Dresden II is a hand-painted ceramic “plate painting” created for an exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance by contemporary ceramist Molly Hatch, below right.
Domestic Beauty The Massachusetts-based Hatch grew up surrounded by her grandmother’s porcelain. Her passion is “making something old new again.” She thinks of plates as blank sheets of paper. An 18th-century Chelsea porcelain plate, above, from the High Museum inspired Hatch’s Physic Garden. Hatch’s first step was an opaque watercolor, or gouache, above. A computer-generated mock-up of the final work, Physic Garden, as installed, top. The image is composed of lushly painted plates, each a miniature abstract.
Houseware Art Not all measuring spoons are equal. “Flowerpatch” spoons designed by Hatch are available through Anthropologie.
INSPIRED BY TABLEWARE OF THE PAST, TALENTED CERAMIST MOLLY HATCH CREATES BOLD CONTEMPORARY ARTWORKS
By Ted Loos | Produced by Doris Athineos | May 2014
Turning a plate into a work of art is one thing—everyone knows that a piece of Wedgewood or Chinese export porcelain can be exquisite. But in her latest work, contemporary ceramist Molly Hatch goes one better: She hand-fires and hand-paints individual plates in her Western Massachusetts studio, then combines them to create a much larger artwork.
In this way, Hatch has cleverly updated the Pointillist tradition, where each daub of paint can only be understood once the viewer stands back from the canvas. It’s also like the brilliant portraits of Chuck Close, which appear to be high-resolution photographs until, close up, each grain of the image is an abstract painting unto itself.
Hatch’s latest triumph, and also her largest, was created for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Physic Garden is made from 475 plates and measures 22×17 feet. For the foreseeable future, the mammoth work—depicting butterflies, ripe fruit, and glistening green leaves—will anchor the entrance to the museum, inside the Wieland Pavilion lobby.
“The thing I come back to in my work is my love of drawing and painting, and the functional everyday object,” says Hatch, 35. “Working with clay takes drawing off the wall and into your hand.”
Hatch has a real reverence for the art of the past. Her Atlanta project is based on English 18th-century porcelain from the High Museum’s collection of a famous floral pattern called “Physic Garden,” named for London’s botanical preserve in Chelsea.
Usually Hatch mines historic fabrics and prints for motifs. She even had a line of arty housewares available at Anthropologie.
“The 18th century is a period I’m Interested in,” says the artist, who is working on a book for Chronicle Books about the teacups in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. “Porcelain was more valuable than gold back then.”
This kind of talk is music to the ears of museum curators, who struggle with getting audiences interested in old things generally decorative arts collections in particular. “I love the idea of… this totally fresh twist [on ceramics],” says Sarah Schleunung, the High Museum’s curator of decorative arts and design. “And this image sells itself.”
Hatch’s light touch is also curator catnip. “She has a wonderful eye and a way of honoring and respecting these traditions, but she’s not derivative,” Schleunung says. “There’s a lovely refined lightness to what she does—it honors the idea of what a plate is.”
That respect comes partly from Hatch’s background. She grew up in central Vermont surrounded by a few choice 18th-century objects inherited from her grandmother; she still has and treasures a set of Dresden china and Chinese lacquer writing box.
Hatch remembers appreciating them, but as a child she didn’t actually know her family’s august history of art patronage. It was only as an adult that she found out that her grandmother was, in her words, “a suffragette who—along with her friends—decided to found an art school with the money left over from the campaign to get women to vote.”
That school was the Rhode Island School of Design. “I said to my mom, ‘When were you planning on telling me that our family founded the best art school in the country?'” she recalls with a laugh. Hatch eventually taught there—though the school didn’t know of her connection to the place when they hired her—but she did her own studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, then got her master’s degree at the University of Colorado.
Hatch has kept up connections with the MFA Boston because she does research for her patterns. Emily Zilber, the MFA’s first-ever curator of contemporary decorative arts, included a Hatch work, Quand On Aime, Tout Est Plaisir: After Fragonard, in last year’s exhibition “The New Blue and White.” “Molly is great at using the language of clay in a new way,” says Zilber.
Hatch says that it’s precisely that overly familiar place of ceramics and dinnerware in our lives and the very restrictions of working in that medium that engage her.
“Ceramics come with a lot of baggage,” she says. “You think there are only so many ways to make a cup, or plate—but it turns out there are a million ways.”