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My library locker is right next to the ceramics section, and while browsing recently I stumbled onto a book about Howard Kottler.  He was a ceramic artist working in the sixties and seventies on the west coast and was influenced by and worked with seminal west coast artists like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson.  Kottler uses mass produced ceramic plates instead of throwing his own.  He didn’t want to comment on the plate as an object, but focused on exploring social and political commentary through altered decals of famous images.

Colonial Rockettes (1967)

The title of this post refers to a quote by Patricia McDonnell in an essay on Marsden Hartley to describe how he simultaneously addressed and dodged his homosexuality in his paintings.  Kottler was not a child of the free love 1960s, he was a product of the great depression and World War II.  Like gay artists of that time (Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg), Kottler uses coded references to queer culture in his work.  His plates are whimsical and entirely palatable to a mainstream audience, but simultaneously subversive and loaded with meaning and symbolism.  In Colonial Rockettes every man essentially kick the man in front of him, a funny composite of a colonial image and a modern image but also a big gay orgy (of sorts).

Signals (1967-1972)

In Signals, he took a decal of The Last Supper and cut out only the hands of the figures and a circular border.  The phantom hands float on the plate and bring attention to a part of the painting you might not have noticed before.  Those hands also connote hand gestures that indicate sexual preferences within the gay community.  Like Signals, Sign Language Kottler repeats a hand, removing fingers to that only the outstretched pinkie is left — a gesture connoting effeminate men.  I love that  someone’s super conservative family could be eating their supper off these plates.  Outwardly they are visually captivating and there is a clear thematic idea, whether or not they know what it is.

Twins (c. 1970)

The series that I most like is based on two paintings: The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence.  Kottler repeats The Blue Boy, cuts him up, reassembles him in different order, changes his size.  In Twins he pairs Pinkie and Blue Boy, but both have Blue Boy’s head.  It’s beautiful and goofy, but also picture of effeminate gay men.

I like artists that explore identity and intersecting experiences, and I especially like that Kottler does that using images from art history.  I also like the idea of putting things that are super gay under the noses of people who don’t get it.  Not all of Howard Kottler’s places are subtle, but the ones I like best use finely tuned visual interest to stir up more interesting questions about sexuality and queer culture.

The book, called Look Alikes: The Decal Plates of Howard Kottler, was part of the Tacoma Art Museum‘s Northwest Perspectives series.  The other book referenced is Dictated by Life: Marsden Hartley’s German Paintings And Robert Indiana’s Hartley Elegies written by Patricia McDonnell.


Panel from "Fun Home". Image from

I have been reading a lot lately.  This might not be unusual for most people, but it’s quite rare for me.  In addition to my Novel challenge (ha), I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A family tragicomic.  I am most familiar with the Bechdel move test, where in order to pass the movie has to have 1. two named female charcters, 2. who talk to one another, and 3. about something other than men.  I am also acquainted with her series Dykes to watch out for.  We have a ton of the books in the GSC library.

After I finished it, I talked a little bit with Scott (known for his love of all things comic).  He said that he liked it, but thought it didn’t quite succeed as a graphic novel.  That you could have taken out all the pictures and it would have been just as successful.  I can’t say I disagree, though I think the subject matter is far more compelling than any other graphic novels I have read.  I found the book so affecting.  I love reading about how she finally put a name to her sexuality in her college library, and the insatiable desire to read all things queer after that.  She reads Collette, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Well of Loneliness, all books I read in the past four years, and all books in the GSC library that  I worked so hard to wrangle and organize.  I think I’ll donate my copy to the library, because we don’t as yet have one but I definitely think we should.

Father-daughter relationships are always interesting to me.  Bechdel’s experience with her father was so unlike my own, but there were aspects of that relationship that I identified with.  It is odd to think of our parents as people unto themselves, and she seems to have had some extreme revelations about who her father really was.  It is heartbreaking both that she only started to know who her father was so close to his death and that he had lived so much of his life in secret.

Late last week my computer punked out and the hard drive failed, leading me to the student computing center.  There I picked up the most beautiful copy of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.  The book is number 27 in the Borzoi Pocket Books series, published by Alfred A. Knopf in the twenties.  The book, originally published in 1908, is about Lucy Honeychurch being way to awesome for stifling Edwardian England.  The first part of the book takes place while she is on vacation with her cousin and chaperon in Florence, and the second when she returns home to her family and friends.

I was really surprised by how much I liked it.  Forster’s style is definitely harder to follow than I expected.  Despite being tricky, the story and characters were so captivating.  In addition to Forster’s involved writing style, there are also a lot of contextual social things that eluded me.  Forster will describe some small social gesture and I have no idea whether someone just got snubbed or flattered.  I also had to constantly look up words I didn’t know.  For example “pension” refers not only to money you get after you retire from years of thankless government service but also to boarding houses in Europe.  I mean, I caught on really quick seeing as how you can’t really stay in a sum of money, but that is just one of many zany, outdated words Forster throws in the mix.

While there were a lot of little things I didn’t pick up on, but I did glean from the book was how much of a colossal ass Cecil Vyse is.  Forster certainly made that clear as day.  He was so cruel to Lucy’s friends, super bossy, and not terribly interesting.  I was so happy when she finally gave him what for.  All he could do was accept, because he hadn’t realized until then how awful he was and how wonderful Lucy is.  Duh, Cecil.  Girls rule, boys drool.

E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View: 4 stars.
Next up: Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop.

I have decided to add a new element to this blog/my life.  I want to read all of the books on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels. This started because I picked up a copy of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View in the lost and found of the student computing center, and I really like it.  I’m almost done with it and as soon as I am I’ll post a little review.  This will add a new dimension to the quite-underdeveloped “paper” section of Paper // Clay.  Stay tuned!

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