Since the beginnings of the gay liberation movement, LGBTQ2S+ rights have revolved around themes of identity, community, and the body. Liberation for many meant an acceptance of an identity that was outside of a standard of “what was right”, the formation of a community of likeminded individuals, and the acknowledgement that queer bodies and queer sensuality or sexuality were valid and worthy of pride, rather than shame. While queer liberation had been gaining attention for several decades, the official Pride movement began in the 1970s in New York following the commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Canada’s first official Pride events wouldn’t occur until 1979 in Montreal and Vancouver, followed by Toronto in 1981, as protestors marched to oppose police conduct in the wake of Operation Soap, the Toronto Police Service’s raid of four gay bathhouses on February 5, 1981.
In 2020, Pride celebrations take place across the country, however COVID-19 has forced many of these celebrations to move online, not unlike this exhibition itself. In this exhibition, we bring together the work of Julian Covey, and Kris Aaron and Andy Walker of Pansy Ass Ceramics, along with works by Jeannot Blackburn from the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery’s Permanent Collection. Presenting unique depictions of queer bodies, identities, and experiences, the works come together to highlight both the diversity and community of queer experience. Spanning from Blackburn’s 1980s works to contemporary pieces by Covey and Aaron & Walker, this exhibition traces a small window into queer history and the ways in which the medium of ceramics can uniquely convey the physical and psychological concepts of queerness.
Curator: Peter Flannery
Assistant Curator: Levi Salvador
Together, Kris Aaron and Andy Walker, known collectively under the name Pansy Ass Ceramics, explore gay male identity and culture through porcelain and creatively ornamented details. Through gold and floral patterns, Aaron and Walker evoke the rococo and kitsch of ceramics to play with concepts of queer sexuality, intimacy, and desire. To celebrate Pride this year, they created “Operation Soap Fountain,” commemorating the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids. On February 5, 1981, Toronto Police Services raided four gay bathhouses, brutally attacking and arresting many of those inside while destroying property. While these were not the first bathhouse raids in Canada, the operation incited a resistance from the Toronto queer community, protesting police brutality in what is recognized as Canada’s Stonewall. “Operation Soap Fountain” reminds us that Pride was—and is—a protest.
Made from slip-cast porcelain, Julian Covey’s pieces appear soft, supple, and juicy. Created using forms that were developed with plaster and sewn-muslin structures, this series brings the relationship between clay and glaze to the similar relationship between human structure and skin. As Covey states: “I believe the body is an epicentre for contention and I seek to formally juxtapose stipulated unflattering and non-glamorous aspects of the body with vivid colour and sensuality through luscious glaze surfaces.” This series directly responds to Covey’s own struggles with body dysmorphia and his own identity as a queer, mixed-race individual through the striking colours and shapes of his abstract forms.
Recognized as an important queer Quebec ceramist, Jeannot Blackburn died prematurely in 1996 due to AIDS-related complications. He is know for his emphasis on the human form and campy extravagance, bringing political and social issues to the forefront in subtle—and not so subtle—ways through his work. With extravagant colours and patterns as well as whimsical forms, the campy exuberance of his work immediately attracts attention. In “Torso Teapot”, this unique piece is in fact a functional work. While a handle extends from the figure’s back and the neck forms the lid of the teapot, the spout playfully and suggestively extends from the figure’s front.
Throughout his career, Blackburn worked outside of the art and craft mainstream of the 1980s, creating work that was forwardly homosexual and homoerotic in nature during the gay liberation movement and the ensuing the AIDS crisis that negatively impacted much of the progress that had been made. With his work, Jeannot Blackburn, brought queer issues to the world of Canadian and International ceramics in a way that continues to be felt today.