bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculptures

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculptures

dutch artist bouke de vries repurposes broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculptures that celebrate ‘the beauty of destruction’. born in utrecht, the netherlands, de vries studied at the design academy eindhoven, and central st. martin’s, london, and worked in high fashion before switching to ceramics conservation and restoration. his deconstructed porcelain artworks highlight his skills as a restorer, breathing new life into damaged pieces that unveil parts of their history.

 

with his work currently on show at two exhibitions, one at the london house of modernity and one in sotheby’s new bond street galleries, designboom spoke with de vries to learn more about his creative process, and the philosophy of kintsugi, which he uniquely employs in his artworks. read the interview in full below.

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculpturesbouke de vries, guan yin with a nimbus of saucers, 2019, 18th century chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, 18th century chinese porcelain fragments and wooden base

all images courtesy of adrian sassoon, london, unless stated otherwise

 

 

designboom (DB): what made you switch from ceramic restoration to an artistic practice that celebrates ‘the beauty of destruction’?

 

bouke de vries (BdV): although I went to art college as a teenager, I didn’t developed my own artistic practice. then in my late twenties I retrained as a ceramics restorer. I really loved the work but there was always something unresolved in me that I needed to get out of my system. gradually I decided to use the material – and the techniques – I was working with. I looked at questions of perfection versus imperfection, beauty in damage, and the place of ceramics in world history, how something like blue and white porcelain became part of the story of global trade and culture.18th century chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, 18th century chinese porcelain fragments and wooden basebouke de vries, guan yin with a nimbus of saucers, 2019, 18th century chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, 18th century chinese porcelain fragments and wooden base

 

 

DB: how do you begin working on a new piece? do you work with already broken ceramic pieces or do you find a ceramic object you like and break it to pieces to create something new out of it?

 

BdV: the starting point is broken ceramics – the things are already broken and often discarded or devalued because of the damage. but to me, even a seemingly small and insignificant fragment can be imbued with the potency of its original creation. when I first start a piece, the broken object itself suggests what I should do with it. as my practice has developed I do also sometimes look for a particular type of ceramic but this can take time.bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculptures

 

 

DB: how do you select the pieces you choose to work with? do you look for any particular iconography and/or forms?

 

BdV: my main criterion is that the original object is of good quality. of course this is subjective but I have a certain aesthetic and I look for objects that fit with that. most of the ceramics I use are chinese in origin; the quality is amazing, plus they have been the biggest producers of ceramics throughout history.17th century chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, 17th century chinese porcelain fragments and wooden basebouke de vries, guan yin in a cloud of shards, 2019
17th century chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, 17th century chinese porcelain fragments and wooden base

 

 

DB: in some of your pieces, you utilise gold lacquer to highlight the repaired cracks. what has driven your interest in the kintsugi technique?

 

BdV: the philosophy behind kintsugi aligns very well with one of the starting points of my practice. I believe that something damaged can still be beautiful. we are happy to accept this in antiquities (the venus de milo is famous partly because she has no arms) but in ceramics, damage is generally frowned upon. with kintsugi the damage is considered part of a piece’s history: rather then hiding it, it is celebrated as an integral part of that. I try to express that in my own way.

contemporary glass following the original form of its contents; 18th century qing dynasty chinese porcelain vase with parchment paper coverbouke de vries, memory vessel lxvii, 2020, contemporary glass following the original form of its contents; the collected remains of an 18th century qing dynasty chinese porcelain vase with parchment paper cover

 

 

DB: you recently designed the entrance piece for sotheby’s new exhibition space with adrian sassoon gallery. what was your vision and process behind this large-scale piece?

 

BdV: the commission for the gallery entrance was really exciting for me. I wanted to create something dramatic, something bold and unexpected. I piled up broken ceramic fragments (which are of course the basic raw material of my sculpture) like a large crumbling structure and, by blowing them up to a large scale photographically, they acted like building blocks of an ancient structure while also celebrating ceramics as a medium.bouke de vries large scale ceramic piece for sotheby'sthe entrance piece at sotheby’s, london

image © tristan fewings/getty images for sotheby’s

20th century blue and white english earthenware fragmentbouke de vries, homeland britain ii, 2020, 20th century blue and white english earthenware fragments

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculptures

bouke de vries, tobacco jar garniture, 2020,contemporary glass following the original form of its contents; three 18th century blue and white dutch delft vases with brass lids and marble bases

late 17th century kangxi chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, early 17th century chinese ming dynasty porcelain fragments and wooden basebouke de vries,guan yin with porcelain shards, 2020, late 17th century kangxi chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, early 17th century chinese ming dynasty porcelain fragments and wooden base

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculpturesbouke de vries,guan yin with porcelain shards, 2020, late 17th century kangxi chinese blanc de chine porcelain figure, early 17th century chinese ming dynasty porcelain fragments and wooden base

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculpturesbouke de vries, deconstructed neolithic machang jar, 2019 2,500-2,000 BC chinese earthenware jar on a bronze base

bouke de vries on repurposing broken ceramics into fragmented porcelain sculpturesbouke de vries, deconstructed neolithic machang jar (detail), 2019 2,500-2,000 BC chinese earthenware jar on a bronze base

 

 

 

artist info:

 

name: bouke de vries

 

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