At first glance it would appear as if one might have stumbled into a NRA gun show held amongst the refined splendor of an art museum. There are AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, Uzi pistols, Berettas, Smith and Wesson revolvers, even grenades and stillettos. It's very discomforting. Even more disconcerting, as ones eyes wander around the room, are the weapons decorated with Ming, Delft, and Meissen floral patterns. Over in another corner are plates and mugs decorated with sinking ships, murder, and mayhem. They're called "disasterware." Gradually you come to realize it's ALL disasterware, all ceramic, and far, far from your grandmother's china painting. It's the work of a 52-year-old painter by the name of Charles Wing Krafft. He calls it his Porcelain War Museum, and even more amazing, his display has just opened in a country that knows a lot about such things--Slovenia, Yugoslavia. For now, the display is housed in the Defense Ministry. And it's where we come face to face with the absurdity of fragile weapons, painted either with tromp l'oeil realism, or decorated with frilly, pastoral designs in a style Krafft calls "Combat Kitsch."
In the tinderbox that was and is the Balkans, Slovenia was the first to secede from the Yugoslavian Federation, followed quickly by Croatia and Bosnia. It's where the Balkan Conflict first began. An American, Krafft's work goes far beyond its obvious antiwar statement. He sees it as a war memorial having a sort of twisted sense of humor. The featherweight weapons are the way guns ought to be made, totally useless, totally benign, totally decorative, totally fragile. His guns are made by creating plaster molds from the real things, then slip casting the work in delicate porcelain, which is then fired, decorated, and fired again. Krafft has been at it now for nine years. Before that he was a painter. The show came together after a trip to Sarajevo during which time he saw an exhibit of British artist, Conrad Atkinson's china land mines.
Krafft is not in it for the money. So far none of his china weapons have sold. He guesses they'd bring about $300 to $900, far less than his still-life paintings OF china plates which sold in the $5,000 range. As a painter, he got interested in working on ceramic tile as the result of a commission from Von Dutch Holland, best known for creating custom cars, the flying eyeball icon, and blowing up things in Steve McQueen movies. Krafft studied with the Northwest China Painters Guild as well as at the Kohler Arts-industry Center in Wisconsin, and later in Europe. He casts and fires all his own work, and his decorating style ranges from elegant Delft, to the whimsical, to morbidly grotesque. In this country, shows of his work are scheduled in Cincinnati at the Contemporary Art Center frin April through the first of June, 2000, then in Seattle during June and July. Aside from the fact he's decided there's no money to be made in creating such works, it's something Krafft doesn't want to do for the rest of his life either. He plans to return to painting eventually, but for now, he's having too much fun to give it up.