ROBIN BEST

CURRENT + RECENT EXHIBITIONS

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.

Robin Best – Artist’s Statement September 2017

Seven years ago I moved my studio to the old town of Jingdezhen in China famous for porcelain and once the site of the Imperial Kiln.   Jingdezhen is located in a river valley surrounded by verdant mountains that are often shrouded in mist. The image of man dwarfed by the landscape is at the heart of traditional Chinese painting and this idea of the scale of man in the cosmos can also be found in the emergence of the Age of the Enlightenment and the Age of Scientific Discovery.

The subject of my painting is history and more especially the history of European trade and its association with scientific discovery and its attendant cross-cultural links with Asia and the New World. Fueling the rampant success of world trade was the appetite of the European for exotic foods and spices and luxury goods in the form of printed textiles, porcelain and lacquer ware as well as for the serialized stories of the natural history scientists who risked life and limb to bring back animals and plants for their private zoos and gardens: the naturalist William Bartram’s The Travels, has been in print continuously since 1791.

I use the method of Xin Cai polychrome on-glaze painting on porcelain that originated in China during the Qing Dynasty. The Meissen Factory in Saxony would expand the colour palette to accommodate the needs of landscape and history painting on porcelain. Using a small palette knife, the coloured powders, mixed with fat oil and thinned with pure turpentine, are applied with a brush that tapers to a very fine point and can used to make both fine lines and washes. — Robin Best

The Aldrovandi Vases

A pair of hand-thrown translucent vases with coloured on-glaze xin cai painting, made by the artist is Jingdezhen, China, 2017 – 30cms x 13cms.

Ulisse Aldrovandi was a 16th century Italian naturalist and regarded by many including the Comte de Buffon and Carl Linnaeus as the father of the science of natural history and was instrumental in the establishment of the Bologna Botanical Gardens.

A major figure in the advancement of natural history and not without intrigue, the Encyclopædia Britannica describes his life thus:

Ulisse Aldrovandi, (born Sept. 11, 1522B, Bologna—died May 4, 1605, Bologna), Renaissance naturalist and physician noted for his systematic and accurate observations of animals, plants, and minerals.

After studying mathematics, Latin, law, and philosophy, Aldrovandi went to Padua in about 1545 to continue his studies. There he began to study medicine, the field in which he eventually earned a degree in 1553. On his return to Bologna in 1549 he was arrested, charged with heresy, and sent to Rome, where he was able to exonerate himself, probably in part because of his noble parentage. Returning to the University of Bologna, he was made a full professor in 1561 as a result of the great interest in his lectures, in which he presented natural history as a systematic study. He founded a botanical garden at Bologna and was named curator. His appointment as inspector of drugs and pharmacies met opposition, but Pope Gregory XIII confirmed the appointment. The official pharmacopoeia that Aldrovandi wrote, Antidotarii Bononiensis Epitome (1574), describing the constituents and properties of drugs, became a model for such works.

Pope Gregory XIII gave Aldrovandi financial assistance in publishing his numerous works on natural history, which included detailed observations of the day-to-day changes occurring in the incubation of the chicken embryo. Only four volumes, with detailed copperplate engravings, appeared during his lifetime; the remainder were prepared by his students from only a portion of his manuscripts. He also wrote Le antichità della città di Roma (1556), an account of various statues in Rome. His museum of biological specimens, classified according to his own system and left to the city of Bologna at his death, contributed to the later development of animal taxonomy.

— Robin Best

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

Robin Best, “The British East India Company – Trade and Colonise.” 2016. Made by the artist in Jingdezhen, China 13 × 6 15/16 × 4 5/8 in. (33.02 × 17.62 × 11.75 cm). In the collection of the Minneapolis Art Institute, photo courtesy Adrian Sassoon

“The British East India Company came into being as a joint stock company in 1600 to exploit the growing spice trade of the East Indies already dominated by the Dutch and the Portuguese. Later in 1664 the French East India Company was formed. It was trade with India that really made The British East India Company wealthy. Indian printed chintz textiles and later tea production being the most enduring market commodities throughout the 18th and 19th centuries set Britain on the road to being a very wealthy nation.

China produced silks, porcelain and tea – commodities much sought after in Britain and paid for in Sterling Silver.  Britain, fearful of its ever-depleting silver reserves, encouraged the export of opium to China to address the trade deficit with opium grown in India. The Chinese Emperor opposed the use of opium and his attempt to expel the British and Indian traders was thwarted by an army of imported Indian Sepoys. After Chinese capitulation the treaty ports of Canton and Shanghai were created with Hong Kong being ceded to the British in 1842. The French were given equal trading rights in 1844 with the Treaty of Whampoa. The Portuguese maintained their presence in Macau.

The East India Company also operated ships to the colonies of America of New Holland (Australia).  As with the Nabobs in India there was much wealth to be made by enterprising individuals in the import and export market of the colonies.”

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.

Bio
Born 1953, Perth, Western Australia

 

Education

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

Selected Exhibitions

2017    
Represented by Ferrin Contemporary, Ceramics And Glass Fair New York
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
2016
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
The Salon, New York.
Represented by Ferrin Contemporary, Ceramics And Glass Fair New York
2015
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London
2014
Made in China – The New Export Ware, Cummington, MAS
Ceramic Top 40, Gallery 224, Harvard
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Collect, London
2013
Represented by Ferrin Contemporary, Ceramics And Glass Fair New York
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
Collect, London, Arts and Antiques, London
The New Blue and White, Museum of Fine Art, Boston Massachusetts
Designing Craft/Crafting Design: 40 Years of JamFactory, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia.
2012    
Roads Cross – Contemporary Directions in Australian Art, Adelaide,
Flinders Univeristy,
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
Collect, London, Arts and Antiques, London
2011
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
Collect, London, Arts and Antiques, London
2010
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht, Masterpiece, London,
Immanence Samstag Gallery, Adelaide, South Australia
2009   
Porcelain
Gadfly Gallery, Perth. West Australia
Blue and White Gallery Handwerk, Munich
Represented by Adrian Sassoon, TEFAF, Maastricht
2008 
Porcelain, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia
Finding Malila, Gadfly Gallery, Perth, Western Australia
2007
Skins of Asia, World Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Korea
2006
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
Snuff, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China solo exhibition
Ceramics from Seto Collection, Seto, Japan
2004
2004 – Australian Culture Now, The Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
2003 
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
2002
Wild Nature, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia
Ritual of Tea, JamFactory, Adelaide, South Australia
1990
Girl Traversing the Yarra –Neon Animation, Melbourne Sculpture Triennial, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Awards
2011    
New Work Grant, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.
Arts Projects Assistance Scheme, ArtsSA
Arts Projects Assistance Scheme, ArtsSA
2005
AsiaLink Residency, Beijing, China
Australia China Council Residency Beijing and Shanghai, China
2004
Artist in Residence, Seto, Japan
New Work with Old Cultures, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China
2002  
Robin Best – Marine Form
s, Madame Mao’s Dowry, Shanghai, China for Australia Week – solo exhibition
2003
VACB/Australia Council grant for new work
Arts Projects Assistance Scheme ArtSA
2002
Arts Projects Assistance Scheme ArtSA
2001
South Australian Ceramic Award
1999
South Australian Design Awards, Merit award
Australia Council Development Grant to research CAD–CAM applications as applied to industrial ceramics in Europe and UK
1995
Arts Projects Assistance Scheme, ArtSA
1988
Personal Development Grant, Crafts Board of the Australia Council
1982
Workshop Development Grant, Crafts Board of Australia Council

Public Collections
Mineapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota, USA
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
Norwich History Museum, Norwich, UK
World Ceramic Exposition Museum, Icheon, Korea
The Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia
Tasmania Art Gallery & Museum, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia
Artbank, Australia
Flinders Art Museum, Flinders University, South Australia
Victorian State Craft Collection, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Shepparton Regional Gallery, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia
University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia
Campbelltown City Art Gallery, Campbelltown, New South Wales, Australia
Seto City Cultural Centre, Seto, Aichi-ken, Japan

Bibliography: Selected Articles & Essays
2017
Australian Art Exhibitions: A New Story, Catherine Speck et al, Thames and Hudson, 2017
2015
Horizon, Transferware and Contemporary Ceramics, Paul Scott, Arnoldsche,     Stuttgart, Germany 2015
Masters of Ming: Modern Takes on an Ancient Craft, Emma Crichton-Miller, Wall Street Journal, Jan 8, 2015
2014
Robin Best The Pepper Pot, Robert Reason, Articulate, winter 2014
Robin Best on living and working in Jingdezhen China, Vicki Grimma, The Journal of Australian Ceramics, Vol 53 No 1
2011
The Pot Book, Edmund de Waal, Phaidon, 2011
A Secret History, Inga Walton, Ceramic Review July/August
Robin Best, Artlink Vol 28 No 2, Stephen Bowers
SA Ceramic Award, Ceramics Art and Perception, Stephen Bower 2006    The Ceramics Book: An A-Z Guide to 300 Ceramic Artists
Emmanual Cooper (Editor)
2006
Writing a Painting, Adelaide Advertiser, Margot Osborne
2005
New Work with Old Cultures, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 59, Dr Christine Nicholls
2004
Australian Contemporary, Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 58, Stephen Bowers
2003
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
2002
Marine Nature in Porcelain – the recent work of Robin Best, Artlink, Vol. 22 No. 4 ,Vivonne Thwaites
2001
Robin Best-Recent Work, Craft Arts International, No. 53
Artlink, Review SA Art, September
2000
10,000 Years of Pottery, Emmanual Cooper, The British Museum

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.