‘Portland Arcana’

‘Portland Arcana’ - Constructions of waterjet-cut, slabrolled black and white laminated Jasperware.

Materials:- Jasperware.
Dimensions:- Each vase form – h24cm x w17cm x d17cm.

A special project with Wedgwood ‘re-imagining’ the Portland Vase and its cameo scenes – marking a brief step away from using bone china to work with Josiah Wedgwood’s renowned Jasper clay and turning this iconic form from classical antiquity into a contemporary ‘architectonic’ repository for a set of mysterious ancient figures.

This three-year project was highly labour intensive involving many aspects – from conducting research into the original Roman-era cameo glass vase at the British Museum and the C18th ceramic reproductions by Wedgwood in their archives, cycling through a series of prototype forms, generating a set of finely detailed pencil drawings firstly separating then adapting the famed bas-relief figures of the vase and reproducing these as enamel transfers.

Vital to the project was the further development of my technique for hand-rolling ‘super-flat’ ceramic sheets from which to waterjet-cut the multitude of components for the constructions. In this case the sheets were created with three one-millimeter laminated layers of black and white Jasperware, which after cutting created the thin contrasting lines that lend an architectural quality to the vase form.

The suite of eight sculptures currently feature in the exhibition The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse (1780-2023) curated by Rachel Gotlieb at Crocker Art Museum, Sacremento, USA – June 9th to September 24th 2024.

The title ‘Portland Arcana’ stems from the unresolved mystery surrounding the meaning of the figurative cameo scenes that decorate the surface of the original Portland Vase. Since the time of its discovery scholars have failed to come-up with a conclusive interpretation of these narrative scenes and thus far there have been more than fifty different readings. Some believe the figures to be actual persons from history, whilst others believe them to be characters from Greek or Roman mythology. Two of the Portland figures are uncontested however – the winged boy ‘Cupid’ and the horned figure ‘Pan’ (See last two single vase shots above) – beyond this all other knowledge of the vase, its maker and exactly how it was made has been lost to time.

A selection of images detailing various stages of making the ‘Portland Arcana’. Click on each image for a brief description.

For more on the story of the ‘Portland Arcana’ project Cfile.Daily has an in-depth article. Click Cfileonline.org to visit.

Over on my Instagram feed, there are a number of posts about my making methods, which you can reach by clicking the icon below.