Sins & Virtues
Sins & Virtues Artists have been creating stories in clay for centuries. The Chinese discovered porcelain in 25-220 AD during the Han dynasty. It wasn’t until 1708 when Germany first introduced porcelain to Europe. As the story goes, the king of Poland and the Prince of Saxony commissioned a research project to bring porcelain (aka “ white gold ”) from China to the Western World. This created a revolution in both functional wear and sculpture. Several porcelain factories emerged at that time in Europe, the most famous in Meissen, Germany. These important factories produced outstanding works of art meant mostly for royalty. Elaborately sculpted figurative scenes created in this new exciting clay were sometimes placed on dining room tables to stimulate conversation. The subjects often included animals dressed up in costume such as the Monkey Orchestra (Meissen). Seeing this work in person sparked my interest in the porcelain world, which speaks to my love of telling a story. While in Germany, I visited both the Meissen Porcelain Gallery and the Dresden Porcelain Collection to observe hundreds of porcelain sculptures, deepening my commitment to this special clay. When I returned home, I continued my search for porcelain sculptures. The Boston Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frick, The Wadsworth, and The Philadelphia Museum of Art all had splendid collections to glean ideas. The fire was lit and I was ready to create my own menagerie! I decided to base my work on the classic Seven Deadly Sins (who hasn’t sinned?) and the Seven Virtues. This theme, depicted using animals, provides so much emotionally charged material to explore, discover, and enjoy. I also now know that animals look great in 16th century French feathered hats! After creating the first sculpture, called “ Deceit ," I stumbled upon an 18th century sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art so similar to my own that I knew I was on the right track.
" Potpourri Vase with Figure Group, " made by the Mennecy porcelain factory, Mennecy, France, soft-paste porcelain, c. 1747-1773
" Deceit, " Tricia Zimic, English porcelain, 2017
Influences, inspirations, and recent paintings After recently seeing Rembrandt, Franz Hals and other Dutch masters in-person at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I was motivated to create a painted body of work to compliment my sculptures. Living artists have also inspired me – Chris Antemann for her amazingly detailed porcelains, Kathy Ruttenberg for her personal style and chutzpah and Walton Ford for his sardonic and humorous animal watercolors. Much of my inspiration also comes from nature walks and my love of animals both domestic and wild. I think we have a lot to learn from animals – they are practical, hilarious, love their offspring, conserve energy, are never obese, and emotionally honest, sexual creatures. Based on this inspiration, many of my recent works have won awards because of their original, richly detailed and fanciful design. And, like their ancestors in Meissen, Germany, they can be placed on pedestals for display or used as centerpieces for an extraordinary dinning table setting.
“ Greed ” oil on Luon “ Sloth ” Oil on Linen
Tiger Trade, 2018 Oil on Luon 23" diameter
Sloth, 2017 Oil on Linen 20 x 30"
Porcelain process I use NZ-6 mid-range porcelain clay (cone 4-6) from New Zealand. Porcelain involves years of experience to mold and fire successfully as it is a persnickety clay body. Cracks, warping and slumping are commonplace. Because each sculpture is unique, they have to be hand modeled. No molds are ever used. After creating a drawing of my planned work, I sculpt the entire piece, then I cut the sculpture into logical pieces and wrap them in plastic. I hollow the sections out to prevent cracking and air pockets. Then I reassemble all the pieces and refine the details. I wrap the smaller, more delicate parts with plastic and wait until everything is completely and evenly dried. This is where 50% of cracks could occur. This process can take three to four weeks depending on humidity levels and the complexity of the work. Once the clay is completely dried (the " greenware " state) I place the fragile sculpture into the kiln. The firing is a tricky time because the kiln has to increase temperature very slowly with many " ramp and hold " settings, eventually reaching approximately 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. This firing takes 32 hours to complete. The temperature is brought down at an equally slow pace. After cooling, I sometimes apply a clear glaze and fire again to cone 5 (2,118 degrees). The whole firing process takes over 60 hours!
Philosophy My love affair with porcelain began many years ago when I was looking for the whitest, strongest and most classical clay. When I visited Meissen and Dresden a few years ago, I was amazed and excited to see what could be done with porcelain. I was very inspired by the sculptures of Johan Joachim KĂ¤ndler and couldn't wait to return home and try this new body of clay. Alas, it is a difficult relationship, because while I love the end result, the path along the way is
fraught with challenges. When I first grab the wet porcelain, it is friendly and wants to " play nice, " allowing me to model it as needed. As I proceed, it becomes less “ friendly ” and plastic to my touch, needing to be wrapped or lightly sprayed with water to be kept moist and pliable. When drying, it can become ones “ bitch goddess ” as it loves to crack and split. Then of course the cracks can and will continue to insist on their presence once in the kiln. In the end though, I love the strength, detail and the transparency that can be achieved with porcelain. I do enjoy a challenge, but I feel I must be tenacious, diligent and yet very patient with this lovely clay body.
Diligence, 2019 Porcelain 15 x 9 x 9.5" Creativity alone is not enough to bring art into the world. Even in today's world of technology and new techniques to aid in the creative process, to move an idea from the ether into the tangible requires the virtue diligence.
Sloth, 2016 Porcelain, clear glaze 6 x 12 x 7.5" This piece was inspired by the 15th century Dutch master still life painters. The setting is a very relaxed young baboon offering a pomegranate to an endangered Kakapo. Wine, oyster, ham, and fruit are placed around the two friends.
Chastity, 2019 Porcelain 11 x 14.5 x 10.5" This chaste 18th century gentleman was playing his lute, when along came a salacious female to distract him. It will be difficult to remain virtuous.
Lust, 2016 Porcelain, clear glaze 12 x 9.75 x 9.25" The adolescent male baboon is intrigued with an older flirtatious female in heat. Not knowing what to do, he just stares and wrings his hands, hoping that she will make the first move.
Abstinence, 2020 Porcelain 7.5 x 11 x 16" Studies have found that junk food is actually twice as distracting as healthy food. This youngster has a pack full of healthy choices, but he has stumbled into the bootie prize! Hmmmm, what to do....
Gluttony, 2017 Porcelain, clear glaze 17.5 x 6.75 x 10.75" This adult male baboon is not sharing his collection of hoarded fruit. A wayward parrot lands on his shoulder and takes a swipe of the mango while the adolescent baboon steals what he can.
Liberality, 2019 Porcelain 11.75 x 16 x 15.5"
This 5 piece narrative sculpture has a 1740's fisherman generously sharing his bounty with herons and kingfishers. He has sliced open his very large catch where the flying fish are trying to escape only to become dinner once again, this time by hungry birds.
Greed, 2016 Porcelain, clear glaze 9 x 12 x 8"
These detailed 16th century lace and feathered hats are worth noting in this humorous, conservation minded sculpture. The baboons are happily agreeing to exchange money for the tiger.
Patience, 2019 Porcelain 13.5 x 9 x 18.5" This supine baboon is waiting patiently while his mane is being adorned with a multitude of orchids. One could feel the quietness in the air, as the hairdresser takes his time deciding where the last flower should be placed.
Wrath, 2016 Porcelain, clear glaze 12.25 x 13 x 11" Drones are used for land surveying, the military, and also commonly used to observe animals in the wild. Sometimes the animals are quite annoyed and take revenge against the "artificial animals." Here, we see a Mandrill baboon having his way with the unfortunate drone.
Humility, 2019 Porcelain 15.75 x 12.5 x 16" The circus ringmaster and his son were not prepared for the tiger to revolt. Humility is always the best approach.
Pride, 2017 Porcelain, clear glaze 13.75 x 13 x 12.5" I nspired by Hans Holbein's painting of King Henry VIII, this well-dressed
subject seems to have captured a female and surrounds himself with objects of wealth. The elephant tusks around him are engraved with images of man's hubris that will ultimately be his (unknowing) downfall.
Kindness, 2019 Porcelain 14.25 x 6.5 x 10" It was difficult to show kindness without showing its opposite. Here, a beautifully dressed wealthy gentleman is rescuing a baby parrot after its mother met her end.
Envy, 2017 Porcelain, clear glaze 10 x 12 x 9.75" The metaphors are everywhere in this elaborate sculpture. A " lady of means " is relaxing after eating and drinking wine. She is in repose with flowers (from her lover?) that have fallen from her hand. She dreams of wonderful things. A skinny beggar lady in rags is curious and maybe a bit resentful how this lady has so much and she so little.
Biography I was raised on Long Island, New York in the 1960’s. This was a time when mothers let their children roam freely as long as they were back by dinner time. I was grateful for this, as I had a curious mind and loved to wander. Our family lived near a pony farm, a woodland and a meadow. I spent my days exploring seed pods in the meadow, lady slippers in the woods, and the wildlife of ponies. This is where I learned about the cycle of life – sex, pregnancy and ultimately, birthing and death. I was amazed and spellbound. As a youth, I spent many hours drawing with my mother at the kitchen table. She would draw Betty Boop and I would draw made-up plants and animals. Always making messes in the house with my painting and sculptures, my dad finally built an art studio for me in the basement. This allowed me to explore the world of art undisturbed without being obligated to clean up the creative mess! I would use whatever I could get my hands on cheaply – house paints, India ink, self-hardening clay or found objects to create my own oeuvre. As a young adult, I had a passion for storytelling through art. I would spend days thumbing through art books and going to museums with my mother. My earliest influences were Maurice Sendak, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. Constantly needing to be creative, I went to art camps and I took printmaking classes at C.W. Post College. I knew that the only choice for me was to be an artist, as my mother and grandmother before me. Encouraged, but not wanting to be a starving artist, I decided to go to Parsons School of Design to study illustration. While there, I had the opportunity to study with many talented artists, including Maurice Sendak. After graduating, I made a living as a children's book illustrator. I worked with several major book publishers for many years, including Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Viking-Penguin. Some of the books I illustrated became quite popular, such as the Nancy Drew Files (see my illustration website). I also enjoyed painting many cult-classic movie posters for Troma Inc.
Eventually, I decided to stop illustrating. I was tired of telling someone else’s story – it was time to tell my own. My love for the outdoors became a strong theme at this point in my life. In my spare time, I volunteered as a native plant reforester in a 2000-acre reservation in Essex County, a densely populated area in New Jersey. This is where I founded The Wildflower Sculpture Park which is located in front of the forest preserve. It is now a thriving sculpture park, with many well-known or emerging artists and each year I search for new artists to exhibit their sculptures. While working in the woodland, I became concerned about the pollution and over lack of native plants negatively impacting the indigenous ecosystem in this reservation. This reforestation work coincided with my learning ceramics at an art center in Summit, New Jersey. My passion for animals finally had a medium that I felt could tell my story – ceramics. I wanted to show how animals persevered, despite living on top of us in an urban environment. I sculpted many of New Jersey’s endangered species that live in and around the metropolitan area, including the brown bat, the pack rat, and the barred owl. This series culminated in many gallery shows, including a solo show of paintings and sculptures at both the New Jersey Historical Society and New Jersey State Museum. Loving a challenge, I decided to switch my clay from stoneware to porcelain. While porcelain is strong and transparent, it is also persnickety and sometimes an unforgiving medium. After traveling to Germany and discovering the Meissen porcelains, I felt I had found something truly special. I decided to sculpt the classic Sins and Virtues in my own contemporary narrative, using baboons inspired by early 18th-century artist Joachin Kandler’s orchestra series. According to Thomas Michie, senior curator of decorative arts at Boston Museum of Fine Arts “ this has never been done before." I enjoyed using Chacma baboons (also called "Cape baboons") in my work because of their important Meissen heritage, their human-like expressive faces, and, of course, their opposable thumbs(good for holding stemware). Some of my sculptures are rather humorous. I believe that this is an important feature and adds to the discussion. Sculpture similar to these were originally created in the 18th century for the dining table to stimulate provocative discussion. I hope these pieces inspire the same.
Tricia Zimic, "Sins & Virtues", a 30-page, fully illustrated catalog including works from 2016-2020.