Rachel’s Eye on Design: Love Bottle

Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, Love Bottle, 1998There is a lingering perception in our culture that wonderful art results from a spontaneous moment of inspiration. Although this may be true for some works of art, generally there is a substantial body of work and knowledge behind the artist that serve as the foundation for such success. Unlike centuries prior where skills were acquired over years of training, we live in a time of rapid communication and change in which people frequently expect quick results. Yet, the true mastery of any art medium is generally the result of much time spent looking, learning, practicing skills and evaluating one’s path.

Jeffrey Lloyd Dever’s constructed vessel, “Love Bottle”, 1998 is a watershed piece in his evolution as a polymer artist. After many years of experience as an artist/illustrator, Jeff began working with polymer in the late 1980’s as a means to dimensional illustration. Initially his approach to clay color was quite basic and his ability to create a dimensional form was limited by whatever pre-existing armatures were available. His “discovery” of two techniques, one more personal and the other widespread, allowed him to actually bring into being his vision of form and content. This ability to control the medium for expressive purposes was crucial since “happy accidents” are rarely part of Jeff’s work. Love Bottle represents the first fruitions of Jeff’s new found freedom and control as a polymer artist.

Jeff always works from carefully considered concepts. One distinguishing feature of his art is his ability to create three dimensional forms of varying sizes and shapes. However, this autonomy of form was not possible until he figured out how to build his own interior framework. Rather than relying solely on what was available, he realized a means of constructing whatever armature he imagined by using cardboard as a platform. The basic heart shape of Love Bottle is a union of two hollow forms. With both concave and convex surfaces, it swells and contracts the way we would expect a three dimensional heart shape to do. The spherical, striped bull’s eye adds complexity by penetrating into the surface of the heart. At the top, a flame, which relies on a simple foil support, functions as a stopper and can be removed.

The other “new” technique Jeff utilized in constructing “Love Bottle” was the Skinner blend. After years of illustrating using palettes of graduated shading and delicate color shifts, Jeff was thrilled to learn how to replicate such effects with clay. This capacity to make a subtly blended sheet of clay allowed him more command over how he applied color to his work. In “Love Bottle” different Skinner blends delineate the two distinct sides. On the left, the color starts at the base as a magenta-violet and shifts to the cooler blue-violet hue seen at the top; the right side uses a blend that changes from a hot, red-orange clay on the bottom to a fuchsia hue above. The two vine patterns that cover the bottle also employ blends in the backfilled clay. Again each side is different- the left vine starts at the bottom with a light teal and changes to a blue-green by the top, whereas the right side exhibits a dark purple vine at the base that switches to a violet-black on top. Even the flame above shows a blend from pale yellow to a warmer orange.

These two technical developments- an ability to create whatever armature was necessary and the capacity to use subtly shaded blends of color- were crucial to Jeff’s vision of his art. Now he was able to fully realize his idea of the vessel as a metaphor for an idea. With “Love Bottle” Jeff suggests many ideas about the range of love without resorting to sweetness or overt romanticism. The form – albeit a bit truncated at the bottom to allow for a base- relies on our cultural cliché that a heart shape represents love. At the center of the heart, a striped inverted sphere, suggesting a target, punctures the surface and brings to mind Cupid aiming an arrow at the soon to be affected lover. The two distinct sides of the heart represent different attitudes towards love. The right side, with its hotter color scheme and dark, thorny vine evokes the excitement and risk of passion as well as the pain of love derailed. Whereas on the left, the cooler magenta to blue-violet surface covered with a leafy green-blue vine presents a less heated, but healthy and thriving approach to love. The burning flame of love on top is a removable stopper, for this bottle of love is hollow and can be either full or empty depending on one’s circumstances.

Through all of these obvious and more understated references, Jeff’s “Love Bottle” communicates many ideas about the nature of love. As a work of art, it seamlessly unites form and function as a vessel and as a broad exploration of an idea. Within the progression of Jeff’s work, “Love Bottle” stands as a tangible manifestation of his then new command of the material, which enabled him to create what he had envisioned with skill, artistry, a bit of humor, and a lot of love.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.