This 25 cm high vase was made by Jenny Orchard in the mid 1980s. It is one of nine pieces that we bought at an estate auction in May this year. They were covered in dust after years of storage, and some are ‘as found’, but they have all come up well in the wash and now add colour and pizazz to this season’s exhibition.
This piece plays with the vase form, affectionately mocking an era where women had the time to decorate a house with flowers, but also making such rituals fun. Its architectural shape rises from a flat base in a combination of curves and angles, with a strong forward motion. Slipcast, and glossily white, it could be a blank intended for decoration. The decals seem casually chosen and placed, until one notices the juxtaposition of stock bird images with line drawings of monsters and cubist female forms.
Jenny Orchard was born in Turkey in 1951, grew up in Zimbabwe, and spent time in London, before emigrating to Australia in 1975. She obtained a degree from the University of NSW College of Fine Arts in 1979 and has held a range of higher education teaching positions in Sydney. In 2006, she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts.
When searching for a critical approach to Orchard’s work, I found most useful Janet Mansfield’s Contemporary Ceramic Art in Australia and New Zealand (Craftsman House, 1995, pp. 130-33). Here Orchard herself is quoted as saying that “two fundamentally absorbing issues, culture and gender, inhabit my clay in a primordial and emphatic way”. Peter Timms says: “Jenny Orchard plays games with functionalism and non-functionalism”. Moira Corby says: “Whether functional or sculptural, Orchard’s eccentric pieces always jolt the viewer to reconsider preconceptions about the use of form, colour and pattern in the context of an object to be looked at”.
This is certainly true of the piece we have decided to add to our permanent collection: this tiny and quite delicate pocket vase which, unnoticed while on the wall, has half-transmorphed into a surrealistic and not entirely beneficial organic female form.