In my first installment of The Secret Lives of Things,, I spoke of my passion for art and the stories which each item in my collection whispers to those with ears to hear. Last November I travelled to London to pick up a ceramic bowl by a talented artist named Ian Thompson, whose works don’t just whisper stories; stories are innate to their very being.

A Serendipitous Journey

Full disclosure: Ian is the brother of one of my best friends, and I have been a gushing admirer of his work since I first saw photos of them popping up on his Instagram feed a few years ago. Knowing what a big fan I was, my wife and son surprised me on my 61st birthday with one of the bowls that I had admired on his website:  I was so blown away by this gift that when its companion piece became available, I vowed to have it – hence the trip to England.

While there, I visited Ian in his co-op studio, where he graciously spent the better part of an afternoon showing me his other works and explaining the themes which unite them.

Literary Influences

Ian’s works present us with a mythopoeic wonderland of fantastic and sometimes malformed Brueghelesque characters, illustrating ancient poems, classic literature, and deep allegories. The larger bowl (3.5 kilos) that I received for my birthday features characters and themes from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, while the second, smaller piece deals with an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Both are thrown porcelain with hand painted brushwork and a black underglaze. In my opinion, Ian’s delicate paintings are as equally impressive as the wonderfully crafted ceramic objects which they ornament.

Both works deal with the contrast and interdependence between vulnerability and strength. The Alice in Wonderland piece illustrates how this vulnerability is tested in a world full of arbitrary rules and roles. Ian sees the story as a kind of Dadaist or Surrealist fiction where the characters seem quite connected but are actually isolated within the roles they play in the novel. “It’s a very dystopian reality mixed with things that seem to feel comfortable: the tea table, the candles, all the different creatures that seem to represent nurture but are very unsympathetic as well.”  The cricket riding a snake, slithering down the inner side of the bowl shows this quite aptly, while the strength of the Alice character on the outer side of the bowl with her metal pot of a helmet and thick soled, sturdy shoe on her left foot, is contrasted with the delicately articulated, vulnerable toes on her naked right foot.

We find this motif repeated in the smaller Ovid bowl, which illustrates the realm of Hypnos, the god of sleep. In the center, a sort of hobo or clown (Morpheus) sleeps peacefully, his head resting upon a pile of crumpled papers and books. His bowler hat is tilted back, revealing a swathe of bandage wrapped around his head. Yet his feet are sturdily clad, with the same thick soled boots which shod the Alice character’s left foot in the larger bowl. On his hip stands the messenger god, Iris, while to the right, arranged in a sort of crescent around the bowl’s rim is a nightmarish menagerie of strange creatures and things that represent Morpheus’ brothers, Phantasos (inanimate objects) and Phobetor (nightmares), poised to menace the vulnerable sleeper. The river Lethe flows peacefully close to the sleeper’s left boot.

Lost in Reverie

These two bowls have so much more to say that I feel ashamed to stop here. However, as a picture is worth a thousand words, I hope the photos I’ve included will satisfy my readers. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t gaze into them both, losing myself in their imagery for a few moments.  Together, these two bowls share pride of place at the top of my small but valuable art collection.

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Michael Wray

Hi, My name's Michael. I'm a writer/illustrator working as a primary ESL teacher in Istanbul. I love art, music, literature, and traveling.

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