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image icon Shark vase, 1987

Shark vase, 1987
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an earthenware clay sculptural vase, made in 1987 by Lorraine Jenyns (1945-). Measuring 36 cm x 23 cm x 20 cm, the vase is in the shape of a shark's head that is set on a flat base with the head pointing upwards. The shark's mouth is gaping wide open to reveal two rows of shiny white pointed teeth. One small button-like eye is visible. The overall colour is a dark, metallic black.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Lorraine Jenyns, who has been making and exhibiting sculptural ceramics since the late 1960s - Jenyns studied art at RMIT campuses from 1963 to 1965; in 1972 her ceramics and weavings were included in a Melbourne exhibition (Powell Street Gallery), which was the first time non-functional funk or pop-style ceramic sculpture was shown in Australia; in addition to regular solo exhibitions, Jenyns has been included in many group shows throughout Australia, as well as internationally; her work is represented in all state collections and at the National Gallery of Australia; in 1992 the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery staged a retrospective exhibition of her work; Jenyns currently teaches and works at her own art in Hobart, Tasmania
  • reflects contemporary trends in the crafts in Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s - until that time the decorative arts (including ceramics) were associated with functionality, but there was an emphatic break with this tradition during the 1970s when ceramics became the first craft medium to push the boundaries of non-functional form, a significant feature of what became known as the 'crafts movement'; some artists such as Maria Gazzard (1928-) and Mona Hessing (1934-) did so by building large sculptural works using clay or by mixing ceramics with textiles; other artists, such as Margaret Dodd (1941-), Olive Bishop (1941-), Jenyns and others, made clay sculptures that were intended to amuse or express social, political or aesthetic concerns
  • is characteristic of Jenyns's humorous approach to making art - a shark's head as a vase is meant to look incongruous, particularly when delicate flowers are fed into its mouth; the artist has suggested that the work also offers a shock bonus in the form of the teeth perhaps 'grabbing' a hand as the vase is being emptied or filled; the exaggerated lower jaw, button-like eye and improbably white and widely gapped teeth not only add to the shark's fierce look, they also tend to give the sculpture the qualities of folk art or a cartoon character
  • plays with the idea of sharks as Australian icons - sharks in Australian contemporary life are feared as 'killers of the deep', but they are also celebrated in popular culture as celebrities within Australia's star-studded line-up of natural-born killers, along with crocodiles, box jellyfish, snakes and trapdoor spiders
  • is one of a series of works by Jenyns that uses animals or creatures as subjects - other related works include 'Baboon with banana' (1976) and a 1977 series of circus-theme ceramic sculptures
  • demonstrates skilful use of the ceramics process to communicate ideas - this sculpture was hand-built and small irregularities and roughness of surface have been retained to help give the sculpture a living quality
  • is an example of ceramic sculpture in the 'funk art' style - 'funk' was a term coined by US art historian Peter Selz to describe a particular style of (San Francisco) Bay area art characterised by irreverent, anti-establishment humour and political satire and comment; while at the University of California (1965-68), Adelaide artist Margaret Dodd took ceramic classes with Robert Arneson, who was a key figure in the evolution of this West Coast American art style because of his non-conventional attitudes to the field of ceramics; Dodd, along with another artist (Tim Moorhead, 1943-) is credited with introducing funk ceramics to Australia.