Savage Curiosities
An exhibition of works on paper and mosaics by Karen Ami and Pamela Irving
Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics, Chicago, September- October 2017

Savage Curiosities by Pamela Irving

Savage Curiosities by Pamela Irving

Some background

Since meeting 8 years ago, Karen and Pamela quickly identified a kinship. Both artists come from a fine art background with majors in art history, ceramics and sculpture. For more than a decade, both artists have focused their practice mainly using mosaic as their medium. Each trained in the late 70’s and through the mid 80’s and both made a mark as ceramic artists before working in mosaic.Karen Ami is located in Chicago, USA and Pamela Irving in Melbourne, Australia. Both artists still acknowledge ceramics in their works, by use in the application of materials.
Ami utilizes handmade ceramic pieces in her complex narratives. Her use of textured and carved ceramic slabs are drawn upon and often imbued with words and hackneyed marks. These sgraffito pieces are hand cut to create line texture and a narrative to her sculptural forms. Irving uses found ceramics, old china, pottery, back stamps and other elements to tell her stories. The history of the unique ceramic pieces is often integral to the story being told.
For Ami and Irving, as women and artists, the family is integral to their practices. It cannot be separated from who they are, what they see and what they make. Both create lively works that are witty and smart and come from a place where curiosity lives. Both have a deep respect and affinity for each other’s work.

Karen Ami, Mr. Magic

Karen Ami, Mr. Magic

This exhibition and how it came about

Irving and Ami have often discussed their trajectory as artists and the importance of drawing in their art practice. In 2015, Irving held her first successful solo exhibition of prints and mosaics in Chicago at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics. During her stay at Ami’s home, they discussed the possibility of working on a joint show which explored their shared interests in ceramics, primitivism, humour, Paul Klee, Picasso and at the same time trying to push boundaries in contemporary mosaics. Essentially, they wanted to “riff” off each other. They each selected a number of texts and pages from books, which they would both read and look at art works and then interpret them through drawing and writing. Using the Internet as their source of communication, the artists sent each other photos of their works in progress. Each exchange resulted in the creation of new works inspired by seeing how one another had interpreted an image. It has been a very stimulating exercise for both artists living at opposite side of the world. For Irving this process has toned down her usual palette of garish colours to a more muted palette and black and white. For Ami, it has been about experimenting in visual storytelling while playing with new patterns and textures.
“Savage Curiosities” describes not only the love of primitivism apparent in their works but also the methodology of these two artists. Ami and Irving work daily at their respective practices with curiosity and integrity. Neither are concerned with current fads or fashion in contemporary mosaic. “Savage Curiosities” breathes new interpretations into primitivism favoured by some of the great early 20th century artists such as Klee Picasso and Leger. For Irving and Ami, this collaboration has raised more questions than answers in their works, and both are even more savagely curious.