Sgraffito Girl: Scratching at SAAM

We arrived at the Seattle Asian Art Museum to see Hometown Boy, the Liu Xiaodong exhibit featuring portraits of residents of Jincheng, his childhood town. Sketches and film footage of his subjects accompanied these acrylic paintings. Such supplemental materials revealed artistic strata behind Xiaodong’s process (perhaps his own scratching?).

            After lingering among Xiaodong’s paintings, ink sketches and video segments for an hour, we ventured to the SAAM’s permanent exhibit rooms. Terracotta warriors, wooden monks, jade vases, and embroidered hanfu from past centuries stood propped behind glass cubes. One room featured ceramics from China’s various dynasties. A piece of Jingdezhen ware, porcelain glazed to look like a bronze pot, was particularly striking for its artful fakery. On a Cizhou dish, delicate painting revealed dynastic symbols through the process of sgraffito. Sgraffito is clearly an Italian term, applied here to a Chinese technique, but it is also a technique used on stain glass, illuminated manuscripts, and frescoes made by any number of civilizations. Sgraffito involves revealing a preliminary surface by scratching through superficial layers in a way that a pattern or shape emerges. Moving from Xiaodong’s modern works to these ancient vases felt like a physical act of sgraffito.

            As we went to leave the museum, we discovered the final day of an art book sale held in the lobby. We couldn’t resist flipping through pages from past exhibition catalogs. I bought a Marlene Dumas book and the catalog from SAM’s Women Artists/Elles@CentrePompidou exhibit. Reading quotes from Dumas, Claude Cahun, Louise Bourgeois, and one particular from Adriena Simotová, I realized that my scratching had revealed a foundational layer in a sgraffito about writing, women and art.

“For me, the point of departure is the body by which I perceive, by which I measure, and by which I make my imprint. The corporeal, the tactile, is thus the primary source of communication, cognition and understanding.” –Adriena Simotová

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