How does anyone manage to paint freehand on porcelain, one of the most unforgiving materials for an artist? Yet Irina Zaytceva does the impossible, painting birds and butterflies so close to nature that you almost expect them to take off any minute. No wonder this Russian-born artist,now living in the U.S.,was a hit at New York SOFA (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair). But don't be misled. There's nothing functional about her vases, cups, and teapots. There's also nothing cynical, political, tortured, or abstract. No one looks at one of her elaborate compositions and says "I don't get it."
Zaytceva emphasizes that she wants her work to be accessible, appealing, and beautiful. Working in her New Jersey studio, she listens to CDs of Jane Austen. And like her favorite author, her work has a story-telling quality that places it squarely in the category of "narrative" sculpture. But the story is yours, not hers as even her titles such as "Green Sphinx" don't reveal what the artist was thinking. But who cares? The portrait of the woman in the work evokes a young Juliet from Verona with one butterfly wing emerging from her headdress. As you turn the piece around, the surprise is a perfectly formed orange-crested bird with a butterfly (a Green Spinx of course) in its beak. This is not a cup for tea drinking but a centerpiece deserving of its own, perhaps mirrored space, and lighting. The light is essential as the gold painting, the result of a meticulous process, and virtually shimmers when well-lit.
Blithely ignoring what so many clay artists are currently pursuing, Zaytceva's work is seductive, romantic, and adoring of nature. What's astounding are the many stages from raw clay, to firing, painting, refiring, glazing, refiring, and over-glazing that are necessary to produce each piece. Along the way, constant mishaps are a threat. Moisture, heat, and timing have to be calculated with infinite patience and skill.
Currently, Zaytceva is represented by Jane Sauer. Her work is still under the radar although several museums have bought her sculpture. Count on prices starting at about $2,000.
Gallery: Irina Zaytceva