The Happy Couple


Found and hand-built porcelain, underglazes, clear glaze,
found silver tray, Swarovski crystal, epoxy clay, Gold leaf, and stains,
H 43 W 28 x D 17cm.


The Happy Couple by Stephen Baxter

Inherited, and hand-built porcelain, underglazes, clear glaze, found silver heirloom tray, epoxy clay, stains and 24k gold leaf, H 43 W 28 x D 17cm.

A keen ceramics enthusiast, and part time painter, my mother Noelle collected Lladro ceramic pieces for many years. My parents went to the Lladro factory on one of their European holidays in the mid 1980’s. In the family home just outside of Murwillumbah, Mum had special cabinets to display most of her collection. On special occasions a few of the pieces would venture out of the cabinets. They would be placed in strategically imagined points of site for important guests, or friends to admire over a cup of tea, and biscuits or Lamingtons.

We had what we think was a part Siamese cat named Wellington who lived for around 24 years. Wellington was inherited from a friend I went to Art college with in Toowoomba in the early nineteen eighties. It was never confirmed, however we believe Wellington had a dislike for Lladro ceramics. I believe it was jealousy that motivated Wellington to commit the crime. As previously stated, Mum was very particular about where all her Lladro pieces were positioned when out of the display cabinet. She was also a very fastidious and house-proud person and kept everything sparkling clean like some sort of showroom. I think Wellington may have been jealous of the time mum spent dusting or petting the ceramic pieces, as it would have looked to a jealous cat. One day the sculpture I have now altered was found lying on the carpet broken into several pieces. Although nothing was witnessed, we all suspected Wellington was the culprit.

Time passed and the broken sculpture lay in a drawer in the collection cabinet, until finally mum got tired of waiting for me to fix the piece. I was the fixit guy around the house. Mum eventually attempted to fix it herself. Mum passed away a few years ago, and I inherited the badly restored Lladro sculpture. It sat on a shelf in my studio until very recently. It was always in eye site. One day, I began to pick up the pieces to examine them. During that tactile process, I remembered Mum, her collection and Wellington. All the memories ebbed back and forwards, flowing over me like the wash of a coastal shoreline. Like soft whispers, the story of it all came back to me, piece by piece.

To be able to move forward with the restoration, I decided to deconstruct the glued elements, to then reconstruct the sculpture to its former glory. During the deconstruction process I decided it would be more appropriate to make an entirely new piece from the original elements, rather than to restore it to its original state. This process would help to conserve all the old stories that inhabit the piece to date and include the fault lines and new parts where the new story has begun and continues.

To add to the new piece and story, I sculpted the red headed figure with the oversized Micky Mouse hands. The red headed figure references the Australian comic strip character created by Jimmy Bancks in the early 1920s. The Adventures of Ginger Meggs where stories about a mischievous boy about town, enjoying life, long before the computer generations, climbing trees, shooting slingshots, just enjoying life as a young boy, mostly outdoors. I think growing up in a country town in Australia in the 60’s and 70’s was a lot like Ginger Meggs’s life for most of us of that generation.

My grandfather on my father’s side, introduced me to Ginger Meggs Comics. He was a fan of Ginger Meggs, ‘Pa-Pa’, as we called him would have come across Meggs as a young man of 16 or 17. ‘Pa-Pa’, was also an avid Walt Disney fan. I have fond memories of sitting down with him on the floor of the Sunroom in their Kogarah home, in the late 1960’s, watching Disneyland, on their small black and white TV set, on Sunday evenings. The Ginger Meggs lookalike in the sculpture is endowed with extra-large Mickey Mouse hands, and positioned behind Mrs Mouse as if to be waiting in support to catch her if she stumbles. A strong visual characteristic I remember of my grandfather was his large, weathered, working class hands. Always there, handy, practical and in support.

I decided to attach the porcelain figure and piece other elements together with the Kintsugi technique, (an antient Japanese technique used to repair precious items with pure gold, used as a metaphor for embracing flaws, mistakes or imperfections). Fittingly, as Wellington was an expert in catching mice, the mouse head of the female figure of the couple was added. The mouse head references the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, Pixie and Dixie. Two characters constantly being harassed by a cat named Mr. Jinks, from The Huckleberry Hound Show, another cartoon show we grew up with. Finally, I added 24 karat gold leaf to all the joins, attaching all new elements to the old. Both characters look happy and are embellished with riches. The Ginger lookalike’s trousers glisten with fault lines lined with 24 karat gold and Mrs. Mouse with a single tasteful Swarovski crystal and sparkling youthful face. Both positioned on an upturned could be, heirloom silver tray.

Ultimately this new Kintsugi sculpture was conceived to conserve and remember the memories of many of the past lives that encountered the original sculpture and add many other memories and recollections of past family and life stories and experiences to the ongoing story. This new artwork, like a newlywed couple is ready to embark on a new journey. The future is bright for “The Happy Couple”. All the elements are in place.