Andrea Gill's decorated vases are functional forms that range into the realm of sculpture. While the artist adopts ideas, traditions, and styles of historical pottery, she turns them deftly around to question the very essence of the vessel form. Since 1980, when she began to work in clay full time, Gill has sought to camouflage, or to confuse the identity of her amphoralike pots by affixing winglike extrusions, or painting multiple images of vases, or other obscuring motifs on their surfaces.
Trained originally as a painter, and fascinated by the decorative techniques of Italian majolica painters, and folk artists in general, Andrea Gill has sought to contradict the three-dimensional form of her vessels by employing colorful, flat-patterned imagery. Surface decoration is essential to her work. In fact, Gill's vessels are primarily vehicles for painted decoration. Indeed, her more recent vases are covered with such dazzling pattern painting that it is often hard to distinguish the form beneath the surface decoration.
Gill begins by sketching on paper the outlines of a projected vessel. Contours are of special interest to her. "When you look at a pot," she writes; "most of the time you are looking at a line . . . even though you think of them as forms." She then hand builds the vessel according to the drawing using coils of terracotta, and bisque fires it. From this basic, often irregular shape, she produces a press mold from which numerous replicas can be made. The generic form of the molded vessel is then individually varied by adding slabs of clay. These winglike appendages become essential components in the painted decoration, for Gill treats her altered vessel form like an artist's shaped canvas.
Vase (1993.54.4) is a tall pot wittily disguised by boldly painted leaf forms, several actually extruding from the surface. At first glance, the viewer fails to recognize the object as a vessel. The two-dimensional painted decoration is visually so arresting, it manipulates and hides the distinctive pot shape. Gill challenges the viewer to distinguish what is real and corporeal from what is imaginary, and flat.
Vase clearly demonstrates Andrea Gill's talents as a painter. Following the painstaking and precise technique of a majolica decorator, she carefully paints over an opaque white glaze. But in her simple, flat-patterned design, she achieves the spontaneity, freshness and naivëte of the folk artist. The subject of this piece is also conceived in a humorous, folklike fashion. We know from experience that a vase is used to hold flowers. But, since this vessel is literally composed of botanical forms, the plants appear—contradictorily—to hold the pot.
Jeremy Adamson KPMG Peat Marwick Collection of American Craft: A Gift to the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: Renwick Gallery, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1994)