Resplendent Paradigms: Christine Golden Chronicles the Human Condition

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1 Flying With Waxed Wings, 3 ft. 9 in. (1.14 m) in height, slab-built stoneware, underglaze, glaze, oxide, slip, decals, fired in an electric kiln to cone 2, various paints, napkin, 2012.

The memory of Christine Golden’s work has stayed with me since I first encountered it in the 2012 exhibition “Across the Divide” at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her clustered figures were vignettes of imagined and actual memories past. The subtle archetypal references she employed impacted my psyche. It was as if, just beyond my own memories, I could claim these narratives as a familiar part of my own primal makeup. Is it that, in these objects, groupings, and installations, she was able to make personal the human condition? The answer for me was, and remains, yes.

Narrative through object, placement, and grouping plays a key role in Golden’s work. Often her pieces include arranged figures and their associated accoutrements. These vignettes offer the audience a window into a rich and open story. Visual clues are supplied through these objects without spoiling the full measure of a viewer-developed truth.

Descriptive narrative is evident in the wall-mounted sculpture, Flying With Waxed Wings. Two female figures face away from one another, at two different stages in life. The younger suckles a third figure in profile view. A calf resides beside this Father Time figure, whose beard flows horizontally across the composition and visually connects with a curve of circles. At first glance, textured geometric forms appear to be devices used only to formally balance the composition and emphasize visual movement while providing a structured framework. These forms are, in fact, loaded with meaning. Artifacts of the excesses of human consumption are a running theme in Golden’s work. In this case, the hollow cylinders extending into the foreground are actually foreshortened pipelines, altering the viewer’s sense of perspective both allegorically and literally. The interiors of these pipes hold images printed with details of environmental degradation such as harmful oil and gas production practices, and industrialized agriculture gone wrong. Other aspects of this piece—such as the younger woman’s Monsanto inspired corn crown, and the token calf of food chain disruption—offer insight into further ecological squalor.

2 Christine Golden working in her studio, 2015. 3 John, Nancy, and Lars, 26 in. (66 cm) in height, slab-built stoneware, porcelain slip, glaze, underglaze, fired in an electric kiln to cone 2, wood, fiber, 2014.

While her work is richly embedded with symbolism, Golden allows room for interpretation. Evoking a strong emotive response to a work is the most important outcome for Golden. For example, I inquired as to whether the importance of maize in native cultures of the Southwest had meaning within the above-mentioned work. In her reply, she shared the following quote from photographer Sally Mann, “If it doesn’t have ambiguity, don’t bother to take it. . . it’s got to have some kind of peculiarity in it or it’s not interesting to me,” and then explained, “It doesn’t matter to me whether the viewer knows why I put that corn or that bird there. It’s the overall feeling or emotion that’s most important.”

Golden is a traveler by nature both in body and in spirit. She is wide open to the exploration of differing cultural perspectives. This flexibility allows her insight into her own self and work. During a recent trip to the Prado Museum, in Madrid, Spain, she gravitated toward works by El Greco, Francisco de Goya, and Jusepe de Ribera. Her three-dimensional vignettes are often composed with a similar aesthetic sensibility to these early masters. Although she works in a sculptural format, dramatic emphasis on light and shadow recalls the use of chiaroscuro in a Caravaggio painting.

4 Storming, Again, 36 in. (92 cm) in height, slab-built stoneware, porcelain slip, glaze, underglaze, fired in an electric kiln to cone 2, wood, 2013.5 Kids in the Garden 2 (Boy), 16 in. (41 cm) in height, slab-built and wheel- thrown stoneware, glaze, fired in an electric kiln to cone 2, resin in bowl, paint, 2012. Photo: Ryan LaBar.

As Golden’s encompassing theme is the plight of the human condition, it can be expected that her sculptures are chock full of art-historical and religious references. In early childhood, she was introduced to a stringent religious practice. Due to life circumstances, these beliefs were abruptly torn away during adolescence. A continual search for personal meaning has thus ensued. She explores themes of the child’s obscured memories through an adult’s lens in the Kids in the Garden series.

Golden further explores connections to historical Western art in the Kids in the Garden series. Referencing Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights along with works by other artists. A child sprouts out from a washtub at mid torso in each sculpture in this body of work. Drawings are etched onto the exteriors of each washtub. These images are tributes to artists such as Egon Schiele, Leonardo da Vinci, and Henri Matisse. She selected visual references in which memories of love, leisure, and the joys of youth were evident. After peering into the interior of these washtubs, a dichotomy emerges. The exterior exemplifies bliss while the interior depicts misery. Miniature figures grapple in duress below towering children who gaze directly and unapologetically at the viewer, holding us accountable. The fruits of her labors have been recognized as Kids in the Garden 2 (Boy), was awarded Best in Show at the prestigious Zanesville Prize for Contemporary Ceramics, in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2014.

Golden understands that her deft familiarity with the medium is simply a means to an end. I had presumed that she works in a methodical step-by-step manner from initial idea development through completion of the finished form. She explained instead: “I have this idea in my head, and I know what I want it to look like, and I don’t feel like I need to replicate it first with a drawing, second with a maquette, and third to finalize. I like to spend the time on the piece itself.”

Her streamlined production method allows Golden to move nimbly from concept, to a slab-built construction, to layering surfaces pre- and post-bisque and glaze firings, through to an effective completed work. She understands the often fickle physical properties of clay and acknowledges unexpected change and happenstance, allowing this to inform her making process.

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6 Smoke Screen 1 (Girl), 17½ in. (44 cm) in height, ceramic, foam, encaustic, 2015.

She intentionally incorporates specific color choices and matte versus glossy surfaces in order to realistically represent certain aspects of a composition while imbuing further content into other hyper-realistic areas. When discussing her surface treatments in relation to content, she explains: “The figures are usually matte except for where oils from the skin create glassy highlights on the face or on the shoulder. In nature there are more things that are matte than glossy. When I incorporate hyperrealism, it’s the idea of what ‘that apple’ symbolizes rather than a real fruit. It should be excessively glossy and so perfectly red. There’s got to be more to the apple, and there is. It’s the concept that goes along with it.”
Through her surface choices, objects are not always objects for their own sake but may become symbol-loaded simulacra.

When applicable, Golden incorporates mixed media into her work. Her use of found objects in Flying with Waxed Wings provides visual contrast in an otherwise seamless blending of color, texture, and form.

The actual napkins in the elder woman’s braided hairpiece reference Golden’s insight into the impact of paper production on the environment. While working on this piece, Golden discovered that rainforests in Indonesia were greatly compromised in order to supply the fast-food chain KFC with paper products. Although the viewer does not need these specifics to take in the overall theme, Golden hopes to engage further query through the use of unexpected material choices.

Golden masterfully illustrates her complex narratives with controlled skill. The physicality of the making and the finite craftsmanship necessary to create the realistic representations are acute, but superseded by the themes explored. Her figurative groupings exist in a realm past the complexity of her technical prowess. In speaking with her, I was struck by her dedicated interest in imbuing content and meaning within the work. She could just as easily rely on her dexterity with modeling the human figure and leave it at that. There would still be followers, sales, and awards. Instead, she poses questions and compels the viewer to explore each composition further.

Christine Golden is a studio artist residing in Flagstaff, Arizona. She teaches workshops and exhibits nationally. See more of her work at www.christinegolden.com.

the author Alex Kraft teaches ceramics at the University of North Georgia. More information is available at her website: www.alexkraftart.com.

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