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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Richard T. Notkin
American, born 1948
Cube Skull Teapot (Var#26)

5 3/8 x 6 x 3 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of John S. Arnoldy, Philip J. John, Jr., John P. Kotts, S. Reed Morian, and Bill Porter at "One Great Night in November, 2008"

Arts of North America

For more than four decades, Richard Notkin has created extraordinary ceramics whose narrative content reflects larger conversations taking place in the world. In the early 1980s, he became fascinated by the pottery of the Yixing kilns in China. Potters in Yixing (in the Yangzi River delta area) used naturally colored stoneware clays to carve, sculpt, and slip-cast vessels. Notkin was intrigued by the exacting detail. He began to use it in a series of teapots that combine the traditions of Chinese Yixing pottery with the artist’s social consciousness.

Notokin's Yixing teapots are small in scale but loaded with potent messages that are often critical of humanity’s failings. The artist frequently uses the human skull as a symbol of death as well as of human intellect. In the Cube Skull Teapot series, he combines the skull with imagery that explores the causes and effects of war.

Ever since his formative years as an artist in the California Funk movement of the 1970s, Notkin has demanded that his ceramics be socially activist. Notkin displays Funk's low-brow, ironic, provocative, and anti-establishment philosophies in his use of populist and purposefully overt symbols to comment on topics from war to homelessness.