This November, Artereal Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new works by Sydney-based artist Ebony Russell. Having established a reputation with lightening speed, as one of the new generation of experimental ceramicists pushing the boundaries of the medium further and further into the realm of contemporary art, Ebony Russell is well known for her decadent, ostentatious and overtly feminine ceramic creations. Executed in a sugary sweet palette, her practice draws on the familiar lexicon of romanticised and kitsch decorative ornaments, imbuing them with a nostalgia which harks back to childhood and a girlish longing for more, more, more. This reference to the hopes and dreams which define childhood is counterbalanced by an awareness of the disappointment which adulthood inevitably brings, as fantasy and illusion slowly crack and splinter…
“There is a universal understanding of that essentially bittersweet essence to one’s birthday. We can all in some way relate to that feeling of being celebratory and ecstatic for all that we are and all that we have, whilst at once feeling a sense of mourning – of the loss of who we were and what might have been and the sort of inherently inextricable angst we often feel about how to appropriately capture all that in an acceptably festive way.
‘Disenchantment is the blessing of becoming yourself’.
Unlike the willing suspension of disbelief, disenchantment is a stage of growing out of and growing into self. Once a spell is broken it cannot exercise any more power over the bewitched. For better or worse, you are free. This can come with the duality of emotions – heavy burdens and the great expansion of horizons.
The process of piping faces is a kind of catharsis for me, a way of speaking to that essential dilemma, of tapping into that unspoken longing for that which can never be really satisfied, only decorated, embellished, or consumed.
The self-reflexive embeddings of mise-en-abyme have influenced my art practice where I begin a sculpture with the foundation of a term or a phrase that was used as an endearing pet name or description of how I should behave to obtain parental acceptance and love or adhere to patriarchal societal values.
They are constructed of an assemblage of memories, meditation, ideas, and analyses.
This speaks directly to the formation of identity where our traumas are inscribed upon us mentally and sometimes physically. In each piece, I trace myself recursively, like the dendrochronological tree rings or geological formations that hold the secrets of history and evolution.
These words are recursively piped in rose pink until they form a canyon and the colour along with the words eventually disappears. Pink bleaches to white and the letters combine and morph into layers reminiscent of a stalagmite structure. I view these as layers of identity performing my personality and the growing out of childhood ideals taught through a gendered upbringing.
Mirrors reflect these foundations – starting points for growing up. As a child, I played in the mirrors that lined the central aisle of my parents ensuite. I would perform and peer into the image of an image of an image of myself – seemingly going on forever, stretching onward into the endless. Each copy of myself one layer deeper in the dim and remote reaches of the unknown – I looked for myself in the mirror then with anticipation for the future and what lay beyond, as the years pass with a birthday marking time I ponder on whether I have met the expectations of that child and all who place expectations on me including myself.”
Artist Statement, 2020
“Ebony Russell deliberately incorporates firing flaws into the otherwise sickly-sweet perfection of her sculptures. Disappointment is at the heart of their work, which explores the way that releasing our adolescent hopes and dreams can lead to a kind of existential mourning in adulthood. Russell works within the legacy of the feminist revival of women’s craft practices in fine art. Historically derided as frivolous and artificial, practices such as porcelain painting and embroidery have since the 1970s become emblematic of a refusal to accept the definitions society give women…
The resemblance of Russell’s sculptures to icing also hints at the consumption of women as confected objects, whether it be through pet-names such as honey, sweetie, and sugar, or as a made-up, odourless, and body-hair free commodity. Russell’s forthcoming exhibition seeks to sublimate the disappointments of life directly; she literally puts faces to her emotions in wet clay, drops them on the floor so they flatten into contorted masks and fires them.”
Art Collector Magazine
Oct-Dec 2020 issue