2014 Essay | Kirk Mangus: Going for Baroque

2014 Essay | Kirk Mangus: Going for Baroque

Going for Baroque

By Kirk Mangus

  Kirk Mangus
Sea Life Ziggurat, 2005
stoneware, wheelthrown, Kirk's Peacock Glaze
18 x 9 x 9

Since I draw on nearly every pot I make, I have always been curious  about  the complexities of drawing, form, and decoration. It is not so much that each one has it’s own values. It is exactly the opposite. The very nature of making art, and especially making pottery, despises categories and continually transcends the boundaries that are associated with language, tradition and pedantic genres. There are elemental problems with creating art. The more additions that are added to an existing form, the less visible these details become as the form becomes saturated with extra elements. If a piece is simplified, the decisions become more complex, since each decision alters the work in extreme ways.  

Art tends to mutate. Style and influence creep in and out of objects, interiors and architecture.  Foreign thought continually challenges regional taste and spawns exotic hybrid children. This often happens without conscious intellectual decisions. Interesting things become appropriated simply because the best way to appreciate something is to imitate it. The artist always gets things a little wrong and misses the original point. This doesn't matter. When something becomes incorporated, it takes on a life of it’s own. It also assimilates the background and concerns of the artists who have embraced the new ideas.

Kirk Mangus
Jackpot with Flowers

13.5 x 9 x 10 


Beauty is a figment of the imagination. It is also completely controlled by prejudices. Decoration, which is described as adornment, ornament, or embellishment, is also controlled by these prejudices. It is usually a breakdown in these intolerances that draw new elements into the artistic scheme of things. The modern world tends to quickly  and easily embrace diverse material and make it appreciated by huge audiences. What used to take a century can happen in a decade or a year. This is less an issue of mass media and more an issue of the mixtures of people that populate the globe. Where the mixtures are greatest, the greater the appreciation for disparate forms of beauty. Mass media can only inform. It is the close proximity of cultures that encourages appreciation and comprehension. 

For me, I have constantly tried to move between the simplification of my work and my natural urge to create dense layers of images. When I started making things in the seventies, I tried to eliminate most extemporaneous additions to my pots. Since I was drawing and carving on them, It made sense to strip down the form. I made ziggurats, bumps, hives, stacks of lumps, squares, cylinders, birdhouse shapes and occasionally amphoras. I wanted to create a primordial pot that would be illuminated by my drawings. What began to happen was that simpler pieces had a dramatic surface to work on, but I became more interested in the intricacies of the ziggurats and the birdhouses. I labored over these pots. I began to cover these pieces with small sculptures of birds, bugs and heads as well as drawing on the surface. I did this out of of a reaction to the stepped forms as well as a gnawing feeling that these things could become beautiful in a baroque way or even a decorative way. I wood fired many of them. The intricate mix of ash glaze and charcoal effects with the variety of clays I used, added to the lushness of the pots. They were extremely complex visual and technical things and since they used architectural shapes as the basis for their pottery forms they were also a bit odd. I became indecisive about what to do next to with these series. 

Kirk Mangus
SeaLife Basket, 2005
stoneware,wheel-thrown, Kirk's Peacock Glaze
9 x 9 x 9


My reaction to this dilemma was basically to stand back and try something else. Then I could see if a could learn something about my other work.  I do this often and take some time away from projects that have come to some critical junction. During a period in1987-88 I started working with bisque ware molds and stamps. I made a series of small earthenware pieces that looked like tiny amphora. I covered these pieces with a  shiny copper glaze. I would reduce the glaze as it was cooling and form a red luster on these pieces. I had been studying Roman Arrentini ware and my head was full of it’s colors and proportions. I responded  to the mathematics of this pottery. I tried to use this math decisively and intuitively, but the making process slows down since considerable time is used to articulate the form. They had a precious quality that was built into their classic proportions, scroll handles, ornate images and their shiny red color. In many cultures, red is often a color of associated with good fortune, hence it’s appeal. The red had something to do with this precious quality, but so did my cultural bias towards ancient Greek and Roman design. It is not only the recognizable proportions of the pots that is appealing, it is also the soothing mathematics of the human form that is emulated in these ancient designs. The ornate additions resonate opulence even though they are quickly molded, They were added and subtracted with spontaneous glee.


Kirk Mangus
Ruffled Jar, 2002
local stoneware,wheel-thrown,wood-fired
16.5 x 11 x 11

This gave me a comparison to the ziggurats and birdhouses.  I don’t necessarily believe in answers. I am more fond of questions and puzzles. 


Published in conjunction with the SOFA CHICAGO 2014 Lecture Kirk Mangus: Things Love with Rose Bouthillier, Associate Curator and Publications Manager, MOCA Cleveland;  Eva Kwong, Mangus’ widow; and Mindy Solomon, Owner, Mindy Solomon Gallery, Miami, FL.  Presented by Mindy Solomon Gallery

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