Terry Bouton: Mixed Media Artist
By Judy Hamilton
Terry Bouton’s work in mixed media is quirky and demands attention. Each piece is a thought provoking assemblage, beautifully conceived and articulated in clay, and found objects. The use of these personally precious, pre-loved objects collected on her travels adds to the concept of ‘a history’ for each piece; a visual narrative that invites us to remember and reflect about our own lives and our place in the world.
Bouton is a talented, emerging ceramic artist from Brisbane, Australia. After working as an Art Teacher in New South Wales for a number of years and then travelling the world, Terry finally settled in Brisbane where she began to make her mark on the ceramics scene. She served as a director on the board of Fusions (Australian Network of Glass and Clay Artists) and on the committee of Verge, the Australian National Conference held in Brisbane in 2006, before directing her attention to building up her studio practice. From her well set up studio in Chapel Hill, a bushy suburb of Brisbane’s inner west, Bouton creates her whimsical, pseudo-mechanical sculptures which are constantly evolving.
Her exhibition, Balance: Time, Women, and Work at Pine Rivers Regional Gallery in November 2007, explored the importance of time through a series of mixed media sculptures. The Time Machine Series, from this exhibition, presents part of a fantasy world created by Bouton. Incorporating cogs, sprockets, dials, and wires retrieved from old musical instruments, prams, technical instruments, and garden implements, these are the epitome of the madness of the machine age. Designed as devices to measure time; to transport time, and to slice precious time into slivers, they present the viewer with a reason for our enslavement to time—these machines are endlessly fascinating but incredibly familiar because of the inclusion of common and recognizable objects.
Father Time comes from this series and generates a truly human aura of venerability. Using a strongly balanced composition of voids, textures and found objects through the base, tower, and top, Father Time resembles the archetypal timekeeping device—the grandfather clock. Antique handles, pointers, wires and bells embellish the heavily textured surface and emphasize the ubiquitous nature of time in our lives.
On the other hand, menacing aptly describes Kill Time. This machine is devoid of any reassuring human characteristics as it stares blindly into the future, inexorably slicing time with its lethal, blade-like wheels. Attention is directed upwards by the clever use of angles, tonal arrangements and textures towards the topmost, turret structure. This section bristles with icons of modern warfare assembled from common found objects; the gun, a copper hose nozzle and the wheels reveal the remains of common garden edger.
Bouton was awarded the 3D Stanthorpe Art Prize in 2008 with her whimsical, mixed media work, Once Upon a Time. A life boat carries four female characters which inhabited our childhood – Bo Peep, Snow White, a Witch and the wicked Step Mother. Cast adrift from their halcyon days, these women now trundle through time with their dreams still carefully wrapped and carried in their heads. The detritus of their working lives: the spoon, rolling pins, broomstick and wand accompany them on their journey. Non-ceramic materials punctuate the piece and add to a wonderfully tactile, visual experience. Symbolically, the boat rests on wheels—the ancient symbol of endless time.
Our fragile planet has been given a starring role in Bouton’s latest works which reflect on the human condition—individual and social. Last Chance is a large, colourful, machine-like construction that asks us to recognize the powers of choice and chance in caring for our world. This robot like poker machine offers players one last chance to gamble with our world. Standing on four pillar-like legs and incorporating moveable parts, lights and found gaming pieces, Bouton asks us to reflect on the issues besetting our planet. This piece is part of Vision, her recent exhibition at The Centre Regional Gallery, Beaudesert.
Bouton’s work is planned meticulously. She draws and researches extensively prior to beginning her work, but eventually she must work within the constraints of her kilns. The initial design is deconstructed into assemblage parts, which can be fitted into her compact 4 cubic metre electric kiln. Working with commercial clay bodies such as Feeney’s BRT, and Walker’s Terracotta clay, Terry begins by making the base shapes which are press moulded in hand made moulds of plaster and wood. Slabs are assembled into individual tower, top, and base constructions, which always allow the work to be disassembled easily. Voids, niches and piercings which allow for the introduction of found materials, are constructed at this stage. Although her planning is thorough, the kiln god often shows a sense of humour, warping and shrinking pieces unexpectedly in the firing. Bouton addresses these problems prosaically with her grinder and drill, but sees that problems and the solving of them are just another part of the clay experience. The aged condition of her pieces is created by the application of slips, oxides, and underglazes. They may be refired multiple times.
The narrative, which begins with the ceramic form, is spectacularly completed by the addition of found objects. Bouton searches her huge collection of found objects, sorting shapes, textures and sizes to fit the concepts. This process can take the longest. Photographs record where all inclusions are to be finally placed.
Bouton’s desire is to create a visual story. Replacing words with disparate objects that comprise their own history ultimately culminates in a multi-layered visual narrative. Her skill in selecting and coordinating the inclusion of mixed media into her ceramics is obvious and through it she is able to promote an immediate and intimate relationship with the viewer and invite contemplation and understanding. Bouton’s work emphasizes the traditional skills of a professional craftsperson as well as the skills of the artist who is able to conceptualize and speak to her audience.