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Schooled in equine excellence

GWYN GRIFFITHS recommends an exhibition inspired by the ceramic horse collections of the Tang dynasty

Clay Horses: He Rides Side Saddle, Playing With Fire, at the Nantgarw Chinaworks Museum, Tyla Gwyn, Cardiff

5/5

THIS exhibition enhances Gareth Nash’s reputation as a brilliant talent in the field of clay ceramics.

Inspired by his love of horses and riding, his emotionally charged work draws on equine myths and the ceramic collections of the great Chinese Tang Dynasty from the 7th to the 10th century.

The Tang dynasty horses were funerary objects placed in the graves of emperors and members of high-status families for their benefit in the afterlife.

Never meant for public display, they were even so magnificently embellished using glazes and coloured by three metal oxides, a process known as Sancai.

Nash, artist in residence at Nantgarw China Works Museum, has gone to great lengths to study the techniques of those ancient master potters and the history of how the Chinese used their horses.

Only ridden and owned by the upper class, they symbolised wealth, strength and freedom and were prized for their domestic service and military prowess as well as for the sport of polo.

The Tang, as shown by the ceramic horses, rode side-saddle and in battle would swing from side to side.

This image of the side saddle and the horse is part of the symbolism of Gareth Nash’s work. It’s pervaded by a profound sadness, whether in the expressions of the Asiatic-looking riders and even the horses themselves.

Highly political and socially conscious, Nash’s work has a deep concern for the human condition.

Yet there are unexpected touches of humour and more than one witty nod towards the history of Nantgarw.

A close look at a rider with a polo stick in his hand reveals it is in fact a clay pipe. For a century, Nantgarw produced vast quantities of such objects until cigarettes became fashionable.

A rose-festooned horse is a reminder of an earlier, more splendid period in the history of the house, when William Billingsley produced his great porcelain and was celebrated for his beautiful decorations which earned him the nickname of “the roses man.”

Works by other potters on show in the exhibition include Sally Stubbings’s exquisite work objects inspired by the Blanc de Chine produced in Dehua in Fujian Province in south-east China and Carol Feehan’s delicious — yet sinister, political and very contemporary — anthropomorphic characters.

And there are great examples of work by local primary school pupils who’ve been attending Nash’s classes at Nantgarw.

It’s a free exhibition, very well worth a visit.

Runs until November 19, details: nantgarwchinaworksmuseum.co.uk

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