The Art of Creating Beauty in Porcelain Figurines

Mysterious, suggestive, and dainty, Crystal Morey’s porcelain figurines from her Delicate Dependencies series resemble the sacred objects of ancient times and mythologies. Portraying women-animal hybrids, they remind one of time-forgotten depictions of harpies, tree nymphs, muses, and other mythical creatures that project an ageless consistency onto Crystal’s art.

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Their white fragility nevertheless carries powerful meaning, the predominant theme being the relationship between human beings and nature. They seem to intertwine in a spiraling fluidity, to grow out of each other and create a flux of esoteric energy. Constantly pushing her capabilities, Crystal’s Delicate Dependencies series features new organic compositions, expanding outwards to encompass flora as well as fauna.

The beauty of the figurines mourns the disruption in the world, the damage of nature, the triumph of industry over the environment, and encapsulates all the anxiety of imbalance and uncertainty. Crystal’s characters are expressive and their gestures intense, as if begging for forgiveness or crying out for for reason, trying desperately to prevent disaster.

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Crystal received her BFA in Ceramic Sculpture from the California College of the Arts, and her MFA in Spatial Art from San Jose State University. Her relationship with nature has been shaped by her alternative upbringing, in the rural Northern California, which will always serve as an inspiration for her art. We wanted to find out more …

The Plus: Could you tell us a bit more about the ‘alternative upbringing’ that shaped your artistic temperament?
Crystal Morey:
Many of my inspirations and interests in the natural world stem from an alternative upbringing, one in which I closely connected to the landscape around me. For much of my early childhood we lived in unique dwellings without modern amenities such as electricity or plumbing and chose not to indulge in television or mainstream radio. This lifestyle allowed for plenty of time to explore the forests, lakes and river canyons of the area, creating a strong relationship in the way I saw myself as a tiny component in vast sea of natural landscape.

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As I have become older, with new life experiences, and now with living in an urban city, my perspective has changed and the world doesn’t feel as large, wild and free. Through living in an urban environment, manipulated and controlled by humans, the fragile quality of the natural world has become more apparent to me. I no longer see the natural landscape as an expansive, never-ending space: I see it as a finite, irreplaceable space that we must nurture and protect.

Nostalgia, memory and longing also play a distinct role in my work. I often find myself wishing I could return to the naïve child I was, engulfed in the magical wood, filled with imagination and wonderment, unburdened by the realities of today. And yet, I choose to live in the city of Oakland because I don’t want to ignore modern life. I want to be part of the art culture and environmental conversation about what is happening now, and how we as artists can use our voices to encourage ideas to change.

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TP: Your porcelain figures are all of women; could you tell me a bit more about this focus?
CM:
Many of my visual inspirations come from my interest in art history and the use of the female form throughout time. There are so many representations of female archetypes that change through time, belief, style and religion; I really enjoy these histories and the different ways artists have expanded and reinterpreted these archetype themes. I look to the many facets of Mary, Venus, Eve, Lilith, and Mary Magdalene, to name a few, the way they embody time, power, growth, fertility, seduction, temptation, and the cycles of life. I see my work as relating to this history while adding my own interests with a sense of urgency in our relation to our current environmental situation.

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TP: Your work has an ecological focus, but also uses animals of diverse religious significance (goats, bulls, eagles…); could you tell me more about the interplay here?
CM:
Our human relationship with nature is very complicated, and one that I continually explore and contemplate in my work.

In my use of animal imagery, I am looking for creatures that live under stress in endangered ecosystems, ones affected by human expansion, and pressure. I look for creatures that are ingrained in our culture, animals we relate and feel a connection to. I am also interested in how many cultures and beliefs relate to other living creatures, finding significance in the power, beauty and strength of animals. I find our relationship with animals intriguing and take inspirations from many depictions of animal creatures throughout time, from pre-historic cave paintings, Egyptian deities, Roman and Greek mythology, all the way to modern animation, art, science, and storytelling.

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Through all of these influences my main goal is to show that all living creatures are interconnected and reliant on each other, that we are one intricate web of relations, dependent on each other for the long-term viability of life.

TP: Your work is incredibly delicate; could you walk me through the process of creating one of your sculptures?
CM:
I build all of my sculptures by hand, using porcelain clay. I start with a composition and gesture in my mind, I then visualize the piece with the emotion and thoughts I would like to convey. From there, I source photographic references for human and animal components to reference as I sculpt. I usually start by sculpting the legs, then move to the torso, the head, and then onto the arms and hands. Once all of the elements are in place, I then work up layers of detail. I love the intricate details like toes, horns, feathers, fur, teeth, and the gestural composition I can create in the arms, hand and fingers. Porcelain is a very delicate material that takes time to set up and dry, which means I can often work on multiple pieces during the same time period. Once a piece has been sculpted, it must completely dry before being fired to roughly 2200° F in a ceramic kiln. From start to finish, including drying time, a piece can take about two months. Creating sculptures with porcelain can be very challenging, but I love the history associated with material and the delicacy and translucency I am able to achieve.

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TP: You talk about the talismanic power of these pieces; do you have a talisman of your own you’d like to share?
CM:
I see my sculptures existing in habitats stressed or impacted by human activity, leading them to an unclear future. They inhabit a space where the relationship between humans and the plants and animals around them, are intricately and physically bound together, dependent on each other for their long-term viability. Sculpted from the silken white earth of porcelain, I see these delicate figures as containing power, as modern talismans and precious telling objects. They see a heightened vision of human influence in the natural world and are here to remind us of our current trajectory and the delicate dependencies we all share.

As far as my own Talisman, I have so many: bears, falcons, lions, deer, robins and many more. I have a real connection to animals that we refer to as “fringe” or “indicator” species, creatures that exist at both ends of the food chain, making them the most susceptible to changes in our ecosystem.

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