War and Pieces

Contemporary ceramic art exhibition by Dutch artist, Bouke de Vries

Artist Bouke de Vries has used thousands of pieces of broken porcelain to create this dynamic and fragmented work of art, breathing new life into seeming destruction.

War and Pieces was on display in Belton’s Hondecoeter Dining Room in 2018. To find out where the exhibition is currently on display, please visit Bouke de Vries' website.​

‘War and Pieces’ draws on the tradition of grand banquets that were held on the eve of battle in eighteenth century Europe. Its design mimics the spectacular ‘surtout de tables’ or sugar paste centre pieces that graced aristocratic dining tables on such occasions.

At first glance the artwork appears to be just such an elaborate masterpiece, complete with dancing figurines. But, as we look closer, we see the violence of war with the destructive force of a mushroom cloud at its heart.

Like a whirlwind, the cloud has gathered up cherubs, Guan Yins (Chinese goddess of mercy), the crucified Christ, and symbols of everyday life - from pugs to the kitchen sink. The male and female figures incorporate plastic elements from children’s toys.

Bouke de Vries

Born in Utrecht, The Netherlands, Bouke de Vries studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven,and Central St Martin’s, London. After working with John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zandra Rhodes, he switched careers and studied ceramics conservation and restoration at West Dean College.

Bouke de Vries with his art installation at Belton House
Ceramics conservator Bouke de Vries stood in front of his art installation at Belton House, Lincolnshire
Bouke de Vries with his art installation at Belton House

Every day in his practice as a private conservator he found he was being faced with issues and contradictions around perfection and worth:

The Venus de Milo is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.”

In this flawed world, perfection seems to be the desired goal while not-quite-perfection is often dismissed and discarded.

As a ceramics conservator Bouke de Vries is faced with issues around imperfection on a daily basis, where even a hairline crack, a tiny rim chip or a broken finger render a once valuable object practically worthless, literally not worth the cost of restoring.

There’s something incongruous about the fact that such an object, although still imbued with all the skills it took to make it, can so easily be consigned to the dustbin of history. Moreover, even when an object is ‘worth’ restoring, some owners prefer to hide the damage as much as possible, to deny the evidence of what was probably the most dramatic episode in the life of the piece.

The Beauty of Destruction

Using his skills as a restorer, de Vries’ ‘exploded’ artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma. Instead of reconstructing them, he deconstructs them. Instead of hiding the evidence of this most dramatic episode in the life of a ceramic object, he emphasises their new status, instilling new virtues, new values, and moving their stories forward.

War and Pieces by Bouke de Vries at Belton House
A ceramic art installation by Bouke de Vries
War and Pieces by Bouke de Vries at Belton House

The spaces in between the fragments become an essential part of the structure and the objects sometimes take on a cubist quality. With some works the viewer may be confused as to where the original makers of the piece stop and where the artist begins, making the work biographical and giving it new currency.