Mark Burns, the John Waters of ceramics, relishes kitsch: B movies, disco balls, porcelain figurines. His show “From the Cerebral Dimestore,” now at Gallery 224, where he is artist in residence at the Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard, approaches issues such as mortality through kitsch, snark, and popular culture.
The artist pushes beyond the bounds of pottery into pop art like his mentor, Howard Kottler, who ignited outcry in the 1960s and ’70s when he applied glazes and decals to ready-made plates. Burns flirts with a particular strain in clay — cloying, cutesy, mass-produced tchotchkes — adding a dose of irreverence to turn it into art.
In “GODZILLA VS KINGKITSCH,” a perfectly articulated white stoneware Godzilla lurches toward a bust of the mustachioed artist. He wears a teacup and saucer for a crown, and his ears are teacup handles. Decals of clowns, flowers, a bunny, and more spangle his face. He’s clownish himself, both dainty and tattooed, but the text that makes up his eyebrows is blisteringly direct: “[Expletive] Yeah.” Bring it on, Godzilla.
Each of the sculptures in Burns’s “PLAGUE” series comes from the same mold: A shrouded figure shares a base with a vase. The figure, derived from an image on an old Ouija board box, looks variously like death raising a bony hand, a saint giving a blessing, and a passerby trying to avoid contagion.
The base of “PLAGUE IN WHITE (CHOLERA)” crawls with creepy plastic flies; one perches on the head of the figure. Yellow bacteria, painted in glaze, decorate the vase. A disco ball perches atop a red vase in “PLAGUE IN LAVENDER (HIV),” and Christ stands across from the Ouija board character. Keith Haring-style babies emblazon the base.
Works like these aren’t merely laments. They’re angry, and darkly comic. And Burns takes devilish delight in the pungency of his dime-store symbolism. He might as well be saying, “You don’t like my toys? Look at what my toys can do!”
FROM THE CEREBRAL DIMESTORE
At Gallery 224, Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard, 224 Western Ave., Allston, through Dec. 1. 617-495-8680, ofa.fas.harvard.edu/cerebral_dimestoreCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.