In great taste! Anna Barlow fashions ice cream fantasies into scrumptious-seeming ceramics By James Brewer
Great landscapes and seascapes usually feature in the fine art diet – but today we shall savour some scrumptious plate-scapes. Yes, you did read the word plates: as in dinner and dessert crockery, and as the vehicles for appetising servings and scoops of ice cream. Anna Barlow sets before us life-sized trompe l’oeuil dishes of pudding course sweets in porcelain and glaze, from full sundae glories to the remains of the day.
Her summery concentration on ice cream lifts the spirits, especially during the northern winters, but it is would be short-sighted to look on these pieces as cute and trivial decorations. Why ice cream? Because it is a momentary and yet memorable treat, says Anna, one that can evoke memories of sensations and tastes, as well as prompt a fantasy of desired indulgences.
There have been opportunities to sample Anna’s appetising ceramic helpings at events including the London Art Fair, the many Affordable Art Fairs, and other shows in New York, Chicago and Singapore, notably with the support of southwest London’s Bicha Gallery. It is not all smiles, though. The fare points to the excesses of consumerism, and to the social rituals attached to food.
As a canvas, Anna sometimes uses cushions; or walls (walls! How many readers will have dined on delights such as raspberry ripple or soft scoop vanilla from the 80-year-old brand of Wall’s ice cream, now part of Unilever). That she did for a series she called You scream, I scream, fashioning montages of smashed desserts mixed with shards of plate, pointing to the uncomfortable reality of eating with others at times when dinner-table emotions end in personality clashes and a mish-mash of left-overs. Greed and indecision can be dining companions. This is why Anna says that her spotlight is on food but the interest is in the “who, where and why.”
Anna combines the bright colours of earthenware glaze with high-fired, vitrified porcelain (which produces touchable texture in the wafers and cones) to come up with highly original and dazzling work. It took a lot of experimenting with slip casting, press moulding, hand building and piping to emulate often sloppy confections including wafers, cherries, strawberry sauces and choc toppings. The colours have to be just right; otherwise, they turn the viewers’ tummies. Sounds complicated, but she avers: “I try to put clay through as similar a process as possible to the real ice cream.”
That is essential to her aim of creating what she calls a “visual edibility, ” captured and frozen – or at least chilled – in time. One of her mentors, the leading ceramist Kate Malone, has said: “The level of detail and skill in Anna Barlow’s ice cream creations is bewitching… each seemingly simple and fun piece is actually a complex and informed assembly of research and knowledge of porcelain, clay and glaze, resulting in a beautiful work of art.”
Please see www.bichagallery.com