New York Ceramics & Glass Fair 2017

NEW YORK CERAMICS & GLASS FAIR January 19–22, 2017 Bohemian National Hall, New York, NY Bringing together a carefully selected and distinguished international group of around 28 galleries offering...

With a strong interest in Sino culture, Robin Best has lived and worked in the old porcelain city of Jingdezhen, China for five years. Here, Chinese artisans make the fine translucent porcelain vases on which she applies her meticulous on-glaze history paintings. She has trained extensively in both Chinese Xin Cai (oil painting on porcelain) and the German equivalent of Meissen oil painting in the Oriental style.

Best’s work successfully merges internationally-sourced materials, traditional techniques, and historic imagery with contemporary themes of natural preservation and environmentalism. Through her work, Best raises awareness of important historical events still relevant today.

The Knight of the Lions

The Knight of the Lions — White porcelain sculpture with on glaze Xin Cai painting made by the artist in Jingdezhen, 2016. Dimensions 36cms (14 1/8”) x 20 cms (7 7/8”) x 26 cms (10 1/4”)

Monkey portraiture was a favorite subject of French decorative artists of the 18th and 19th centuries with entire rooms, singeries, given over to imagery of this exotic animal mimicking human behavior. This monkey, seated on his satin cushion, is relating the adventures of Cevantes’ famous character Don Quixote. Some of the more absurd episodes of the story are retold in the imagery of the raspberry-red, painted French toile that covers his body. His torso is painted to represent the16th century Spanish decorative armor.

Don Quixote lives in La Mancha, Spain and more than a little obsessed with knight errantry and who with his nag Rocinante, his faithful squire Sancho Panza and Sancho’s ass Dapple, takes to the road in search of heroic adventure and to prove himself to Dulcinea del Toboso, a local peasant girl.

In his many adventures Cervantes’ hero imagines windmills as giants, mobs of sheep as two great warring armies and a washbasin as Mambrino’s helmet. His misguided heroism usually leads to serious injury, however he becomes known as The Knight of the Lions in an episode concerning the King’s lions when he successfully challenges an indifferent lion that is unwilling to leave the comfort of his cage. Eventually his friends, to save him from himself, trick him into returning home where he repents his silliness, catches fever and dies.

The Arcana Bowl

The Arcana is an illustrated record of the observations of the first naturalists who worked in Australia between 1770 and 1805. Written by George Perry, it was published in 1811.

Made in Jingdezhen, China, this cast eggshell porcelain bowl was hand-painted by Robin Best with on-glaze colours in Jingdezhen in 2011. The bowl is impressive in both scope of the subject and size — measuring 23 x 9.5″.

The Arcana Bowl is a composition of hand-painted, exotic images gathered together to describe the success of the second age of discovery that was closely tied to trade in exotic goods including spices, fabrics, porcelains, tea, animals, and plants and much more, that were bound for the markets of Europe and the Americas.

In 1801, Captain Mathew Flinders left England on the ship Endevour to finish mapping the coastline of Australia that was begun by James Cook in 1770. His other mission was to record and collect the native fauna and flora of the country. Many of the live animals, including kangaroos that were captured with a view to returning them to England, died en route as Flinders was detained by the French at the Isle de France for 6 years on suspicion of being a spy — war having broken out again with France.

The Chintz patterns on the bowl are taken from fabrics that were orginally made on the Coromandel Coast of South Eastern India, home to a flourishing textile industry that supplied both England and Europe with beautiful hand printed cottons.

Wallacea Vases

Wallacea is located in western Indonesia and is transitional zone for vastly different animal species. It is made up of a group of islands bounded by The Wallace Line to the east and Lydekker’s Line to the west. The Wallace Line separates Borneo and Sulawesi and continues south between the islands of Bali and Lombok that are separated by a mere 35 kilometers of sea. The Wallace Line was drawn up in 1859 by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace where he noticed the distinct difference in animal species on either side of this line. He recorded that to the east could be found tigers and monkeys but to the west could be found a transition zone and then the vastly different animal species of Australia and New Guinea consisting of marsupials like the bush wallaby, the tree kangaroo and the spectacular birds of paradise.

Wallace’s research into the distribution of animal species between the islands of Indonesia and New Guinea is recognized today for its co-contribution to Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of The Origin of the Species.

The Vases    The animal and bird imagery I have used in the composition of Wallacea have been extracted from the natural history drawings of the Dutch scientists associated with the Dutch East India Company the largest of the East India companies that traded in spices from the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. These drawings can be viewed on the website of Naturalis Biodiversity Center of the Netherlands.
The plants that decorate the vases are derived from the fantastic patterns of printed Indian Chintz – an essential part of all the East India trading companies of France, Britain, Portugal, Spain and Holland. Sprinkled around the Chintz are stylized flowers, plants and insects of the area.

Mark Catesby Vase

Mark Catesby was an English naturalist who sailed to North America in 1712 to collect and study the fauna and flora of the region.  This was the age of Enlightenment and the emergence of the amateur scientist.  In Virginia, Catesby began to make his first exquisite natural history drawings; these were to be his entre into the elite scientific circles of the day. He was then offered the position of Naturalist to the Governor of South Carolina and as Catesby was not a man of means, sponsors were found in the guise of the wealthy collector Sir Hans Sloan and the botanist William Sherard.

Funds in hand Catesby returned to North America in 1722 where he travelled through the southern states collecting and making drawings of the plants and animals that would be the basis of his pioneering two volume publication ‘The Natural History of  North and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and The Bahama Islands’.  After its publication in 1733 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and Carlolus Linnaeus, the scientist who began the groundbreaking work of classifying plants, included much information from Catesby’s Natural History in his 10th edition of Systema Naturae of 1758 and naming after him Catesbaea lilythorn, a genus of thorny shrubs of south-eastern United States.

In order to complete the extensive two volume tome he relied heavily on many of his American naturalist friends to provide specimens to compliment his own work among whom was William Bartram whose own later publication ‘The Travels’ would captivate the world.
Catesby’s etchings are charming and rendered in his own original and playful style; he includes some natural vegetation that may sometimes appear to be a little out of scale with the animal associated with it.  He was probably inspired by the work of Maria Sibylla Merian who published her work on insects and plants Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium of 1705.

Many of the images on the Catesby Vase have been taken from the first volume of his great work, and an original first edition that I was fortunate enough to be able to peruse in the library of the Natural History Museum in New York.  Some of the plants I have chosen to include in the composition of the vase are introduced species my own imagination with markings on the vines and leaves from patterns inspired by the art of the Cherokee Indians of the region.

The Florida Vases

This pair of vases were painted by the artist on translucent porcelain vases hand-thrown by artisans using traditional methods in Jingdezhen, China. Best uses an oil painting technique known as Xin Cai or China Paint.

The subject of the paintings is dedicated to the work of two amateur scientist plant-collectors: Mark Catesby and William Bartram.

Mark Catesby was an English naturalist who first visited Virginia in 1712 and then the isolated British colonies of the south where he spent several years exploring the region drawing and collecting plants and sending back seeds to his sponsors including The Royal Society in London. Between 1731 and 1741 he published his colossal work Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. It was the first published account of flora and fauna of North America.

The second volume was completed in 1743, and in 1746-1747 he produced a supplement from material sent to him by friends in America, particularly John Bartram of Philadelphia who had become botanist to the King.

John Bartram’s son William Bartram shared his father’s botanical interests financing expeditions to gather plants in North and South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. His famous book ‘The Travels’ was first published in 1791 and has never been out of print. It was widely read through Europe and influenced the writings of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Chateaubriand.

The paintings of the fauna and flora on the vases are faithful copies of the illustrated works of Catesby and Bartram. Their charmingly rendered drawings were some of the first natural history paintings to place the birds and animals dramatically in their natural environments– those of the hunter and the hunted. These two scientist adventurers must have been aware of the danger that they faced themselves in their wanderings through crocodile infested waters and sometimes with none too friendly Native Americans across whose land they attempted to travel. Danger aside; some of their work could sometimes show a sense of humor even with a touch of the absurd.

Catesby on horseback and Bartram in his bark, our two heroes are to be found in the vase painting dwarfed amongst the imagery of their own drawings and a forest of colorful plants and flowers borrowed from old Chintz and also some inspired by the flora of Florida itself. On the necks of the vases can be seen beetles framed in the twinflower creeper (linnaea borealis), named after another great 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus who gave us the science of classifying plants.

My story of science and discovery begins with the image of Catesby’s one-eyed buffalo under that of the tree of Indian Chintz. These widely traded printed cottons of Coromandel Coast of India, are favorite patterns of mine representing for me the flowering of the age of science and industry. Cotton growing also formed the backbone of the economy of the southern states of America and cotton manufacture bolstered France and England’s thriving economies while they fought each other over sovereignty of India and North America.

— Robin Best, Jingdezhen, 2014

The British East India Company – Trade and War

“The imagery that I have used in this suite of Blue and White porcelain vases has been borrowed from a time past; from European Chinoiserie including the French Toile, Baroque pattern and Rococo paintings and drawings of Pillement and Boucher.  I have then vivified them with drawings of Australian kangaroos inspired by 19th century French naturalists such as Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and have presented them on a garniture of vases based on traditional Chinese forms.

China and all things Chinese have long fascinated me having spent periods of time in that country especially in Jingdezhen the home of blue and white porcelain.  Australia has also been of interest to the Chinese.  The Chinese came to Australia in their thousands during the gold rush of the early 1800’s and the romantic imagery of them playing music and fishing is far from the reality of life for them on the goldfields. However the Chinese did prevail and become significant landowners in Sydney, Melbourne and my hometown of Adelaide.”

The Wallace Line

As a traveler myself, I am particularly interested in the travels of natural history painter scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries. They combined their scientific curiosity with discovery, boarding vessels for far off lands, there to gather all manner of exotic plants and animals to bring back to hungry collectors in Europe.

This piece, The Wallace Line, is the story of one such collector, Alfred Russel Wallace, an amateur scientist who studied species distribution between the Indonesian archipelago and Australasia. His work led to the recognition of of the Wallace Line, an imaginary line drawn through the Celebes Sea. On one side of the line live Asian tigers and monkeys and on the other there are Australian marsupial kangaroos and the beautiful birds of paradise of New Guinea.

Born 1953, Perth, Western Australia



1973-1976 South Australian School of Art, Australia, Diploma Design Ceramics

1992-1993 University of South Australia, Australia, Graduate Diploma Visual Arts

Research in Jingdezhen, China


Recent Exhibitions

Made in China: The New Export Ware, Ferrin Contemporary at Independent Art Projects, North Adams, MA

Ceramic Top 40, Red Star Studios at Belger Crane Studios, Kansas City, MO
New Blue and White, Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, MA

Public Collections
National Museum of Scotland, EdinburghNorwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, NorwichThe Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Tasmania Museum & Art Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
Artbank, Australia
Flinders Art Museum, Flinders University, South Australia
Victorian State Craft Collection, Melbourne, Australia
Shepparton Regional Gallery, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia
University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Campbelltown City Art Gallery, Campbelltown, New South Wales, Australia
Icheon World Ceramic Centre, Gyeonggi-do, Korea
Seto Marutto Museum, Seto, Aichi-ken, Japan

Solo Exhibitions
Finding Malila, Gadfly Gallery, Perth, Australia

Snuff, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China

New Work with Old Cultures, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China

Robin Best – Marine Forms, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China for Australia Week

Past Group Exhibitions

Adrian Sassoon, Masterpiece London, The Royal Hospital Chelsea, London
Roads Cross, Contemporary Directions in Australian Art, Flinders University City Gallery, State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Adrian Sassoon, Art Antiques London, Kensington Gardens, London
Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon, COLLECT, Saatchi Gallery, London
Roads Cross, Contemporary Directions in Australian Art, Adelaide, South Australia
Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, The Netherlands

Adrian Sassoon, Masterpiece London, The Royal Hospital Chelsea, London
Adrian Sassoon, Art Antiques London, Kensington Gardens, London
Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon, COLLECT, Saatchi Gallery, London
Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, The Netherlands

Adrian Sassoon, Pavilion of Art&Design London, London
Adrian Sassoon, Masterpiece London, Former Chelsea Barracks, London
Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Immanence, Samstag Gallery, Adelaide, South Australia

Adrian Sassoon, Pavilion of Art&Design London, London
Only Porcelain, Gadfly Gallery, Perth, Australia
Adrian Sassoon, International Ceramics Fair & Seminar, London
Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Blue and White, Galerie Handwerk, Munich, Germany

Porcelain, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia

Skins of Asia, World Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Korea

Writing the Painting, Adelaide Festival of Arts, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia
The Secret History of Blue and White, Asia link touring exhibition to Vietnam, China, Singapore and Bangkok
Australian Impressionism, Galerie Rosenhauer, Göttingen, Germany

Australian Contemporary, COLLECT, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Ceramics from Seto Collection, Seto, Japan

Australian Culture Now, The Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Ancient Futures, Kyoto, Japan
Light Black, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia & touring to The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyoto, Japan; National Museum for the Arts, Taiwan

Wild Nature, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia
Ritual of Tea, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia

Girl Traversing the Yarra –Neon Animation, Melbourne Sculpture Triennial, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


A Secret History, Inga Walton, Ceramic Review, July/August
Robin Best, Artlink, Vol. 28 No. 2, Stephen Bowers
White Gold, Adelaide Advertiser, Margot Osborne
SA Ceramic Award, Ceramics Art and Perception, Stephen Bowers

Writing a Painting, Adelaide Review, John Neylon
Writing a Painting, Adelaide Advertiser, Margot Osborne

New Work with Old Cultures, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 59, Dr Christine Nicholls

Australian Contemporary, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 58, Stephen Bowers

Marine Nature in Porcelain, Artlink, Vol 22, N Wendy Walker
Light Black, Object, July, Margot Osborne
Light Black, Artlink, Vol. 23 No.2, Margot Osborne
Light Black, Craft Victoria online

Marine Nature in Porcelain – the recent work of Robin Best, Artlink, Vol. 22 No. 4 , Vivonne Thwaites
South Australian Ceramic Awards, 2002, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 49

Robin Best-Recent Work, Craft Arts International, No. 53
Artlink, Review SA Art, September
The Concertina Bowl, Craft Bulletin, 1/2001

SA Designer Makers Turn to Industry, Artlink Vol.17, Jane Williams

In Pursuit of China 2014

China in China Western artists are increasingly traveling to China to research and produce  work  for exhibitions in the USA, Australia and Europe.  Over a third of the artists shown...

Ferrin Contemporary’s 10 Best of 2013

[one_half content_align="left"] New Blue and White Museum of Fine Arts, Boston important exhibition of contemporary cross-cultural interchange Robin Best Project Art visiting artist from Jingdezhen, China summer 2013 Animal Stories...

Ceramic Top 40 | 2013

Exhibition of artists under and over age 40 currently working in ceramics November 1 – January 25, 2014 presented by Ferrin Contemporary and Red Star Studios at Belger Crane Yard...

SCENE + SEEN: Summer 2013 | Project Art and Ferrin Gallery

Summer brings ART + ARTISTS from far away places around the world Adelaide, Australia, Jingdezhen, China, Seoul, Korea, to the small village in Cummington, MA, USA on the Eastern edge of the Berkshires, in the heart of the Hilltowns and just west of the Pioneer Valley.