Anton Bosch - The Architecture of Space

“I am, therefore I am art”.

His work, says Anton Bosch, does not function as an announcement that he is a ceramist but pronounces that “I am, therefore I am art”. It is a declaration that his work is not for effect but to affect. The former equates purely with what is casually and superficially reflected off the surface whereas the latter articulates the totality of who, what, why, how and where. To affect is to invite contemplation, evoke response, saturate the senses and a judgement of the aesthetic. But beyond that, the greater intent of affect is to integrate a volume of space with a space.

It is the plasticity of ceramic material that permits it to be thrown, slabbed, pressed and altered to gain through form and function, as image and artefact, its intent to be a plate, bowl, cup, vase, tile and more. Beyond the recognizable associations of form with function in Anton’s work – a vase, after all is a vase – is his play with the plasticity of content which endows it as concept, symbol, narrative, celebration and credo. Plasticity permits multiplicity of form and function and presence but the very beingness of a work, by Anton’s measure, is fully dependent on the reductive structural approach of technique and thought. Something can only be good if it is indeed good in its whole.

Anton’s career as ceramic artist spans 25 years. He majored in painting and drawing at the Pretoria Art School and then joined the studio of his father, the celebrated ceramist Esias Bosch in White River, Mpumalanga. It is the accumulation of technical knowledge and experience in a studio environment where the frontiers of materials, techniques and creative thought were redefined, that constitute the artistic prowess of Anton. Of just as great importance for Anton, is that Esias did not wish to mould the son to the father but that both could gain from a casual osmosis of ceramic enterprise. Anton’s ceramic art evolved to be distinctly his own. The measure of the art is the artist himself.

Three principles of aesthetics which Anton explores are visual impact, tactile impact and architectural impact.

The visual objective is the otherness of sameness, the play with symbols rather than symbolism. Is the vase just a vase or a symbol of much more? Is the symbol a design element dependent on the meaning we habitually attribute to it, or does it act as a signifier of a bigger concept? The semiotics in Anton’s work – his language of signs and symbols – is not trapped in surface decoration but is embedded in and dependent on the structure of the work. The work itself, not only its symbols, speak. Many of the symbols which appear as repetitive elements in a work and are also repeated in his opus of work, are his own exploration and expression of meanings; his private, abstract language spoken in a whisper.

The tactile objective is to present a rich vocabulary of surface decoration which appeals to the actual and visual sense of touch: what we feel through seeing and feel through touch. In Anton’s work, this could be high-gloss or deep-matt surfaces, silky smooth or rough, flat or raised, polychromatic or achromatic. The surfaces are not intended as grounds to be embellished with decoration but from which the design elements can arise. Anton explores adding through modelling, appliques, impressing, adding low-relief and sprigging and subtracting through carving, incising, piercing, scraping and sanding. A distinctive and unique feature is his use of inlays. The inlays are cut-outs and hand-rolled motifs made of different clay mixes and colours which melt right down and get “absorbed” into the surface to culminate, after multiple firings, as a smooth, glass-like, homogenous unity.

The architectural dimension of Anton’s work goes beyond the intrinsic architecture of structure (the form) to address the architecture of its environment. It is a matter of manipulating negative and positive space and activating space. Positive space is the actual physical space occupied by a three-dimensional object. Negative space is that space affected by the presence of the object. Activated space is that which is energised by the spatial presence and spatial orientation of the object. The object – in Anton’s case the mural panel and vessel – is not to impose on a space (to fill the gap on the wall, to make a room look full) but to ad dimension to a space through a physical presence and a metaphysical reality.

The perceptible which Anton creates, are vases and bowls as free-form vessels and large mural panels. The vessels, other than the cylindrical forms which are rolled, are wheel-thrown with a porcelain body. Throwing, says Anton, is the technical foundation of his work. The more sound the thrown structure, the more malleable it will be to permit the subsequent alteration by hand. He squeezes, folds and moulds the form. He will cut and separate, overlap or ad inserts. The surface can be scraped, combed or sanded. Punts, knobs, finials, impressions, inserts, planes and directional lines are added. The textural field could be a unified whole or a high contrast part. Illustration and colour could be exuberant or subdued. Anton’s technical dexterity offers him endless permutations to alter a form but he permits only those which with economy will serve to connect or juxtapose or modify transition.

Anton deconstructs the physical structure of the pot into its component parts and re-assembles the essentials of the structure to which he ads interpretive elements. He does not create an altered pot but creates a free-form vessel that moderates the viewer’s reception of a perceived pot. Ideally Anton would prefer for his vessels to be viewed in full-round for a true appreciation of their scale and relationship to space and for the viewing of all of the elements from which they are composed. The vessel is not something dependent on its thing-ness but on whether and how it is permitted to be. The aestheticist Hendrik Kaare Nielsen describes this as dialectical communication between the artefact as an aesthetic construction and the recipient’s conscious and subconscious biographical experience. Anton’s free-form vessels challenge institutionalized conventions of form, display and appreciation (understanding more so than “liking”). It even challenges one dimension of ownership: does the space own the vessel or is it the other way around?

The scale of his free-form vessels, bowls, cylinders and platters defy convention and seemingly also gravity. This is testament to his exceptional knowledge of his material bodies and confidence in his skills to throw and build. No piece is because it happened somewhere along the way but is approached and executed with a clear vision of what it will be. And there’s no easy way of getting there, no short-cut and no trick because the medium will not tolerate nor forgive error or weakness. The medium, says Anton, demands humility of the artist in the process of creating and demands acceptance of what it has become through the hands of the artist. One can trace the artist’s journey and toil in the imprints – throw rings and pressure marks – which Anton does not erase but leave to bear witness of his presence and as expression of his work in his works of art.

Few ceramists would be able to match the achievement of Anton’s wall murals, not only in dimension but in scope of narrative content. Measuring as much as 1.9 X 1.1 meters and weighing as much as 50 kilograms, the mere fact that they can emerge intact after multiple firings from his custom-built flat-bed kiln impels acknowledgement of his mastery. As in his vessels, Anton incorporates additive and subtractive techniques to bring surface and narrative to life. The surface of the panel is the canvas on which he tells a story; at times personal, at times universal. The human figures, trees, birds, insects, reptiles, moons, shells, leaves, quills and a range of geometric design elements become an alphabet of naïve rather than stylised metaphors. He is not prescriptive in how the narratives must be received but encourages personal interpretation and through that very act, the works gain added value. Though painterly – don’t forget Anton’s grounding in drawing and painting - the murals are not paintings. Nor do the panels have a completely flat surface. The impression of raised surfaces – a veritable coup in achieving the visually tactile – prompts one to consider the panels in terms of low relief sculptural work.

Anton is not intent on re-inventing the pot, vessel or tile but to continuously recreate the familiar in unfamiliar form through technical and artistic innovation and expanding meanings and values. All of this is not dependent on pure technology, nor pure design, nor pure art but on how he can fuse all of those and imbue his work with his own biography and yet leave room for the viewer/owner to attach own significant values.

In the early and mid 1980s, Anton focussed on slab-built stoneware planters and floor vases, using predominantly reduction-fired celadon and iron glazes. The next stage of development was to create panels decorated with coloured slips and oxides and low-relief work depicting figures, birds, insects and reptiles. In the 1990s he focussed on wheel-thrown work and created large, imposing, free-standing bowls, vases and platters. To that he added reduction-fired blue and white porcelain domestic ware and individual pieces. From 1996 to 2006 he explored a combination of various decorative techniques such as slips, wax etching, brushwork and ceramic pencil. By 2007 when he established his own studio in White River, the knowledge gained from twenty years of work, gave him the confidence to explore and perfect his unique process of inlay work.

He has exhibited at various galleries including the Sand du Plessis Theatre in Bloemfontein, the University of Pretoria, the former Rand Afrikaans University, the University of Potchefstroom, the Pretoria Art Gallery, the William Humphries Gallery in Kimberley and numerous other commercial, public and private venues. Outside of prestigious private collections, his work is represented in the Keramion Museum (Cologne, Germany) and the William Humphries and most recently was included in the Corobrik Collection, the national ceramic collection under auspices of Ceramics SA, housed at the Pretoria Art Gallery.

Anton married a fellow art student, Hanlie Kriek, in 1984. Hanlie developed her own expressive style of ceramics of mostly hand-built pieces and sculptures. She is well-known for her animated clay figurines of dancers and gymnasts, for the contemplative clay heads with other-worldly expressions, and cats with a sphinx-like quality.

The ceramist Vince Pitelka at the Appalachian Centre for Craft (Tennessee Technological University, U.S.A.) poses twenty-seven questions by which his students must judge the success of a three-dimensional work. The criteria are mostly concerned with the aesthetics and ethics of a work. And then Pitelka pops this question: “Would you want to come back and see the piece again and again?” In effect he asks if the work has transcended the mundane, avoided “encrustations of fashion and fad” and exists as real art in a real space. If those questions are to be asked of Anton’s work, the answers are yes, yes and yes.