This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s blog Luxury Defined.
We all have to ask ourselves questions about our work, but very few of us have the opportunity to wonder, “Does the giant chicken want to play with Marie Antoinette?” For Beth Katleman such ponderings are frequent and important.
That chicken and the French queen, along with toys, tourist trinkets, aquarium decorations, and other apparently random objects may all be cast and recreated in porcelain, to appear in one of the large-scale artworks that Katleman describes as “3D porcelain wallpaper with a subversive edge.”
Illinois-born Katleman, a painter since childhood, was a latecomer to her medium. “Aside from Play-Doh, I never touched clay until I was in my late 20s,” she says.
“When I touched clay I felt the freedom to experiment”
It was during a visit to Barcelona that she saw a bench that Antoni Gaudí, the acclaimed Spanish architect, had covered in ceramic shards. Liking the look and feel of the surface, she enrolled in a tile-making class at Parsons School of Design in New York on her return to the United States.
Today, Katleman’s works are inspired by the paneling, carvings, mirrors, and chandeliers of the 18th century—and of course Toile de Jouy wallpaper—as well as the low art of consumer culture. Folly, one of her best-known pieces, is a case in point: 48 3D vignettes float in front of a wall like clouds, with scenes of “peasants cavorting in bucolic landscapes in the shadows of classical ruins.” A smaller version of the work now takes pride of place in Christian Dior’s London flagship boutique.