Gert Germeraad is a Swedish artist I quite like, who works mainly in ceramic sculptures.  I first encountered his work on access ceramics, which has images from his “Depicting Criminals” series.  The criminals in the series are actually people arrested by the gestapo during World War II, and their crimes (like “escape from work” and “illegal relations”) are part of the title of each piece.  What initially drew me into the work was Germeraad’s beautiful visual sensibility combined with the subtle approach to a challenging subject matter.  Much of his work focuses on portraiture and human expression.  From his website:

According to the American psychologist Paul Ekman, there are only a few ‘basic’ facial expressions which are worldwide the same, independent on culture.
These expressions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and, although less clear, contempt.

Germeraad explores the universality of expressions in his series “Portrait of a Man”.  The piece is a series of busts of one man, each with one of the basic human facial expressions.  It is odd and true that one can identify and identify with the expressions.

Portrait of a man, 2004 - 2006, ceramic and pigments (water color painted after firing at 1200° C)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a good series.  Germeraad really does a series well.  Repeated images are always really striking and add weight to the subject matter.  A single expressive portrait of a man could be interesting, beautiful, and moving.  But 9 portraits of the same man has a much greater effect.  You see progression, you see contrast.

Another series I love is based on physiognomy — the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face.  It was a popular school of thought in the middle ages, but was also revived in the 20th century.  Germeraad took physiognomic descriptions of different indicators and sculpted them into faces.  The expressions are blank, and the faces themselves are  normal yet somehow looking at them evokes an odd reaction in me.  The descriptions are pretty outlandish and it’s clear that you cannot infer the sum total of someone’s character by examining their face.  When I encounter these sculptures, I think about the absurdity of the descriptions but also the kinds of snap judgments I might make if I met these people.

For the junior art seminar (which I took as a senior), we had to create a blog on a theme.  My group’s theme was color, and Gert Germeraad was one of the artists I chose (the other was Misty Gamble).  Many ceramic artists look down on using non-ceramic, non-glaze methods of coloring pieces.  Ceramics can be sort of cultish, and using a non-ceramic process to color a piece is seen as sacrilegious in some circles.  Obviously Germeraad doesn’t subscribe to that.  After the piece is complete, he colors the work with watercolor.  I think this adds dimension and a tenderness to the pieces in a way that underglaze or glaze couldn’t.

For more information about Gert Germeraad and more images of his work, you can visit his website at www.gertgermeraad.eu.

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