Cultural Icons: Remaking a Popular Pottery Tradition

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Political Philosophy by Stephen Dixon

28 November 2019 to February 2020

Free admission


An exhibition of contemporary British pottery featuring celebrities, royalty and politicians goes on display at Hove Museum this month.

Commissioned as part of the British Ceramics Biennial 2019, the Cultural Icons show takes inspiration from the forms and subjects of a style of figurative ornament called Victorian Staffordshire flatbacks. This distinctive form emerged in the 1830s to meet public demand for objects that depicted iconic people and major events that seized the public imagination.

Ceramic artists Joanne Ayre, Christie Brown, Claire Curneen, Stephen Dixon, Ingrid Murphy and Matt Smith have created updated versions of this Victorian art form as part of the British Ceramic Biennial 2019. Their contemporary flatbacks designed to be displayed against a wall, usually on a mantelpiece are about the cultural icons of today, current national debates, modes of spirituality and the design possibilities of new media.

With a series of drawings and prints by John Hewitt the new artworks sit alongside original Victorian portrait figures from the Royal Pavilion & Museums collections.

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge by Jo Ayre

Taking her cue from an 1841 figure of Victoria and the Princess Royal, artist Joanne Ayre, pregnant at the time, responded to the idea of motherhood. Her flatbacks show a pregnant Meghan,the Duchess of Sussex, Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge with her family and jihadi bride Shamima Begum.

Christie Brown’s pieces pick up on the celebrity strand, modelling moments from shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and the cast of Love Island as well as a Sherlock-inspired piece.

Stephen Dixon has created politically satirical items called Trumposaurus and Political Philosophy which takes some inspiration from the Toy Story film hacked toys and US president Donald Trump.

 Victorian flatbacks from the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ own collections are also displayed. This provides an opportunity for comparison between the ideas and events that impressed their lower-middle and working class owners and those which capture public attention today.

Pieces from the Willet’s Collection include an angel watching over two royal children sleeping, believed to be the Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, the two eldest children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert c1845, Napoleon III and George Washington.

In response to the exhibition, flatback figures will be created by members of the community helped by the homelessness charity Emmaus Brighton & Hove and will be displayed at Hove Museum in the new year alongside the exhibition.  

Cultural Icons was curated by Tessa Peters and commissioned for the British Ceramics Biennial 2019 for exhibition at Potteries Museum & Art Gallery Stoke-on-Trent with support from Arts Council England and Stoke-on-Trent Cultural Destinations.

For more information and images contact RPM Press and Media officer Caroline Sutton or call 01273 296718