A new display on the long table in the Fletcher Gallery at the Holburne Museum is the vision of artist Candace Bahouth.
‘Extravagant china flowers in a Versailles froth.’ Thus runs the description of one of Candace Bahouth’s mosaic shoes, which have become a fantastical trademark of her artistry. It seems Candace infuses even the descriptive titles of her mosaic work with her magical, exaggerated vision of the world. As you digest the shoe visually, you clamber from toe box to top heel, tracing roses, daisies, carnations, peonies, violets, pansies, buttercups and ragged robin, their multicolour floral china shapes clustering around the form of a stiletto.
Candace arrived in the west country as an American arts graduate. Her fine arts training at Syracuse University Art School in New York involved experimentation with many mediums from painting and sculpture to weaving and ceramics, and Candace attributes the roots of her artistic confidence to this, along with the resounding American sense of ‘can do’. After an extensive property search around numerous low-ceilinged cottages, the generous height and light-embracing windows of Ebenezer Chapel in Pilton, which reminded Candace of a New York loft, became her home and provided a base for her creative work.
In the 1980s Candace became known as a tapestry weaver. Her bestselling needlepoint tapestry designs for Hugh Erhman thrum with medieval flamboyance and the joy of colour, from William Morris style flowers to homages to Klimt and the textures of leopard skin to stitched studies of majestic galleons. Her exhibitions at The American Museum and Gardens in Claverton and her work in the V&A’s permanent collection and in the Northampton Museum’s shoe collection helped to broadcast her brand of colour-infused creativity, along with two joint shows with her friend Kaffe Fassett at the Victoria Art Gallery, the latest in 2018.
It is, however, the world of mosaic that now defines Candace’s artistic oeuvre, and indeed her sense of who she is. Her studio is set in an enchanting, vibrant country garden that exudes floral colour and wafting scents, accompanied by the comforting background wash of a stream. A collection of garden sculpture totems grouped within the expanse of lawn – tall poles growing from the ground, decorated either with mosaics, sea shells and built-up textures of shale – are an intriguing mixture of organic natural forms and dense, planned artistry. In this garden world of dreamy make-believe, long strings of glimmering mirror discs spin on branches, and exuberant plastic flowers are suspended within the luscious foliage of bushes and trees.
The mosaic studio reveals bustling table-tops of china, which form Candace’s palette – figures of sailors and milkmaids clustered among tea cups and bowls, urns with Grecian handles, commemorative mugs (a speciality) and endless broken shards of decorative china. It looks chaotic and shrine-like, but it’s actually finely organised into colours and shapes and potential project combinations.
On other surfaces you encounter crowds of elaborate candlesticks constructed in tall towers from teapots, cups and saucers. There is a clear obsession with spouts and handles, and their inclusion in many aspects of Candace’s mosaic work endows sculptural exclamation, humour and edge, and a sense of Alice in Wonderland. This continues through her iconic curved mosaic mirrors, harnessing plates, teacups, candlesticks, eggcups, figures, flowers, some intact, some broken, just like a curated tea party, a setting, perhaps, for winged sprites feasting around a mirrored pond.
This September sees Candace creating an elaborate mosaic installation on the central long table in the Holburne’s Davidson Ballroom Gallery. The table will be mirrored, tea party references will abound (expect handles and spouts), and colour and flowers will feature large. There is talk that the piece may even inhabit the darker space under the table. As Candace says, describing her plan: “This showcase will be my playful response to the decorative and ceramic world within the Holburne. It will be surreal, bizarre, opulent and fantastical, a moment of pure delight and pleasure in this anxiety filled world. I want to show that ordinary everyday objects around you can become extraordinary moments of celebration.”