“Barbed Wire Tile” is a visual flash card — a close up image of war or violence decontextualised within the defined borders of the object, much as contemporary conflict is framed within the rational in western media. The use of clay, and the resulting material and tangible characteristics that soften and round out such a hard subject, is true to Notkin’s education and artistic development at the time of the American Funk movement and sits alongside works ostensibly made for functional use such as teapots or cups. The work remains unfired, seeking to convey its simple medium and to harness the primary nature and natural terteries of the clay. Notkin often uses such tiles in large, evenly patch-worked mosaics — engaging with similarly destructive images from contemporary and historical sources at one intersection, and discussing how easily the brutality of such calamitous events can devolve into white noise.
Notkin’s talent for smaller scale sculptural depiction is evident in the model-like 'Monumentally Earthbound III'. His dramatic and often humorously spiky subjects revolt against sentimentality, gesturing towards the political and social turmoil that underpins contemporary society. Notkin's zeal for the subject translates to an obsessive committal to detail, the reduced scale & precise rendering of 'Monumentally Earthbound’s pyramid conveying remarkable architectural detail, a simple glaze allowing the natural tonality of the porcelain to present itself. The pyramid appears constantly in Notkin’s work, having first surfaced in his long series of teapots that looked to surreal shapes and symbols for a functional recontextualising.
Notkin’s skull & pyramid symbolism takes on minor functional significance in this piece, the object accruing the personality of a camp-shock film prop or pulp costume-like apparatus. The quality of sculpting and moulding allows a similarly heightened sense of reality, the texture of the clay buffed and brushed with a metallic glaze to give the appearance of metal and suggesting a density and physicality far greater than in actuality.
Teapot with Tires (Yixing Series) 1985 Stoneware; ht. 2.75, wd. 8, dp. 3.75 in. Artist signature Notkin 1985 incised on base Notkin is an American artist born in Chicago, Illinois. He earned a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1970 studying under Ken Ferguson. In 1973 he received his MFA from the University of California, Davis where he studied under one of America's greatest ceramic sculptors, Robert Arneson. The shear detail of his "lonely" sidewalk teapots based on the Chinese Yixing Tradition are highly prized by collectors and have never lost their political power over the decades. The shear detail of these works is amazing right down to the treads of the tires which show their worn quality. The "tire" on the lid is loose and the element you pick up when handling the lid, another Yixing tradition used in an American concept.