Drawing on Queer Theory, ceramic artist WESLEY HARVEY explores what the terms"normative and deviant" mean for the contemporary, gay male. His visual influences range from the pottery of Ancient Greece to kitschy figurines, and his work sits on the line between functional object and sculpture. Wesley received his BFA from Indiana University (2002) and his MFA from Texas Tech University (2007). His work is included in the permanent collections at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Ceramic Research Center at Arizona State University and the Art & Artifact Collection of the The Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. In 2014, The Cupcake Eaters won First Place in the 20th San Angelo National Ceramic Competition at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. Wesley's forthcoming solo exhibition one night stand opens on October 6, 2014 at Clamp Light Artist Studios & Gallery in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives and works.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Is it important to make a distinction
between functional pottery, decorative pottery and ceramic sculpture,
either in your work or in general?
Wesley Harvey: As a ceramic artist, I love that I can jump back and forth between the craft and the fine art. For the longest time, ceramics as a medium was just stuck in the craft movement. But most of my career, I have made ceramic sculptures. About four years ago, I became interested in the pottery aspect of ceramics. Some days in the studio, I absolutely love to sit down and spend the day just making cups. I treat each cup of mine just as I would a sculpture, making sure that every inch of the cup is exactly how it should be. My newest body of work is pottery-based, but I consider the larger vessel forms to be sculpture.
OPP: Could you talk about the intersection of the cutsey-kitschy with the overtly sexual, especially in your 2011 solo show Afternoon Delight at Joan Grona Gallery?
WH: I grew up loving all things kitsch because of the
fascination that my grandmother had with tawdry objects. She taught me
to appreciate them rather than see them as trash items, as most people
do. She had so many objects and figurines in her home; it was like a
kitsch museum. My mom is a huge Elvis fan, and she had so much Elvis
memorabilia in our home while I was growing up. He was in every room and
on every radio, even in the car. I guess I just got the kitsch gene
passed onto me by the family. I knew that Afternoon Delights was
going to be my last solo exhibition using the kitsch-inspired influence
of figurines and collectibles, and I wanted it to be special. Sexuality
has been an influence in my artwork since my undergraduate studies at
Indiana University. While there, I visited the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction. It had everything and anything in all regards to sex. I loved it!
So for the exhibit, I really wanted to use both of these influences and create something special for the audience that would make them either love the artwork or be somewhat bothered that I put my kitschy figurines in these awkward situations. My favorite piece in the exhibition was come on baby, which consisted of a line of 25 bunnies who where actually having sex with each other. Formally, the piece was beautiful and up close, the viewer could see that each bunny had a phallic part that was going into a hole on the backside of the next bunny. I was blown away by the support; everyone loved it!
OPP: Dinnerware Installation (2010) features decals of images created by Tom of Finland, called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade. This china set is particularly interesting in relation to the blurred boundary between functional and conceptual uses of ceramics because it brings to mind the marriage tradition of registering for a china pattern. 2010 was the year Prop 8 was finally ruled unconstitutional. Is Dinnerware Installation a response to the ongoing struggle for marriage equality?
WH: Yes and no. It’s more personal than overtly political. This second body of pottery-based work was heavily influenced by my studies in Queer Theory, which defines and examines both normative and deviant behavior. Previously, I was really only looking at normative behavior. I started to create this work because of the feeling that I would not ever get to the point in my life when I would be able to register for a china pattern. This body of artwork was a way for me to become sexual and fantasize about a different life than what I had as a single, gay man. I am really the biggest prude in the world and the worst at relationships. The artwork for me counter-balances those insecurities.
OPP: It’s important to say that the terms normative and deviant are social constructions that shift and change over time and from place to place. It seems like those terms may have even shifted within the queer community over the last decade, as same-sex marriage is slowly, but surely becoming legal in more states and more same-sex couples are parenting. For readers who are unfamiliar with Queer Theory, can you say more about “normative and deviant behavior?”
WH: Yes, the terms normative and deviant are social constructions that do shift and are always evolving. As with any duality, you cannot have one without the other. Whereas Gay/Lesbian Studies focused its inquiries into natural and unnatural behavior with respect to homosexual behavior, Queer Theory expands its focus to encompass any kind of sexual activity or identity that falls into normative and deviant categories. So, the fact that gay marriage is becoming more accepted in our society puts it in the normative category. But the deviant category, which I do not see society accepting for quite a while, interests me most. While doing my research for my collage process, I sometimes even get red in the face. For example, the cupcake eaters, was inspired by deviant subject matter. I found an ad on Craig's List: a gentlemen wanted men to come into his hotel room and defecate into his mouth by using a special chair, which would already be set up when the callers entered the room. I modified this deviant act, using cupcakes falling into the guys mouth. I felt that was a bit more appropriate.
OPP: The stoneware pots—the cupcake eaters (2013), daydreaming in gold (2013), B.A.B.S. (2013) and portraits of daydreaming (2014)—covered in decals recall the pottery of Ancient Greece, which tell the stories of what life was like then. Are they meant to be viewed as future artifacts telling stories that might otherwise be lost?
WH: These particular pieces are definitely influenced by the ancient Greek vessels. In pieces like the cupcake eaters, I am referencing acts of deviant sexuality; more than stories that might be lost, these are matters that are not discussed. I find it interesting that people want to talk about the deviant, but not really. It is like a bad car wreck. You want to look at it, but at the same time, you feel bad. What I am doing is not really shocking, considering the imagery of the ancient Greek vessels. When you take a second look at that pottery, you start to notice what is really going on with those men and adolescent boys.
OPP: You have a upcoming solo show at Clamp Light Artist Studios & Gallery in San Antonio, Texas (October 6-13, 2014). What are you planning for this exhibition? How will it be different from previous shows?
WH: For this exhibition, I have changed things up a bit in the studio. I have ditched porcelain and stoneware, and I’m working exclusively in terra cotta. The vessels are going to be much more closely related to the ancient Greek vessels in their forms. I have never really used terra cotta, and I wanted that historical reference to be there with these new forms. I am most excited about the kylix cup forms I’m making for the show. They are a much smaller scale than the vessels, and it has been nice working with the handheld scale again. The imagery is changing also and branches out from the Tom of Finland guys. The kitsch and cute is going to make an appearance again, but only in the two-dimensional imagery. Let’s just say that I’m throwing smurfs and Elvis into the mix!
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.