Imagine if you took your favorite ceramic piece, be it a teapot, a pitcher or a tureen, and dropped it into the depths of the ocean. Envision, if you would, an alternate reality where, instead of rotting and melting away, said discarded dishware become an unlikely host for barnacles and crustaceans to settle and colonize. The crisp white glaze of the pottery is slowly swallowed up by the wild particulars of aquatic life.
This fantastical scenario comes to life in the works of ceramic artist Mary O'Malley, who works out of a barn on the south shore of Long Island. O'Malley's "Bottom Feeder" series couples the propriety of a teacup with the bottomless mystery of the sea, yielding wonderfully detailed artworks that bring the sea to you. For O'Malley, the works were inspired by her childhood memories of the ocean and her recent move to the seaside.
Upon beginning the series, it was the relationship between control and surrender which captivated O'Malley's attention. "The technical difficulties I began to encounter when enveloping the service ware with ferocious and unforgiving aquatic life got me thinking about a common need we all have to control our own representation of beauty," the artist explains in her artist statement. "There is so much fastidious control involved in creating each one of the 'Bottom Feeder' pieces, but with ceramics there is always a margin for error, and some degree of control must be sacrificed. The composition of barnacles and crustaceans populating each piece, the way the iron oxide discovers every nook of the creatures I've created, the way the tentacles warp in the firings, etc., is always a surprise.
"This play between total control and inevitability has sustained my interest and attention because it mimics life in so many ways: we try our hardest to compose the aesthetics surrounding us-from the buildings and environments we live in to the way we dress and present ourselves. Our daily fight against nature is a fruitless pursuit, yet one we never seem willing to
abandon. I find this play between forces endlessly challenging. The dance that results from trying to find a balance between what we can control and what we cannot is where I believe true beauty lies."
See O'Malley's sites of unbridled beauty below.