The Divulgation of Tops and Bottoms
As human beings, we tend to look for contrasts. There are many contrasts in the current ceramic work of the artist Christian Holstad. Having worked in various mediums, Christian Holstad’s take on pottery is to subvert the rules of ceramic to get what he desires. With a series of vases, a very familiar, even comforting concept takes on a strangeness in shape and in color. He also conceived the idea of making the vases in interchangeable pieces, both for practical reasons (cleaning for example) but to also offer varying possibilities.
A vase is normally an object we think to fulfill one exact purpose, to hold water with flowers. Once that is served, the vase is placed and not touched again until the flowers are to be tossed out. What Christian Holstad has changed, by creating the vase in pieces, is taking it from its static embodiment and making it animated. We are invited to change configurations, stacking pieces on each other, playing with different colors and forms. It is still a vase in the end, it still holds water, flowers can still be held in it.
Contrast comes into view in his choice of decorating the vases. Taking a cue from the artist Fausto Melotti (to the point of faithfully following the artist’s glaze recipes) colors and textures link to each other before taking off in their own directions. Soft pinks fade into creams, blacks become dotted, taking on the look of a distant galaxy. All the while what may appear smooth is indented, what looks cratered hasn’t the slighted bump.
While he might bend the rules in pottery, Christian Holstad is still respectful. He has taken to the history of ceramics and its origins. He favors the techniques of Faenza pottery found in the Romagna region of Italy. He uses trempage as well as airbrush and stenciling for glazing. Clay can be extruded into forms, something reminiscent from his pasta making workshops. Even his interest in knitting has found itself in unlikely shapes and themes. One vase at first glance seems a total abstraction, only to reveal itself to be a cat “playing” with a butterfly. This soft moment turns dark when one thinks of the nature of a cat.
Still, Christian Holstad hasn’t made this object useless or simply sculpture, it is still a vessel to hold flowers. A common object for every day.
This diversity of concepts, themes, techniques and contrasts coming together could be what makes these ceramic works so compelling. Having started out with the idea of just wanting to have garden flowers in the home, Christian Holstad has brought together all his interests, shaping and coloring them into something each of us can use and not think of the same way again.
- Christopher Andrews