Taking his cues from the elaborate, almost camp, designs of 18th-century porcelain factories such as Meissen and Sèvres, artist Robert Chamberlin creates works that relate to these historical counterparts in their lavish ornamentation. But that’s where the similarity stops. “I’m obsessed with using beauty as a device to talk about difficult topics—like queerness, desire or the end of something,” Chamberlin says. Focused on porcelain but extending to photography and performance, his practice delves into complex, often personal, themes he hopes will elicit questions from viewers. “Go past the surface,” he entreats. “Ask why I create these objects.”
Chamberlin began his metro-Atlanta studio with vase forms, intrigued by how “they’re tied to the body; we use the same words to describe them: foot, belly, neck,” he notes. He is similarly drawn to their diversity: varying from simple glass vases to opulent objects once made for Madame de Pompadour. But his slip-cast creations speak to something different altogether. Just as he completes a vase, luxuriously festooned with extruded clay, he slumps it into a state of semi-collapse. It’s a crushing move that parallels “queer people having to hold opposing emotions, like celebrating and mourning, simultaneously,” the artist explains. In another ongoing project, Chamberlin builds wreaths of porcelain leaves and flowers. “I wanted to make wall art that explored different histories,” he continues. One notable piece is Wreath for the Tomb of the Unknown Queer Soldier—through which, in pastel shades, the artist honors his proverbial ancestors.
Chamberlin has explored more fanciful forms of late, including parrot candlesticks. “They have lots of details—bows, piping—and tend to fall apart before I can fire them,” he reveals. “I wanted to make something that brings joy and delight,” he adds of the works, which are represented at Atlanta’s Marcia Wood Gallery and set for a group show there in September. His choice of feathered friend stems from parrots’ polyamorous symbolism as well as their association with pirates, especially “gay pirates and the outlaw lifestyle,” continues Chamberlin, citing queer histories he’s studied. “I want people to be affected by my work, but not in any specific way. Hate it or love it, I just hope it moves them, makes them uncomfortable, makes them think.”