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Axis of passion: The creative world of amanda bromfield.

WHEN AMANDA BROMFIELD STARTED HER RESEARCH on the Baroque and Rococo periods as a part of a minor project in 2012, she did not anticipate that this would lead to the production of a significant body of work one that she would continue to develop and refine until this day. Bromfield is an Australian artist accustomed to working in many different media, however in the past few years she has almost exclusively adopted ceramics as her medium of choice.

Her past relationship with her art practice has been full of challenges. For a substantial period of time she completely dedicated herself to raising her four children (including triplets) and her artistic pursuits had to take second place. When she returned to her practice in 2012 she quickly produced a substantial body of work. which she continues to create today at a steady pace.

Bromfield's recent work has a strong link to the tradition of European ceramic figurine production. Although her research started with the 'golden period' of porcelain figurine manufacturing in the 18th century, it evolved into an investigation of the clothing fashion trends of the major historical anatomically perfect and the faces have a rough and almost sketch-like quality, reminiscent of the figurines manufactured by the Bow factory in 18th century England. With her typical sense of humour, Bromfield points out that her 'girls' are not really beautiful "but they do wear beautiful dresses".

The use of gritty, dark clay is a deliberate choice that accentuates the roughness of the forms. Each of Bromfield's figures is formed in a process that is immediate and intuitive. She applies underglazes to her greenware forms and after the application of a clear glaze the figures are usually fired to 1100[degrees]C. The clear glaze is applied in various ways in order to achieve different effects. Sometimes it is watered down to create a more subtle satin appearance, or it is brushed only on certain parts of the figure in order to accentuate particular elements.

Bromfield's figurines from the Rococo collection are commonly decorated with pale pastel colours, therefore referring to one of the core characteristics of that particular style. In some of the newest work for the same collection, she started to develop and apply rich blue and turquoise glazes as an addition to the pastel range of yellows, greens, blues and pinks. She also began using sprigs as yet another tool for creating elaborate ornaments for the dresses.

The first two series of her work are based on the Baroque and .Rococo periods and. stave as the subject of female identity through fashion. This exploration continues through the other two collections titled The Victorians and Demi Monde. All four series also reflect Bromfield's own personal quest to redefine herself as a woman and an artist.

Her large sculpture from 2012 titled Happiness provides some of the clues for the interpretation of her Rococo Girls and Baroque Beauties series. A nearly life-sized sculpture of a woman 'houses' playful children under her long dress while holding a number of domestic items in her hands: a teacup, saucer, milk bottles and children's dummies. In a similar vein the large dresses of Brom field's Rococo and Baroque girls give the impression of restricted and choreographed movement, in which even breathing would be a difficult task. The imposing architectural structure of a dress can be viewed in different ways: a dress can point at a woman's identification with the home that protects and keeps her family together; it can speak about restrictions on her personal and social life; but it can also present itself as a medium for a free expression of a woman's identity. Another feature in Bromfield's female figurines is a bird that is often placed on the head or in the hands of the figure. The bird, a universal symbol for freedom, creates a counterpart to the often restrictive nature Of the dress. It also provides the necessary tension for a dialogue set between two aspects of a woman's life: the freedom to focus on her own personal needs and self-mortification through the various selfless aspects and obligations other life. The Opposing poles: freedom and restriction, choice and acceptance, are persistently present in 8mm field's work. The female figurines have their identities both revealed and hidden by their dresses. In a sense the dress becomes a woman's identity or her 'persona'. A woman can be either free to create her social identity by choosing the type of dress she wears, or the dress she is wearing is symbolic of what is 'given' to her by her life's circumstances. Bromfield says: "The more ornate the dress, the more voluminous the skirt, the greater the number of choices the woman has experienced."

As much as Bromtield's work is about the personal experience of reclaiming her own identity, it is also about connecting to all women throughout history. In the process of making each of the figurines Bromfield engages in a playful game of imagining and constructing stories of their identity. After completing a figurine Bromfield gives it a name and writes a short description of the 'person'. The type of dress worn, its size and its colours, indicate the identity and the character of the created figurine. There are descriptions accompanying the figures such as: "Amelie is self assured, she waits and watches for her chance," "Fleur is a peasant girl, she is a daughter of the Revolution" or "Jane Avril is a friend of Toulouse-Lautrec, she is a much loved entertainer at the Moulin Rouge."

As a viewer of both Brom field's creative processes and her completed works, I often had a chance to see the playful manner in which she approaches her work. I also had a chance to witness her passionate and joyous outbursts of creativity. The energy she gives to her work remains visibly present in her figures which are full of life, movement and colour.

In the last few decades the contemporary art world has witnessed a renewed interest in the craft of traditional 18th century porcelain figurines. Artist such as Shary Boyle, Justin Novak, Penny Byrne and Jessica Harrison are using the style, techniques, or the historical relevance of the ceramic figurines in order to explore a vast range of narratives that reflect the 21st century Zeitgeist. Amanda Bromfield joins the company of these artists by adding her own unique approach to the traditional medium. I believe her work is a refreshing and vibrant addition to the contemporary reinterpretations of the ceramic figurine and a valuable contribution to the contemporary Australian art scene.

Article by Alma Studholme

Alma Studholme is a Croatian-born Australian sculptor with a scholarly background. Ceramics is her core medium, from which she ventures into multimedia and mixed media projects with a particular focus on public and performance art. Currently she is working on bringing her artistic and scholarly pursuits together through an interdisciplinary PhD project (www.almastudholme.com).

The written article is based on observations and interviews conducted with Amanda Bromfield in 2012 and 2013 (www.amandabromtield.com). Photos by john Stewart. All figures are glazed earthenware.
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Author:Studholme, Alma
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Words:1183
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