Stars: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
One of my favourite artists working in Dundee is Jill Skulina. A ceramicist, she had a solo exhibition called Wholly Expletive at Nomas* Projects on Ward Road from 8 Dec 2019 to 10 Jan 2020, which reinterpreted the story of the nativity.
Much of Skulina’s work is centred around motherhood. I actually own one of her pieces, a tiny ceramic foetus, and there’s something about the medium that infuses her work with a delicacy and vulnerability that’s very moving.
For Wholly Expletive she used her own experience of being a young and unprepared mum to explore the birth of Jesus. Across five painted ceramic pieces she illustrated the story of the nativity, including a piece devoted solely to Mary’s mother. As the mother of a teenage daughter herself, Skulina explained, at her Nomas* Projects – Artist Talk on 8 Dec at Generator Projects, that she drew this perspective to add an extra layer to what is already a very emotionally charged series of works.
Motherhood and fertility have been major themes in Skulina’s work for much of her career, as she fell pregnant just after finishing her undergraduate degree. Even before that she was making work about abortion and the loss of a sister who died very young. Mainly she worked in crochet and other ‘women’s crafts’, partly out of practicality and partly out of a desire to reclaim those materials in a fine art setting. Lately she’s found that ceramics is the best medium for her to express herself and for her first solo show Together To Grow in the Wasps Artists Studios at Meadow Mill, Dundee last year she mixed the two mediums, as well as using found objects like baby doll heads, to explore the trauma she experienced during and immediately after her daughter’s birth.
She explains, “She was in SCBU, the neo-natal unit for tiny babies, and I couldn’t hold her for 12 days. Her eyes were closed because she was in an induced coma. So the babies [from the Wasps show] represented my daughter.”
Initially Skulina wanted to call her Nomas* show Holy Shit. “I wanted to call it Holy Shit,” she says, “As in, ‘Holy shit! I’m pregnant! Holy shit, my daughter’s pregnant! Holy shit, I have a baby!’… But it was hard to think of it from a teenage girl’s point of view, not being one anymore. I thought I could remember it, but I ended up doing it more from Mary’s mother’s perspective instead.”
In the Catholic tradition Mary’s mother is known as St Anne and is the patron saint of unmarried mothers, women in labour, grandmothers, and teachers. In one of the Nomas* pieces ‘I Wanted So Much More For Her’ Skulina has St Anne, with a contemporary haircut and jumper, staring at the viewer while tears fall down her face. In terms of technique Skulina uses her ceramics as canvases, allowing the shape of the clay to influence the drawing and subsequent painting that she does on top of it. Her style is one of tentative lines, muted colours, and disquieting shapes – as if the characters depicted on her canvases are trying to break through from another, less solid, world. Other stand out pieces include ‘Gas And Air’ , as Mary gives birth, and the absolutely stunning ‘Removed’ capturing the moment the baby Jesus is born – arms outstretched in a reverse crucifixion pose. You can almost hear his first cry as he arrives in the world. There is actually a break in the ceramic of ‘Removed’, like a caesarean scar right across baby Jesus’s belly, but it works so well it’s hard to imagine it isn’t intentional. Overall a stunning exhibition from an incredibly talented local artist.
Words: Ana Hine
Jill Skulina will be running a workshop as part of Dundee Women’s Festival. The Tiny Triumph Trophies class on Sunday 1 March from 1-3.30pm at Dundee Ceramics Workshop in Meadow Mill, Dundee will allow participants to make tiny trophies to celebrate any of life’s triumphs. Cost is £35 including tuition, materials, and firings. Finished work will be available to collect a couple weeks after the workshop. To book contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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