Reimagining the portland vase: Chris Wight’s ‘Portland Arcana’

Chris Wight - Portland Arcana 1

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

CR readers may recall reading about Chris Wight’s cutting-edge work in issue 270 of the magazine. In his new series, which he discusses below, traditional clay meets CAD-driven waterjet cutting

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Like many artists before me, I’m drawn to the Barberini Portland Vase – perhaps the finest surviving example of Roman cameo glass ever unearthed – believed to have been made between 27BC-AD14. My Portland Arcana draws from the rich Wedgwood archive, taking this enigmatic object and reimagining its famous form and carved figurative scenes, through a combination of traditional clay making techniques and CAD driven waterjet cutting.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chris Wight - Portland Arcana 2

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The title Portland Arcana references the mystery surrounding the identity of the cameo figures that adorn the Portland Vase. Scholars have so far failed to provide a definitive answer as to who the figures are and to date there have been over fifty different readings of the scenes in which they appear.

My interpretation sees the eight Portland characters disassociated from one another, each placed in isolation within the body of a highly contemporary reinterpretation of the unmistakable vase form. With its geometric framework of interlocking horizontal rings and vertical ribs, my reconstruction conveys the notion of a secure repository for some delicate unidentified specimen or ancient fragment.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chris Wight - Portland Arcana 3

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Key in enabling me to make the Portland Arcana was the development of a method of hand-rolling relatively large, yet extremely thin, laminated sheets of jasper. Comprising three separate 1mm layers of black and white jasper, the sheets were first assembled then rolled to a thickness of 3mm – a process taking many hours to yield a single finished sheet.

The waterjet-cutting, undertaken at the University of Sunderland, requires sheet material to be entirely flat, as any significant variation in thickness, warping or edge curling can lead to inconsistencies in the cutting, or worse cause the cutting head to clash with the delicate ceramic sheet, shattering it and potentially damaging the machine.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chris Wight - Portland Arcana 4

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I combined elements of the Portland characters from a variety of sources: the original glass Barberini Portland Vase itself, numerous Wedgwood editions and a host of illustrations made by many other artists throughout history. Comparing how the figures are depicted across multiple representations, I noticed numerous inaccuracies, exaggerations or embellishments to the original, which although fascinating, greatly added to the complexity of conflating these alternate versions into a single homogenised interpretation of my own.

However, by making carefully observed pencil studies of the characters, over time I was able to build up a composite image of each with some receiving part of a limb that, on the original vase is obscured or missing due to damage, whilst others were augmented with additional rocks and foliage. The drawings were digitally scanned, made into enamel transfers and applied to blank jasper cut-outs of each character. I then set about ‘ageing’ the figures, by grinding and roughening their edges and creating surface defects, giving them an illusionary appearance of actual artefacts from antiquity.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chris Wight - Portland Arcana 5

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Discover more about Chris’ work at cone8.co.uk, and follow him on Instagram at @chris_wight_ceramics

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

BACK TO THE BLOG ➜

Previously on the CR blog: