Text: Maya Highsmith
The bounds of what constitutes connection in an abstract age are amorphous and ambiguous. Our ideas, emotions and often our relationships, take form out of air. They twist and turn under the confines of words and disappear behind some veil of smoke that we may never be able to cross. We make myths of the past as it evokes feelings that are hard to put into words. In the recent work of Colin J. Radcliffe, a Brooklyn-based ceramicist, figurative protagonists and lost objects go hand in hand. Amalgamations and mementos of lost love and fleeting emotions.
Radcliffe’s show at Schlomer Haus Gallery in San Francisco, entitled Love Spoiled, is one clearly marked by this uncertainty. Described by the artist as “autobiographical, and often at times confessional”, each work functions as a sort of personal reminiscence. Lovers become lions or teddy bears, exes become snakes, condoms take on slogans alternating between the sexual, the sad, and the sinister.
The emotional landscape underlying any relationship is undoubtedly loaded. Yet, the visual tone of Radcliffe’s work is playful: simple bright colors, sloping arms and legs, dangling penises with almost cartoonish faces. But as the title of Love Spoiled may suggest, its undercurrent is one fraught with the potential for danger of love to fade or ‘spoil’, reflected in the medium of porcelain, a material deliberately chosen for its fragility.
The common denominator of Radcliffe’s work and the process behind it is touch. “You infuse something through touch, the way you touch a lover or text on your phone”. Ceramics have been used for centuries, considered a dignified hallmark of one’s personal taste or a symbol of piety to whatever gods watched over them. In contrast to this stately historical idea, his works imagine a new kind of vessel-- one that holds the essence of touch, memory, and the shifting dynamics of modern romance.
Modern conceptions of love and identity have become inseparable from the Internet. Its omnipresence can feel like the creation of a new self, one quite similar to and emergent from us but something of our own design, something more curated than we could ever be. In Radcliffe’s work, he highlights how that for Queer people, the Internet has a unique capability to connect and create community. Queer spaces have always had to operate relatively under the radar--whether that be in gay bars or cruising spots. Though Queerness in the public sphere has become increasingly acceptable, the importance of designated and protected spaces is still essential. Now these spaces have moved digitally. In the same way that the digital is inseparable from Radcliffe’s art, so too is the world of cruising and dating from the Internet.
The conversation surrounding the role of the Internet for Queer people lends itself to a broader one. The importance of spaces for expression. Schlomer Haus is a gallery dedicated directly towards the amplification of Queer and underrepresented voices in the art world. This solo show is an invaluable opportunity for Radcliffe, who has never been exhibited in San Francisco. When I asked him what kinda of impact he hoped for Love Spoiled to have, he replied “I’m excited to reach a whole new audience of many generations of Queer people [...] and for how my work can fit into the greater canon of Queer art. How the works can be translated past the exhibition”.
Connect with Colin J. Radcliffe here: Instagram