Juz Kitson: A Fine Balance - Art Collector

Issue 68, April - June 2014

Juz Kitson uses the grace and elegance of fine porcelain to depict grotesque and abject subjects. She explores the brutality of nature, decay and intestinal and sexual parts of bodies. According to Prue Gibson, her work is flourishing.

Juz Kitson, Changing Skin, 2013. Detail of installation, Jingdezhen porcelain, Southern Ice porcelain, paraffin wax, latex, resin, flocking, horse fox and goat hair, sheep and alpaca wool, deer and cow hide, natural found material, tulle, polyurethane, 580 x 500 x 140cm. Courtesy: the artist and Greenaway Gallery/Gagprojects, Adelaide.

Creating plaster moulds, slip-casting and glaze firing require technical skill and artisan expertise. No surprise to learn, then, that artist Juz Kitson, included in the most recent Museum of Contemporary Art Primavera 2013 exhibition for emerging artists, spends half her year in Jingdezhen, the ancient porcelain city of China. In this thriving, noisy and polluted city, she perfects her mastery and absorbs the history of ceramic practice before returning to the Australian bush to assemble her works and embark on the second half of her creative methodology.
At Art Stage Singapore 2014 Kitson exhibited her entire Primavera installation Changing Skin, which the artist described as “a chameleon, taking on the space around it, able to exist in many different spaces of classification”. This vast and ambitious work was a heady mix of artefact and disturbing viscera. This is Kitson’s strength: her ability to marry the elegant poise and grace of fine porcelain with the more grotesque elements of life and death – intestinal, sexual and biotic parts of the human body, of animal forms and reverberating patterns in nature. “The overall installation had an intended gravitational feel to it. There is a sense of massive, oozing heaviness to the work and a lightness,” she says. “I wanted components to appear to lightly touch the wall and some heavily droop, this is significant as the works can either push you back or pull you close … as they oscillate between bio-spectacle and pre-science experiment.”

The palette of Kitson’s work is often overlooked but her pale creams and udder-pinks, suffused with dusky grey, contribute to the power of the works in two ways. Firstly, it does not compete with texture, surface and form. Secondly, her choices evoke a creek bed, a discarded mine, a bleached coral reef, abandoned bones on an ancient grave – the horrors of life. There is a strong sense of environmental damage and human instincts for destruction, for death, for decay. Asked if human desire was an important part of her work, Kitson says: “Underlying themes throughout my practice involve the abject nature of beauty and horror, desire and disgust and I incorporate these with confronting subject matter – human and animal organs, sexual reproductive organs, bones, as well as constructed hybrid specimens. The beauty of the materials, fleshy pinks, soft hues and high gloss porcelain whites along with the craftsmanship … represents the friction and dichotomy of brutality in nature.”

Place is central to Kitson’s practice. Whether she is spending half the year in her studio in Jingdezhen, China or in Hill End, a former gold mining town in New South Wales, that she visits to collect bones, antlers, husks, vertebrae, fur and hides, or back in her studio on the Central Coast of New South Wales, her surroundings fundamentally affect her. In her studio she uses Southern Ice porcelain and says: “I also work with a firing process called physcial vapour deposition, it’s a form of electroplating, like chroming. Aesthetically and thematically it works; within the shiny silver surface you will see your reflection in the skull, reminding us of our own mortal coil – the swift passing of time. Omnia mors aequat – Death makes all equal.”

This sense of the sinister gothic has always been part of Kitson’s creative adventure. She absorbs the ambivalent notions of life and death, decay and vitality, Eros and Thanatos. “My process could be seen as a kind of ceramic alchemy or an embalming process; giving inanimate material a spark of life.” With these practical skills and such an acute perception of the frailty and fears of life’s pathologies, Kitson’s work will continue to flourish.

Prue Gibson.

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