Camouflage Series Dining Setting, Ground Parrot
- Stephen Bowers
- Camouflage Series Dining Setting, Ground Parrot
- jigger-jolley, earthenware, underglaze colour, on-glaze burnished gold and enamel
- Diameter 26.8 cm
The Camouflage Series dinner set is an appropriately Antipodean response to the grand European dinner service tradition. Given this heritage, the decoration is a fusion of Australian and exotic motifs. The plates are individually decorated with Australian birds set against complex backgrounds of fragmentary decorative ornament, including several Morris patterns, printed French toiles along with sections referencing antique blue and white and Ming porcelains. Suggestions of shadows and overlaps are used skilfully. Another element of visual play occurs throughout the series; carefully painted tromp l’oeil amber ‘beads’. These form a kind of signature for the series, a broken and scattered necklace, which connects across all the pieces.
Australia has been referred to as ‘a land of parrots’; in these plates we catch a glimpse of this ornithological richness. The viewer (or diner) is presented with birds as lively natural history specimens, set against the artificiality of ‘patterns’ that are themselves drawn from nature. Unlike the dodo, none of the birds depicted is considered remotely edible. They are usually admired for vibrant colours, beautiful plumage and their intelligence and engaging behaviour, which Bowers suggests so well, painting the eyes, beaks, claws and feathers in remarkable detail, emphasising their form, pattern and texture.
The overlaying of Australian and European imagery throughout the Camouflage Series emphasises the complexity of the cultural and visual relationships and references we all live with. If we take a step back from the luxurious detail of these plates, we might see Morris as representing English interests and the French toile as representing Napoleon. Here we catch Bowers dropping a hint at the drama played out in the nascent days of the edgling English colony, when the French, literally, had designs upon Australia. The omnipresent Ming and blue and white are not-quite-so-subtle reminders that Australia is, in fact, geographically, part of greater Asia. An uncomfortable reality, that continues to play out today. The Camouflage Series setting, with its rich and sumptuous detail, forms an Antipodean response to a great European genre. Like its grand ancestor, the Camouflage Series dinner set is a splendid service intended for display.
Christopher Menz, September 2016, with thanks to Stephen Bowers for his assistance.
View the full catalogue essay here