Breathing life into your work is the mark of a true artist – and few techniques achieve as delicate a result as porcelain art. Just ask Kate MacDowell, a renowned contemporary porcelain masterworker famous for thought-provoking pieces that feature a prominent theme of conflict and harmony between man and nature.
But harmony isn’t always the goal for Kate when she sets off to construct her ghastly, spectral figures. In fact, she enjoys putting together intricately beautiful, yet doubtlessly macabre works, featuring internal organs and dissected animals, skeletons and themes of death – and thus, consequence. She chose porcelain for its marble-esque quality, and for a little trick she likes to do: shining light through it to give the illusion of an x-ray or ultrasound for maximal discomfort and intrigue.
Her porcelain art inspire question marks and awe – and at times, a raised eyebrow or slight squeamishness.
Her art-life began after a life spent in a high-tech corporate environment, with an art education amounting to not much more than a some filled sketchbooks from high school. She began a change in her life when she volunteered at a meditation retreat center in rural India, soaking in the noisy and saturated culture of the ancient and modern times there. Her travels extended to Nepal and Thailand, and the older ruins of ancient Greece and Italy.
Stockpiling mental references and feeding a powerful imagination, MacDowell returned to the US just over a decade ago in 2004, whereupon she – almost out of the blue – took up ceramics full-time. She studied at the ArtCenter in Carrboro, NC, and the Portland Community College’s Cascade campus, as well as the Oregon College of Art’s and Craft’s community education program.
Over the years, her porcelain art evolved from exploratory works of discomfort and intrigue to messages of environmental anguish, showing plainly how human disregard and greed upsets nature and brings about consequences we’d rather not see, or imagine.
Animals are her main motif, and always have been. From a young age, MacDowell’s fascination with nature was ignited by childhood memories of hiking and camping, and trips to national parks. Her love of nature culminated in tears one day, as she sat in her dorm room in Providence RI, reading On Tintern Abbey, and feeling homesick. She took a trip to Scotland a few months later.
Upon returning from her travels, inspired by imagery from the days of classical and baroque marble sculpture, the clay lessons she attended quickly became an outlet for her creativity – and since then, her true calling has led to countless sculptures and numerous exhibition pieces, with porcelain art works ranging from birds residing in a human lung, to a group of mice with human ears grown onto their backs.