Expressionist art creates images designed to communicate the artist’s feelings. In this art, the artist is not a dispassionate reproducer of the world, but his/her art is an intentional personal perspective and commentary on this world. Vitreous enamel as a medium for expressive art has a short, but impressive, history and enormous potential for development. Yet, the general public, as well as enamelists themselves, know vitreous enameling primarily as a decorative, not as an expressive, art.

The history of vitreous enameling in the decorative arts goes back three and a half millennia. Enamel has been part of some of the most exquisite objects ever made. But decorative art enameling can be quite different from expressive art enameling. Most often, it is not enameling which primarily defines the work. Metals, often shiny, precious metals, are more prevalent and more prominent than the enameling. It is rare for a decorative art piece to be directly expressive of an artist’s complex emotions or personal experience. Decorative art objects are meant to call attention to themselves, because of their attractiveness and/or their unique design.

expressive art enameling
“Himalayan Goddess,” enamel on copper, 16 x 12 inches.

The use of enamels in expressive arts is a recent phenomenon. There was a dramatic emergence in the use of enamel by artists expressing their feelings and their world views starting around the middle of the 20th century. This period has been very well described by Bernard Jazzar and Harold Nelson in their excellent book, “Painting With Fire.”

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Vitreous enamel is a particularly effective medium for transmitting artist’s feelings, as it allows the artist more dimensions of image than other media. The hues of enamels, the transparencies, textures, differences in reflectance, etc. all give an artist more material to create a complex, personal visual statement. Enamels also allow for a wider range of places in which expressionist art can be displayed. The weather proof nature of enamel allows murals in public places. Outdoor spaces can be a particularly effective venue for expressionist enamels.

“Follow the Fleet,” enamel on copper, 24 x 18 inches

Despite these advantages, expressive enamel art may be less in the public eye than it was fifty to seventy years ago, nor is it even prominent in enameling circles. Expressive enamel art is clearly subordinate to decorative enameling at enamelist conferences. The enameling world is doing little to bring expressive art enamels to the attention of the art world and the general public. This does a major disservice to the whole field of enameling. If enamel is known only as a media for decorative objects, all enameling, decorative art enameling as well as expressive art enameling, suffers a lessened prestige in the art world and a diminished value in the marketplace.

I am writing this because I am interested in organizing a group of expressive enamelist artists to become active in promoting our work. If you would like to become involved, please contact me at howardeisman@verizon.net

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