Books Made of Clay! And Lots More

Artist Kristen Morgin takes on Americana and childhood memorabilia simultaneously in her new San Francisco show.

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You may think that nostalgia goes hand-in-hand with sentimentality, but Kristen Morgin doesn't. The artist infuses her ceramics practice with a heavy dose of Americana and vintage replicas of childhood memorabilia, yet the works are much more layered than they initially appear. Made from unfired clay, the sculptures are fragile and matte—instead of glaze, she uses pencils, crayons, and ink to add color. Morgin first began creating her trompe l'oeil sculptures as an investigation into other people's nostalgia, borrowing their history as her own; in that series, she made works that resembled toys from the 1930s and '40s and incorporated characters like Popeye and Charlie Chaplin. Now, the artist is working with a more fluid sense of time, weaving her personal history with those of earlier generations.

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In her debut show at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco, My Best to You, Little Girl-Boy, the L.A.-based Morgin presents over twenty new unfired clay works—in each, she collages nostalgic childhood tokens across eras. "By using juxtaposing objects from different time periods in a single work," the artist says, "my idea is to create a kind of new, odd, but also timeless context." This theme is particularly apparent in "The One Where Joey and Chandler Discover the Secret of the Old Mill," a replica of one of the books from The Hardy Boys, a series that began in 1929, titled in homage to and populated with characters from the '90s show Friends. Other works incorporate recognizable figures and objects from popular culture like Star Wars' C-3PO, the Hulk, Pez dispensers, and Icee cups, all layered with references that transcend specific time periods. 

The ideas in Morgin's works have a familiar refrain: questioning our attachment to materials. It's a reminder that the treasures we held so dear in childhood can flow back into our consciousness as easily as if we might have taken the beloved playthings out of a toy box in days gone by. But in Morgin's explorations these memories take on a unique patina in the present. "It is easy to consider the works that I make to be unreal because they are made of clay and painted," Morgin says. "They are real, but they belong to a different reality that is separate but parallel to this one." 

My Best to You, Little Girl-Boy will be on view at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco from February 19 through March 25. For more information, visit anthonymeierfinearts.com

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