Guido Geelen

Galerie Paul Andriesse

In his current show, sculptor Guido Geelen presents four new works (all Untitled, 1989). Although he has been experimenting with the use of typical ceramic materials, his results remain firmly based within a sculptural context. In structure, scale, and decoration, the new work seems to have little in common with the delicate and lavishly decorated pieces he showed last year; it is more austere and monumental. One of the works here is a stacked floor piece composed of modules identical in both size and outline. The whole effect is reminiscent of medieval architectural ornamentation. By its being placed on the floor, the piece distinctly resembles the remnants of buildings at an archeological site. The herbal and floral decorative patterning, however, is not carved in the clay, but more or less an accidental result of Geelen’s technique of module making. The pattern is created by putting tubes of clay in a mold. The tubes are extruded from a pug mill, a machine used by potters to mix and grind clay before throwing it on the wheel. Geelen controls the shapes of the extrusions by changing the profile on the outlet of the machine. For each module, he uses a different flower-shaped profile and then alternately puts straight and twisted layers of clay in the mold, both horizontally and vertically, thus creating a maximum of variety. The decorative effect is the unpredictable result of how each mold is layered with a particular profiled clay tube. Thus, 12 sections of the work are identical only in size and outline, not in content. With a minimum of change in the work’s basic forms, Geelen creates an abundant variety within each module or section of the structure as a whole.

A second piece is made by the same method, with the exception that each piece of clay is given a simple geometrical crosscut, such as a triangle, square, or a cross. The pieces are put in the mold in such a way as to recreate a crystalline structure. In its turn, each section is stacked to create a large irregular crystalline form. The entire piece is then covered with a platinum-based glaze and stamped with the inverse imprints of a piece of petrified industrial waste. The remaining two pieces look still more formal and monumental, in that the technique of stacking becomes the focus more than the layering of decorative elements. In one, the simplicity of the truncated cones, and in the other, the hourglass shapes and spheres, tend to deal only with repetition, giving the works a too simplistic, essentially formalist character; the serialist principle by which they are constructed is too easily conceived.

Apart from his evidently experimental attitude toward clay as a sculptural material, Geelen reveals another idea that forms a link with his earlier work—the recurrent theme of the opposition of order and chaos. In the past, he mocked the consumer-oriented, traditional products of the ceramicist, such as flower vases, fruit bowls, and the like, by making bizarre objects with no functional use whatsoever. His objects were clad in patterns that the ceramics industry uses to adorn cups, saucers, and other homey paraphernalia—colorful images of flowers, butterflies, and cuddly animals. Other transfers parodied traditional Delft-ware decorations. The patterns were put on the pieces in such a chaotic manner as to defy the sensibility of the object. In his new body of work, the chaos exists from within. Yet a sense of order is the prevailing feature, in that all the pieces have an apparent repetitive structure of layered modular elements. These new works are a definite step toward a more mature and authentic individual style.

André Minnaar