Don’t let the dainty florals and smooth finish of Jessica Putnam- Phillips’s porcelain creations deceive you – hiding between the delicately rendered flora are female snipers in fatigues and combat helmets, armed and ready to shoot. The ceramics most often frame close up of females in active combat. Their eyes are fixed on a point in the middle distance while their poses reflect a tense readiness. Phillips uses her craft to bring to our attention some important messages about gender, combat, and the life of a female soldier on duty.
“Through the exploration of ceramic tableware and non-traditional imagery I seek to challenge the entrenched ideas of domesticity and gender roles while exposing the social and cultural issues faced by military women” Says Phillips in her artist statement.
Jessica claims that she wants to focus on the juxtaposition of serving at the dinner table and serving the nation, bringing to light social and cultural issues that female soldiers face within the highly masculine field of the military. The table-wear itself embodies this juxtaposition in its rendering. The florals are depicted in a style that is baroque and unapologetically abundant and colorful – while female soldiers, at the center of the pieces, although equally detailed, have a sketch-like quality and are rendered only using a dark ochre.
The style seems to suggest that the experiences and memories of the battle field are incompatible with the expected performance of womanhood, and rectifying those things in one piece of art would be insincere. Still the compliment is in the contradiction, and it is the exactitude with which Phillips renders the portraits that compliments the florals.
Phillips’s dinnerware ask us to re-contextualize what we understand to be feminine labor; and they connote the complex relationship that military women have with concepts of domesticity as they are continually asked to prove their competence and legitimacy in a male-dominated field.
Phillip’s work is currently part of a group exhibit, “Art and Other Tactics: Contemporary Craft by Artist Veterans” at The Craft and Folk Art Museum in LA, which is open to the public until September 6th. Click here for more details.
Phillips also sells military-inspired housewares on her Etsy page, ThePorcelainSolider.