There was a time when ceramics meant pots or plates. It was a posh word for pottery, although that wouldn’t have gone down well with those out to prove that work in clay could be art as well as craft.
Ceramics has come on in leaps and bounds, embracing Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry and up-and-comers like Jesse Wine whose first major exhibition at Baltic can be seen in the ground floor gallery space.
It’s quite an eye-opener, featuring outsized garments suspended from the ceiling. It’s as if the wearers are invisible or have just made a lightning exit like characters in a cartoon.
The artist blessed with that fantastic name is tall, lean and red of hair. He has a sense of a humour and a mission to lure an audience into his exhibition and entertain and intrigue it.
What we see here, he explains, is his response to the space he was offered.
“As an artist exhibiting at Baltic you are given a budget to produce something in response to the fact that it’s this place, the Baltic, in Gateshead.
“When I came here on a site visit I was told that a large proportion of the audience that would see the exhibition would be children.
“That was interesting because at most exhibitions in commercial galleries there are no kids around because it’s all about money. It’s a different world, in a way.
“The idea for these puppets came from thinking that I would like to make a really entertaining exhibition directed at the people who would come to see it.”
He says the ceramic garments we see suspended are essentially those he would wear around his London studio, including the gilet, or armless jacket. “The really great thing about a gilet is that it’s incredibly practical to work in. I always work in a gilet.”
So these ‘puppets’ are self portraits in a way, inspired by a person who is no longer there. Along with the clothes are the tools he uses and even the mug he uses, all decidely outsize.
They are also – since artists tend to build on the creations or achievements of others – a homage to the late American artist Alexander Calder who was well known for his mobiles, or kinetic sculptures, with delicately balanced components that moved in response to air currents or an electric motor.
You can enjoy the fun side of Jess Wine’s work, the outsized branded shoes reflecting his own interest in the right kind of trainer, or look at the art history element of the exhibition.
In a side room is a series of largely humorous works made in response to the creative output of some of his artistic heroes such as the American ceramicists Rudy Autio, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos and – the only one of the four still alive – John Mason.
“All these have had a big influence on what I do in the studio – how I do it and why I do it,” he says.
Jesse Wine was born in Chester in 1983, studied for a degree in fine art at Camberwell College of Arts in London and then did an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art.
He has had several solo exhibitions since completing his MA in 2010 and also has been involved in group exhibitions.
He was offered the Baltic exhibition after curator Emma Dean had seen his work in an exhibition at the Limoncello gallery in London.
“She contacted me and said she’d like a studio visit and then she came to see an exhibition I had in Glasgow. She phoned me about four months ago to offer the ground floor gallery space.”
And that’s the the way it works. A Baltic exhibition is viewed as a prestige addition to the CV but that audience still has to be entertained and Jesse is happy to tell me that the kids who glimpsed him installing the show seemed to be offering implicit approval.
But why that title, Young Man Red? There’s an interesting story behind that too, it transpires.
Jesse explains: “I was on this train in New York and this amazing, really dynamic guy who was homeless was doing this speech, basically asking people if they would give him some money.
“He had a bag of fruit and he was saying that he had fruit for today but was working to ensure that he had some fruit to make tomorrow a bit easier.
“He was dynamic but very funny and I gave him a couple of dollars for his troubles and was the first person to do so. He turned to the rest of the carriage and said something like, ‘Well, if Young Man Red here can give me some money then I’m sure you can too.”
Jesse Wine’s exhibition, full of personality, humour and fun, shows that ceramics can be lumpy and lively and individualistic and doesn’t always have to be uniformly smooth or utilitarian. Young Man Red runs at Baltic until February 22, 2015.