Meissen Porcelain is the perfect medium for Jen Ray’s themes of decadence, opulence, control and status. Developed in the eighteenth-century, the Meissen manufactory introduced the valued luxury material to Europe. It remains the forerunner for artistic porcelain production and limited-edition art-works in its mythic medium. Meissen strives to refresh porcelain’s potential as an artistic medium by collaborating with unconventional international artists such Anselm Reyle, Birgit Brenner, Chris Antemann, Irina Polin, Marc Pätzold and Rigo Schmidt who use the material as a base for painting and conceptual sculpture. Appropriately, Ray’s collaboration with Meissen challenges porcelain’s dainty contemporary connotations.
Ray’s contribution to this series is an ax made composed of milky porcelain flowers. Playing with porcelain’s Rococo tradition, the ax is also an elegant memento-mori. The flawlessly crafted petals’ hard and cold beauty asserts the material’s preciousness while the rustic form is a teasing reminder that porcelain is a practical art form. Here, Ray discloses more about its meaning and origins.
AFH: Tell me about playing with the tensions between porcelain’s fragility and an ax…
JR: It was important that the form itself was based on a modern, utilitarian object. If not, than it might have become too sweet because of the beautiful, highly traditional flower overly. The tension comes from marrying objects that seem at odds with each other.
AFH: How does this contrast come together for you?
JR: I think the axe form and the flowers work so well together because it’s as if the delicate flowers have devoured the violent axe.
AFH: How does this ax relate to Meissen, as a German brand?
JR: When I got involved with Meissen, I could have created a project and then moved on. Instead, once I began to delve into the history of Meissen and the techniques of Meissen, than I was so fascinated that I began to look for ways to incorporate Meissen into my entire body of work. The axe is the outcome of my immersion in Meissen. It is a combination of romanticism and hard reality.
AFH: How does this project fit with your drawings and performances. Is this ax a possible piece to your other narratives?
JR: Yes, I even included a drawing of a flower covered porcelain axe in a drawing before I made the actual axe. I feel that it’s a natural weapon for my characters to wield. I would love to create a performance where the actors are holding these axes. They should not just hang on the wall.
AFH: Were porcelain figurines part of your home in your youth in North Carolina or early introduction to art?
JR: Well, we didn’t have anything that fancy around my house but my best friend had a rich grandmother who had a couple of “Dresden figures” which had lace skirts made of porcelain. They were a bit dusty but I was fascinated by them. How did they get the porcelain to look like lace? I believe they dipped the lace into porcelain and then of course the lace burns away in the kiln.
AFH: My grandmother is obsessed with Lladró porcelain figurines. They have this distinctive blah colour. Resenting them was formative for me. I am so glad that you’re redeeming the medium. Tell us about the Meissen collaboration. How did that develop?
JR: The Meissen Art Campus reached out to a group of artists and I happened to be one of them. I toured the Meissen factory and museum and totally fell in love with the whole thing right then. I began by painting various porcelain objects and when these were completed I was hooked and wanted to make some sculptural works. Luckily they said yes to my proposal for more works