Outrageously Aesthetic: The Art of Andrew Nicholls
When Perth based artist Andrew Nicholls was growing up, a ceramic meat platter hung on the wall of his parents’ house. The platter depicted a picturesque Italian landscape with ruins by a river, in the famous blue-and-white pattern of British ceramics factory Spode. The platter was a wedding gift to his parents from his “aspirational” aunts who ran an antiques stall. Years later it would become central to Nicholls’s career as an artist. After completing his sculpture degree he spent long hours in his tiny Perth studio, his drawing pad his primary resource, and it was then that he began rehearsing Spode’s iconic Blue Italian design from his childhood along with patterns by Wedgwood and Royal Doulton.
Commercial British ceramics, with their bucolic faux-Rococo landscapes blending Italianate and Chinese styles, might seem innocuous and quaint. Yet as affect theorist Sianne Ngai suggests, marginal aesthetics such as ‘cuteness’ are “a way of aestheticizing powerlessness [that hinge] on a sentimental attitude toward the diminutive and/or weak.”. The sidelined status of British ceramics, which are categorised as ‘decorative arts’, reveals society’s aesthetic prejudices—the hierarchies that play out in taste. Such objects have emerged out of historically specific circumstances that embody both class and colonialism.