Delft Blue, from the "Atomizer"series - 2018.85.2_1


Delft Blue, from the "Atomizer"series

Maker: Frances Ferdinands (b. 1952)
Medium:Acrylic paint on paper
Geography: Ontario, Canada
Date: 2015
Period: 21st Century
38.5 x 29 cm
Object number: 2018.85.2
Not on view

This work is by Frances Ferdinands, a Toronto-based Canadian artist who was born in Sri Lanka. It is from her "Atomizer" series, a collection of paintings which plays on the similarities between the silhouettes of a hand grenade and an elegant vintage perfume atomizer. In addition to the visual similarities, the perfume spray serves as an analogy to the explosion caused by such a weapon. Combining aesthetic beauty and history, the works cleverly and poetically combine references from historical Sri Lankan decorative art alongside meanings that resonate with issues of inequality, injustice, and the exploitation of natural resources during Sri Lanka’s colonial past.

"Delft Blue" references the Dutch tin-glazed earthenware pottery of blue and white colour produced at Delft in the Netherlands from 1600 onwards. It was inspired by the encounter with Asian pottery made available to the Dutch through the key location of Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese King invited the Dutch to liberate the country of the Portuguese. The following Dutch-Portuguese war resulted in Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. The conflict served mainly as a way for the Dutch, (as the Dutch East India Company), to gain an overseas empire and control trade. 

The series is also a reference to the contemporary history of the Sri Lankan Civil War, an armed conflict that took place 1983-2009 between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The analogy of a grenade with perfume is startling, perhaps even disturbing, and yet there is a poetic quality about it. Both are invasive in their own way, changing one’s perception of the world around them in their destructive or sense-filling qualities. It is an analogy that works in an oddly successful way. In this way, the artist states, "I wanted to create beauty within an object of mass destruction. I also wanted to reference the place of beauty within the intersection of war, religion, and commerce throughout history." While grounded in painting practice, Frances Ferdinands’ works combine colour and shapes that have religious and historical significance with the visual language of modern abstraction. Her more recent work has evolved into a multi-media format embracing three-dimensionality, installation, and performance. In all Ferdinands' work, there is some visual or conceptual connection to Sri Lanka, both its contemporary reality and its historical past.

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