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Stephen BOWERS

Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia born 1952

The links of Charmshire (an Antipodean homage to Grayson Perry) 2007 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: ceramics, plates, earthenware with underglaze painting

Dimensions: 7.0 h 65.0 diameter cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009 with funds from the Meredith Hinchliffe Fund
Accession No: NGA 2009.95
  • This large and commanding ceramic platter shows Stephen Bowers’s characteristic witty narrative realised through his complex visual composition and formidable underglaze illustration and painting skills. He describes this visual narrative as:

    … a collage of dumped street waste, and accretion of images from memory, media, museums and books. … I am interested in the legacy of tradition, in where things come from, in origins, stories and contexts … and in pottery’s role in contemporary life.1

    While the immediate appeal of this work is its complex painted decoration, it rises above flat collage through the transformative process of ceramics as its clay body, glazes and underglaze paint colours fuse into a unified three-dimensional and functional object of great visual density and presence. Through the wry humour and juxtapositions of the layered and overlapping visuals of this work, Bowers makes reference to the design conventions of popular traditional ceramics such as the ubiquitous blue-and-white Willow pattern found in many Australian homes (or found as shards in rubbish dumps). Also part of this visual illusion are painted fragments of botanical illustration of Australian flora and fauna such as banksias and cockatoos, well-known characters from Australian comics of the 1930s and Sydney landmarks such as the Opera House, Luna Park and the Harbour Bridge merging into the mannered Chinoiserie of the background.

    By using such references, Bowers links us to the role that ceramics can play in defining our intimate and domestic experiences of place, time and memory. His work links to a long tradition of surface design and visual narrative within Australian commercial and studio ceramic practice. The links are as diverse as the naturalistic on-glaze floral imagery of china painters of the early twentieth century, the mid-century interpretations of Australian indigenous art, and the cheeky irreverence of the ornate and satirical decorated porcelain work of a number of other Adelaide ceramicists during the 1980s. Using the format of the large display platter, Bowers also invokes and deconstructs older ceramic traditions, drawing on the styles of late eighteenth-century French fond bois (imitating wood and printed paper) and late nineteenth-century English interpretations of the overlapping, sectioned graphic elements of Japanese Imari brocade patterns. Such pieces filtered into the mass market through printed souvenir wares made by countless factories and sold in Australia since the mid-nineteenth century.

    Stephen Bowers was born in 1952 in Katoomba, New South Wales. He trained in Adelaide, South Australia, where he maintains his studio practice and plays a key role in the promotion of contemporary Australian craft as Managing Director of the JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design Centre.


    Robert Bell
    Senior Curator Decorative Arts and Design
    in artonview, issue 59, spring 2009

    1 Stephen Bowers, Stephen Bowers: Ming goes bling: white cockatoos—blue willow—Austral pop, Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, 2008, viewed on wesbite 3 November 2008.

    in artonview, issue 59, spring 2009