Stephen Bird | Rogue Heroes

Stephen Bird's 'Industrial Sabotage' at Gould Galleries, Melbourne.

Even within the (welcome) large number of artists using ceramics locally and internationally these days Stephen Bird’s work is distinctive.  They are easy to spot for their style, their clarity of message, an underlying seriousness and, often, humour.

For, like a handful of other Australian artists (think Reg Mombassa), Stephen Bird uses humour (and clay) to talk about some pretty serious things.  Violence, sexual relations, religion, colonialism are some that come to mind.

As a case in point, Bird’s self-driven research, which he calls ‘Industrial Sabotage,’ looks at the implicit narratives of Victorian English figure groups.  As beautiful as Bow or Staffordshire work of can be, there’s plenty there in terms of that era’s sexual relations and norms for the astute observer: the way these Victorian figures are seated, dressed, the way they seem to be comporting themselves in relation to each other, all speak to expectations and the contemporary social contract between the sexes.

Stephen Bird’s newest series of work, ‘Rogue Heroes’, at Gould Galleries looks at some of these implicit narratives and disrupts them completely – disrobing the woman, seating the man like an obedient school child with this hands on his knees, or giving him a carrot nose and a robot head.

Kind of ‘random’, as my children might say, but actually a targeted randomness aimed at puncturing the air out of our expectations.  There’s a lot going on in this work that requires investigation.  Does that nude woman really have a banana at her feet?  Has the seated officer-looking man been whittling wood, or painting?   Why does the robot guy have a small canvas frame between his feet and shapes poking out from his knee and thigh?  These rogue heroes pose a lot of questions though don’t seem to offer many clear answers – thank goodness.

EXHIBITION
Stephen Bird | Rogue Heroes
16 November – 9 December 2017
Gould Galleries, Melbourne

Courtesy the artist and Gould Galleries, Melbourne.