Corrupting the porcelain figurine tradition: Shary Boyle

A porcelain figurine of a woman being choked by ornate flowers, by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle, “Snowball”, 2006. Porcelain, china paint. Collection of the Musee des beaux-arts, Montreal.

A porcelain figurine of a woman holding her own head, by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle. Untitled, 2005. Porcelain, china paint. National Gallery of Canada. (Image: artist website).

Shary Boyle, 2005. Porcelain, china paint. (Image)

Shary Boyle, 2005. Porcelain, china paint. (Image)

When I was a little kid, one of my great aunts had a collection of frilly, delicate porcelain figurines of girls in baroque dresses. I remember looking at them, knowing that I was supposed to think they were pretty, but feeling like they might come alive and murder me if they had the chance. Maybe that’s why the macabrely corrupted figurines of Toronto artist Shary Boyle enraptured me when I came across her work at the Power Plant Gallery a few years ago.

Remarkably, Boyle creates all of her own porcelain figurines using authentic 19th century technique of lace draping. (Here is a great article from Toronto Craft Alert that goes into detail about the traditional porcelain techniques she uses and the community of mostly elderly porcelain hobbyists she has become a part of.) She painstakingly alters the rare vintage porcelain molds with thin layers of porcelain slip to create her own dark and mutated versions of the lace-dripped ladies, while still retaining a strong connection to the original aesthetic sensibility of the retro figurines. The result is wonderfully unsettling, and somehow cheerfully sinister. Boyle’s ability to straddle the line between horrifying and whimsical is, I think, what makes her sculpture so compelling.

A porcelain figurine of a woman being drowned in the fabric of her own dress, by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle, 2004. Porcelain, china paint. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

A porcelain figurine of a woman by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle, 2005. Porcelain, china paint. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

A porcelain figurine of a woman with two heads, by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle, 2005. Porcelain, china paint.

A porcelain figurine of a woman with eight spider-like limbs, by Shary Boyle.

Shary Boyle, 2004. Porcelain, china paint. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

// All of these ridiculously interesting images were originally from the artists’ website. Unfortunately, she no longer seems to have many images or information about her work on her site, but you can see more of her work on Jessica Bradley gallery, this 2011 article in Maclean’s magazine, or this 2006 article in Canadian Art.

Other artists dabbling in bizarre and morbid porcelain figurines:

Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:

Christina Bothwell's translucent glass sculpture of girl with tentacles

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12 thoughts on “Corrupting the porcelain figurine tradition: Shary Boyle

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  10. I read your post and then checked out Shary Boyle’s website and OMG…I completely understand what she means about the dolls being scary! I used to be terrified of them as a kid. But my fear rose from the fact that I would every often break one of my grandmother’s dolls and then the headless things would haunt me after I fell asleep!

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