Rachel Kneebone’s finely sculpted porcelain works erupt with a bacchanal of contorted bodies, limbs and slumped phallic tendrils that emerge from amorphous properties of the material. Sharing the characteristics of Hellenistic sculpture, Kneebone retains the purity of the glazed white surface while the tonal chiaroscuro enhances the intricately modeled ruptures and crevices that inject this conventional material with a sensual physicality and unique energy.
Inspired by Ovid’s great poem ‘Metamorphosis’ where humans migrate into a myriad of forms, Kneebone depicts an erotic state of flux, suspended mid-transition, divulging part figurative and fragmentary motifs. Kneebone’s eclectic vision relishes in the angst of both Greek tragedies and Bernini, the hybrid creatures of Bosch, and the ‘erotic gaze’ of Batialle and Bellmer. A more direct comparison is with the eighteenth century Meissen porcelain tableaux, some of which were copied from idyllic pastoral paintings and odalisques by Watteau and Boucher. Yet Kneebone manages to decant all these influences into her own highly distinct rhetoric, celebrating forms of transgression, beauty and seduction.
Kneebones sculptures are themselves in an ongoing metamorphosis from the small-scale classical plinths based on Watteau’s ‘Pilgrimage to Cythera’ (2005) mounted on sarcophagus-like podiums, through to the fourteen ‘Stations of the Cross’ (2007); here, a splitting, fertile bodyform is hung on a crucifix of stems while other scenes are more abstract congregations of figures. In ‘Trilogy’ (2007), Kneebone increases the scale and complexity of her sculptures heightening the risk of possible collapse due to the vulnerability of the material during firing. Purposefully Kneebone leaves cracks evident in the foundations of her sculptures to further imply a sense of apprehension, time and evolving transformation.
Rachel Kneebone was born in 1973 in Oxfordshire; she lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Regarding Rodin’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2012) and ‘Lamentations’, White Cube, London (2010). Recent group exhibitions include ‘The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art’, 1st Kiev Biennale Arsenale (2012), ‘Living in Evolution’, Busan Biennale, Busan, ‘The Surreal House’, Barbican Centre, London, ‘The Beauty of Distance’, 17th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney (all 2010), ‘Summer Exhibition’, curated by Tracey Emin, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2008), ‘Mario Testino at home’, Yvon Lambert, New York (2007) and ‘The Way We Work’, Camden Arts Centre, London (2005). In 2005, Kneebone was nominated for the MaxMara Art Prize and in the same year she was commissioned by Mario Testino to make work for his ‘Diana, Princess of Wales’ exhibition at Kensington Palace.