Markus Karstiess: When Beauty and Abject Bind Together


ArtAttack would like to introduce you to renowned German sculptor, Markus KARSTIESS, in anticipation of his second show at Bruce Haines Mayfair opening this week.

The exhibition is comprised of three distinct bodies of work by KARSTIESS.

5. Markus Karstiess, Hannibal Doe, 2009
 Hannibal Doe, 2009. Ceramic, platinum glaze, white gladioli (Gladiolus) H 65 cm. © Markus Karstieß/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Haines Mayfair


The first, his signature memento mori (remember that you can die), reminds us of our mortality and the vanity present in a contemporary society based so strongly on appearances. Living in excess within our consumerist society, we think of ourselves as immortal, like the immortal plastic flowers that flourish in our living rooms come rain or come shine. In these works, KARSTIESS brings us back down to earth, and puts emphasis on our mortality through the hopelessness and beauty of nature; he places a flower inside each vase, which is allowed to naturally perish over time. In this way, the artist reminds us that we as human beings are like real flowers not fake ones; we will one day fade and die. The titles of these vases, all borrowed from the ‘Doe family,’ suggest that they stand as a memorial for the unknown dead that have fallen into the oblivion of our ephemeral memory. The artist’s incredible knowledge of the material and techniques allows him to push the boundaries of the clay, making these deformed organic vases simple, yet significantly disturbing.


His second body of work, the ‘Stoner’series, is remarkable due to it’s origin. KARSTIESS casts 4,000 year old ‘cup and ring’ marks from the neolithic age (1500-4000 B.C.), which he discovered in Northumberland. The stones are always found at sites outside in the landscape, and he had to search for them carefully as they’re very difficult to find. These kinds of stones appear at many sites around the world, always at the same stage of the development of each culture, even though we do not know anything about their meaning. He insists on the fact that to protect the cultural patrimony, he casts them really carefully with a non-invasive material.  

Once again, he reminds us of our mortality as well as the immortal traces we will leave behind when we are gone. All his works in the show are glazed ceramics and use traditional and rare techniques developed 1,200 years ago, allowing him to utilise precious metals such as silver and copper on the surface of each work. This ancient process is very difficult to control. In this way, to contrast our ordered society, the artist lets nature take over during the firing process, which is what allows bright glazes to emerge. He describes it as being ‘like an oracle showing the future.’ I asked KARSTIESS what reaction he anticipates from our Carthesian society that has lost all relationship to the magical towards an unstoppable technological progress, and he cautiously replied:

‘We live in the age of cultural entropy. You can’t understand life/death if you know everything about it technically. For children, everything is spiritual and magical. The unknown, the unnamed has always been home to a true artwork, no matter if the work has been done by hand and or with the computer.’

8. Markus Karstiess, Stoner (dunk II), 2013
Stoner (dunk II), 2013. Lustre glazed ceramic ca. 52.5 x 35 x 7 cm © Markus Karstieß/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Haines Mayfair


In his third body of work, a large-scale cast of his studio, KARSTIESS is

Studio Peel off III
Studio Peel Off, 2013. (Second Corner, Room 3.04, Fine Art Department, Newcastle University) Glazed ceramic, wood, Indian ink, 101 x 149.5 x 4.5 cm © Markus Karstieß/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Haines Mayfair Detail

illustrating that beauty can be found everywhere in our daily life, even in the walls or ceilings. It can be found in the things that you see every day but never look at. He suggests that beauty does not necessarily have to be present in commodified consumable artifacts or in luxury locations, but that beauty can exist in the most humble and simple places.

When asked what his relationship to beauty and abject in our society wqs based on appearances, but also his approach to life and death in his work, he replied with a great humility and wisdom:

‘There is nothing deeper than the surface’ said Karl Krauss, ‘no matter if that surface is shiny or rusty.’ If you go to the forest, you feel good in seconds. Science says that we immediately get into a state that you can only reach after long practicing meditation. Looking around in the forest you see plants and animals, growing and dying. You see beauty and abject equally at the same time.”

– Henri Charreau

Markus Karstiess opens 18 November, 2015 at Bruce Haynes Mayfair and will be on view until 18th December, 2015; 33 Saint George Street, London W1S 2FL;

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