La Nuova Religione, earthenware, 2008. Pic courtesy Phil Eglin
Exhibition Preview: Philip Eglin - Spiritual Heroes, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea until January 25 2009
Football as religion expressed through clay may seem a long-winded concept, but it’s less surprising when the concocter is Philip Eglin.
Revered as one of the country’s quirkiest potters, the artist has been known to scrawl graffiti over earthenware depictions of classical figures including Madonna and Venus.
His latest work – largely based around bucket forms – includes a vaguely camp Jesus, various saucy drawings and a re-imagining of “la nuova religione” via the unlikely prophet of Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba.
Ascendant Christ. Pic courtesy Barrett Marsden Gallery
“I do see football as a metaphor for a new religion in society and am fascinated by its religious connotations,” explains Eglin, whose prodigious talent was marked by his triumph at the Jerwood Prize in 1996.
It’s a subject close to his pop-art heart – his last solo show, at London’s Barrett Marsden gallery, was the nattily-titled Hands Off Berbatov, and it is his vision of “fans’ fervent following of their teams, footballers’ goal celebrations and football stadiums being seen as hallowed places,” which draws him to the theme.
Critic John Christian, who wrote a catalogue essay to support that exhibition, describes this as a “ready and most fertile metaphor” with “obvious appeal for a secular society desperately seeking heroes.”
Leaning Madonna. Pic courtesy Barrett Marsden Gallery
“One can but marvel at what a gift this idea is to his project,” points out Christian. “It comes freighted with such resonant and brilliantly pictorial images: players with arms flung wide, praying for heavenly intervention, offering hugs of comfort, pleading with implacable referees, and so on.”
The results are visually cartoonish, giving a humorous glance to holy figures. Madonna, perched on a stall grinning, is missing a hand, while Jesus holds his hands aloft, notably bereft of the mystique usually afforded to religious art.
“The buckets are generated from separate large slabs of plastic clay with images generated on them in slip,” says Eglin. “They are built around a central core which is removed when the slabs are self supporting. The initial imagery is subsequently added to at the various stages of making and firing - so slips are coloured, glazed and then added to with oxides and enamels.”