Charles Krafft’s Villa Delirium: by Mike McGee and Larry Reid, 96 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Apr 15, 2011

Juxtapoz magazine had an art exhibit in Los Angeles, and as I was walking around the exhibit, I came across what would’ve been a very traditional looking china tea set except that the teapot was a bust of Adolf Hitler’s head with a spout sticking out of it. Accompanying the teapot was a quote: “Ah, the smell of blood and snow. If I could bottle that scent, I’d create a new fragrance for the 21st century and call it Forgiveness.” I didn’t know what to think about it. It was such a bizarre clash of class, history, and politics that it literally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think about the artwork in front of me. The artist’s name was Charles Krafft. A couple of weeks later, a book about the artist and his delft pottery works, Charles Krafft’s Villa Delirium, showed up in the Razorcake mailbox. The book is full of big, full color photographs of various pieces of china, porcelain, and earthenware that all has a similar effect on you as the Hitler tea set does. It really makes you stop and think. There’s a china set called “Disasterware,” which is a series of plates that initially appear to be very traditional decorative dinnerware, but actually have paintings of the Hindenburg exploding, a guy about to be clubbed to death, ships sinking, and so on. There’s even a Desert Storm memorial plate with an American flag and a clown pointing a bazooka at you. Beyond the plates, Krafft has expanded his delft works to include ceramic, ornamental weapons. He’s made a series of grenades, chemical weapons, rifles and pistols all out of porcelain. Some of the weapons are more overtly political than others, like the pistol with the painting of Jesus on the handle, or the uzi with “Be An American” painted on the barrel. Some pieces are more abstract, like the bunny with a switchblade sticking out of his back. These porcelain weapons originally appeared in an exhibit that Krafft did at the Slovenian Ministry of Defense in the former Yugoslavia. The book goes on to tell the story of how, when Krafft was developing his porcelain weapons of war series, he got a commission to go to Sheboygan, Wisconsin – the home of the Kohler Company (according to this book, Kohler developed the modern bath tub and they’re the world’s largest manufacturer of porcelain plumbing fixtures) – to use the Kohler production facilities for his artwork. Originally, Krafft intended to use his time at Kohler to work further on his weapons of war project, but the Columbine shootings occurred just before Krafft arrived in Wisconsin, so Kohler asked Krafft to avoid making weapons. Instead, Krafft developed a series of porcelain skateboards with ornate designs of things like Martha Stewart’s face.

The book goes on to tell more about Krafft’s diverse life and his arresting artwork. It delves into Krafft’s Forgiveness™ series, showing the pristine Forgiveness™ perfume bottles with a swastika etched ornately into the bottle that presumably holds in it the patented smell of blood and snow. Villa Delirium also tells the story of Krafft’s association with the Slovenian artists’ group, the NFK. Further chapters of the book also explain how Krafft developed a new form of china that is made out of human remains and how Krafft made a love letter out of his human bone china and sent it to a woman whom he was smitten by. And so on. Krafft has definitely had an interesting life, and this book captures some very intriguing aspects of his life and art. In the end, it’s clear that Krafft is successful in doing what most artists aspire to: he puts every day icons in a new context, and he forces you to think about the world around you in a different light. – Sean Carswell (Last Gasp, 777 Florida St., SF, CA94110)