, Isamu Noguchi... artists with whom she feels close and with whom she shares an inspiration drawn up from a history which belongs to no one, the minimalist beauty extant in natural forms. She generates those forms, underlines them in white, and at times, for a laugh, in tutti frutti colours, yellow, blue, red because intimacy needs fun, humour. These pieces of sculpture are unique and independant. Made of white or red clay, they express intimately their reference to the container, to the pot. If it is vertical, there is necessarily a reference to the vase.
Kristin is passionate about the themes of individuality, community, uniqueness, relatedness to others. She has a series in the exhibition : a small crowd, made of figures grouped in twosomes seemingly involved in small talk, a study of dissimilar characters whose sole ressemblance is their common base. I place them next to each other, but they are quite different, they live in their own world, lonely yet together. She also stages a scene with five or seven figures, which are not really pots, rather extended torsoes. Their colours are simple : a white glaze over polished or faded brown clay singles out each figure. Glazed areas break up and rythm the pieces, translating an idea inspired by Picasso, who uses decoration to fragment form. It is something like that, I purposely introduce a sort of confusion in the reading of form. What makes for the complexity of the work is the way she gathers and plays with the figures.
Three is an extremely important numeral : three is beyond the monomaniacal me, the contradiction of duality, here we reach the collective. Then come five and seven... There are other triads : form, colour, space ; the three dimensions of space : height, width, depth ; the elementary forms : sphere, cube, pyramid ; the primary colours : red, blue, yel- low ; the trilogy danse, music, costume.
She pursues with a masterful evocation of relatedness with a territory, as materialized in the form of a large plateau made from coils, representing a playground, where figures of random age and height play together, a reflection on the sharing between generations, a white piece with contrasts of shiny and dull, interspersed with dug out holes of colour and balls glazed in primary colours, which create a vibrating form. Hollowed out or full, the sphere seems quite recurrent in the new works by Kristin McKirdy, for whom this essential form constitutes a focal point in her strategy of full and empty.
As for the circle, the question of causes presents no difficulty : it originates in the center, its history comes out of the point, this point radiates out into all directions
Pursuing her quest, Kristin invents objects that are open, sliced up, interstitial : glaciers, trunks or elongated bodies which materialize the physical or psychic tension connecting people, in other words life. Double confusing pieces which offer up a richly glazed inner space. A beautifully moving topography reveals a unique crag so slight it can hardly be spotted. Glazing helps me tighten meaning. The tip of her pencil traces an insanely refined road. With her medium, clay, she attempts the impossible shaping of feeling, philosophy, abstraction.
All forms are citizens of the realm of abstraction
Relinquishing the organic, Kristin McKirdy posits a city, a village, a hamlet of five slab-built houses, a representation of constructed space, individual and collective. Through a phenomenon of interaction and proximity, suggested by a male and female part, she invites us to consider the need for relational perspective. A house symbolizes a sacred space which shelters the living, dignified and fragile beings in need of love and protection : a scenario centered on the human.
This artist draws her inspiration from her observation of the human race, offering a very personal vision of life, a reflection on the energy and tension which make for coexistence. All those who are creative are led to question, I believe.
At the occasion of this new exhibit, Kristin McKirdy combines mixed forms and colours to create sensuously perceptible scenes. She generates infinite possibilities, draws her energy from the void. She imposes, not visages but visions. Although reading her work may seems linear, there remains a lingering doubt .
(From exhibition catalog: Kristin McKirdy, 2011, p.9-11)
Catalog Text by Elisabeth Védrenne
Contemplating the pieces of sculpture created by Kristin Mc Kirdy, one understands rather quickly that they are not made of stone cut with a chisel. Doubt begins when one observes the surfaces, the grain in the matter, the variety of polish and the density of glaze. When one guesses at the composition and the materialisation of some pieces engraved outside, shiny and smooth inside, with parts brought together in a captivating contrast. That assemblage of heterogeneous parts does not jive with the idea the non initiated entertains of traditional ceramics. Density, porousness, scratchiness, greyish or earthy tones, glazings of a milkwhite or brightly coloured enamel, confirm slowly one's vague feeling : these sculptural and organic objects stand out of the ordinary by their construct and their matter. The aura born from this original uncertainty is what both unsettles and attracts us to her work.
Vases, bowls, jugs, pitchers, calabasas, jars, amphorae, urns. In short, pottery the world over has at all times taken biomorphic shapes. Since the origins of man, it has adopted the ideal measures and forms of the contents : the sphere, both hands open and joined to collect and drink water, the whole in the rockface, the lake in the crater, the nest, the coccoon, the belly. Forms reassuringly maternal, natural forms to shelter and preserve, hollows waiting to be filled and to protect their content.
Present and recent forms created by Kristin, so robust and opulent, are nevertheless much more complex. They do feature cavities, hollows, niches, basins or potential craters in the shape of paunchy plates or trays. Observe the similarity of terms between geography and cookware. However, if some of these seem to expand at times, they do not open up, they lead nowhere, but close down onto themselves. One is led to think of sewn lips, walled-in tunnels, mute bodies. The hole is filled instantly. The eye searches for an opening, seems to find it, peers into it. But nothing. The bottom, close at hand, is staring at you. A pouch, a clove of garlic, a fava husk before maturation, just nicely closed envelopes. One detects a sketched depth, a shallow basin, at times nothing at all. Elsewhere, there are like oversized tops, aggregated as though by a magnet, strewn with tiny balls, trinkets or rings in jolly colours, like in an imaginary game of croquet, or oblong bricks, shaped like bones or elongated eights, or Möbius rings, which one could well imagine piling up in an unusual construct, or spread side by side, touching, sniffing at one another and seductively penetrating one another, or else apple-like forms lined up on their pedestal, making a perfect target for a passing William Tell. Forms that suggest old time toys, carved out of massive wood, such as heavy and dense children's play cubes, those frugal shapes whose minimal simplicity triggered flights of fancy.
Kristin's forms are closing up upon themselves very enigmatically, and nothing proves to the naked eye that they contain indeed an empty space, a secret opening, another object, or the emptiness of any object created on a potter's wheel. What do Kristin's creations hide ? The mental question game about full and empty gets started in the viewer and follows with astonishment about the subtle side step to which she submits her forms, which appear more and more ambivalent, like hybrids with a dash of humour.
Her forte is to give us to see at first objects that are powerful, calm, sensuous and reassuring, then on second sight, to solicit in us a throng of questions. Nothing is exactly what it ought to be. Husks or pods are overdimensioned, cannon shells become swollen breasts, acorns become horns of plenty. First impression fools us just as well as the appearance. Seen up close, the object seems simple ; then, as we move back, we perceive something else, our mind starts to wander. Its « vegetal wombs», the darkest part of this outer skin made of chamottée earth, whose bumpy surface appears scarred, scratched like a tree bark, turn into soft hills, grassy knolls or round boulders covered in microscopic seaweed deep at the bottom of the ocean. Everything can be imagined. Lines are curving, panting, hip shaped, rolling like waves, climbing abrupt volcanic cones, or, in the contrary, slicing keenly into a deep canyon. A whole animated relief, carved by light, with turns, precipitous slopes, cliffs. With perspective and depth all around, the pieces take life, creating as many landscapes as there are viewers. Kristin has delicately set up a repertoire of shapes, simultaneously pure and biomorphic, l'air de rien, while always leaving the door open to any possible reading.
Before reaching forms so mysteriously elementary, Kristin Mc Kirdy has ploughed the world of ceramic in all possible directions, just as she has traveled throughout periods and cultures the world over.
Can you truly tell if something particular has predisposed you to choose what you chose to do ? Kristin likes to say that she has always been fond of pottery and that she has practically always taken pleasure working with it, without thinking of making it her life?s work. She only took some time to identify it as her calling.
Born in Toronto to American parents, she grows up in Europe and lives a happy childhood in England, Belgium and France within a genuine family. The same as numerous children with a cosmopolitan life, who change often houses and countries, Kristin cherishes the little pebbles people sow not to lose their way. She takes interest in objects, the so-called « inanimated » things which only take life in the palms of those who created them and which serve them as humble tools or as go-betweens with the gods. Those objects one takes or gives to lovers, to children, to the dead, have since the dawn of time, been our fragile and meager trails. A votive statuette, a shred of cloth, a piece of pottery act as unique and impoverished tatters of our memories. Even forgotten, they build our collective memory, they trace our origins. They are our mirrors and no matter how broken, dead and « turned off », they retain their souls, they give out a small flame which can still generate light after one thousand years, they exhale a thin voice which can still whisper stories, they enable us to reconstruct History. Kristin knows all that intuitively and decides to study archeology with Philippe Bruneau at the Institute of Art and Archeology of the University of Paris IV. There she learns to analyse the debris of any object, to be careful not to superimpose her own cultural certainties on a yet unknown object, to limit oneself to what is seen, to analyse and understand the evolution in the manufacturing of the object, in short to accumulate, as in a police investigation, a maximum of « proofs » and details permitting the reconstitution of its life style, its environment, whatever the object can reveal of its former « totality ». One can see this process operate in her artistic work. Typically, she spends her evenings and sundays with ceramics, an activity she enjoys and somehow finds reassuring.
Many roundtrips between New York, Paris, Canada and Paris again, Iceland, and again Paris. Journeys that follow a complicated chronological order sometimes. Almost as though trying to postpone the moment to dive in, she spins around her desire in narrower and narrower circles, cultivating to the extreme her taste for perfection and accumulating knowledge. She studies art history in Paris, receiving a master for her work on Emile Lenoble, a French ceramicist of the early twentieth century. She then leaves for New York, where she takes evening courses in a school of ceramics, a real hands on experience. But she feels everywhere out of place, different. She imbibes the theories of Bernard Leach, then very fashionable in the USA, mingling with the japanese tradition, and produces small pieces out of sandstone and porcelain. In spite of her great technical skill, she remains dissatisfied, she loses courage and fails to understand what she is looking for. A man will then play a determining role : Adrian Saxe. The encounter with this star of American post-modern ceramics will open her to light, free her from clichés, redondances, fears. She attends his courses in Los Angeles in the late eighties. With him, she understands that virtuosity is nothing without the preliminary idea which sustains the realisation process. Saxe's extremely brilliant and precious style does not fit in at all with her own preoccupation, but she admires his approach, his intellectual and technical daringness, she finally admits that she too must dare, let go of her moorings, mix up art and ceramics, so long as she knows what she wants, that rigour canrime with amour, without putting shackles on envisioned freedom. That one can refer to the art of the Cyclades as well as to precolumbian pottery, to so called primitive or archaic forms just as much as to the provocations of Louise Bourgeois, to Etruscan ceramic as well as to the Picasso of the twenties and thirties, to Isamu Noguchi as well as to Arp, Brancusi or Morandi, to painting or sculpture, without committing an unforgivable crime towards the world of ceramics. She then acquires, step by step, with great patience, without treading the beaten paths, but by taking side tracks and footbridges, the freedom to love ceramics in her own way. A few years spent in Iceland, in a rugged intellectual isolation, confirm her in her choices where French cartesianism joins in with American styled uninhibited versatility. She also imbibes very strongly the natural and spectacularly wild and telluric forms of the island. She then finds a natural and smooth bridge between her great anthropomorphic figures, sort of magic idols with the buxom and opulent forms of the nineties, which can already pass for authentic sculptures, to pieces often presented in serials, in twosome dialogues, seemingly chained together .
Her work definitely articulates into a biomorphic universe, essentially sculptural, akin to the world of Arp or Moore, both of whom she admires. As often with the Jean Arp of the thirties, she favours variations on a simple theme which she distills in games of multiple combinations. She ties in constantly the abstract with real figures, those famous little pebbles imprinted on our collective unconscious, whence producing a genuine artistic emotion. Synthesis between matter and spirit, symmetry and asymmetry, idea and emotion, brings to birth a powerful feeling of life.
Abstract forms, at times minimal and geometric, intermarry with a sensuous and refined materiality, as only her subtle handling of ceramics can produce. Surface takes as much importance as form. Indeed, she does not wish to give up the possibilities given by the matter and the type of work peculiar to ceramics. Her « scratchings » remind us of Max Ernst?s surrealistic « forests », her hesitations between a pedestal or none, or a particular polish, are already the preoccupations of a sculptor.
Arp wrote in 1952 : « I draw what rests, floats, flies, ripens and falls. I model fruit as they rest, clouds that float and lift, stars that mature and fall, all symbols of eternal transformation in infinite peace. » She, however, does not sculpt by taking away matter, by cutting off, polishing, removing. She sculpts the way one fashions earth, by constructing an inner emptiness around a wheel, by adding to matter. Firing, fire, temperature, add to those pieces a dimension unknown to most sculptors. She invents her own vegetative and biological forms, in harmonies or contrasts of colours that facilitate an open eyed dream state. She composes curves that generate an idea of fecundity and maturity, at times counteracted with abrupt angles, accidents that break up their vitality. She creates a poetic universe made of contemplative patience and charged with the particular energy of a body of work which is neither purely abstract nor solely figurative. Somehow she comes back to the genesis of life where one can also see death coiled up when one looks up close. A silent and motionless world in which the infinite erupts into the finite.
(From exhibition catalog: Kristin McKirdy, 2007, p.15-21)