Stephen Bird was born in the potteries district of Stoke-on-Trent in the United Kingdom in 1964 and arrived in Australia in 2008. Since then, he has been a part-time lecturer in ceramics at the National Art School in Sydney.
Before arriving in Australia, Bird undertook research at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent into the hidden meanings and political messages in mass-produced British ornamental ceramics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Such works often used the visual techniques of trompe l’oeil to imitate other materials in satires on art, consumerism and status, often incorporating souvenirs and memorabilia from the then new phenomena of travel and the appreciation of antiquities.
Bird further subverts this convention in his John Glover’s paint tray 2012, with humour, graphic imagery, ironic reinterpretations of nationalistic slogans and a sense of the absurd, all coalescing through his craftsmanship and skill in handling the complexities of multiple ceramic glazes in one work. The work places the émigré British painter John Glover into a different context, much as the painter found himself when considering the unfamiliar landscape of his new environment. The artist himself is removed, and we are left to build a picture of him through his equipment. The ubiquitous paint tray suggests banal domestic work, while the Toby jug used a paintbrush holder and the disembodied eyeballs on the tray jolt the viewer to a different reality, much as Glover might have intended through his work.
Bird plays with historical convention and the resulting work, entirely in glazed ceramics, exudes wit and charm through its apparent effortlessness.
Robert Bell AM Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013