Ceramicist Daisy Boman: ‘The performing arts will find new ways to overcome this crisis’

Ceramicist Daisy Boman: The performing arts will find new ways to overcome this crisis

Tiny 3D mounds surface from a beige background hanging from the wall in an arrow-like streak. On closer inspection, these apparitions are all blockheaded near-identical creatures with  featureless faces scrunched together in a riot of activity. Some are half-submerged into the canvas; others lay sprawled on top of fellow figures. Some are pulling, pushing – some even appear to be falling, clutching desperately to avoid losing connection with the surface – and their plane of reality – completely. Up close, each figure’s individual characteristics become apparent. Created from the same mould, but all individuals with their own unique goal from the scenario  they find themselves in. And the more the viewer looks, the harder it is to understand whether they are all helping or hindering, attacking or defending, each other.

This is A Long Story, by Belgian ceramicist, sculpture and artist Daisy Boman. And the figures are her Bo-men. On the surface, these monochrome, clay characters appear whimsical. However, they are also representations of humanity that depict Daisy’s understanding of the collective struggle of the species across her work. 

Many of Daisy’s pieces are now on sale from Artmarket Gallery, in the East Yorkshire market town of Cottingham. The situation with Covid-19 has already made viewing her work in public more difficult – she missed the final installation of 13 large Bo-men figures in Singapore and also the latest exhibition in her hometown of Geel, Belgium, had to be closed unexpectedly early. However, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t been able to appreciate her work that explores troubled minds in troubled times, and have created something of an unexpected bonus
for the artist.

“More orders for artworks came in, because, as people were locked in their houses, they had more time to think about decorating their homes,” says Daisy.

In terms of her own output, Coronavirus has influenced Daisy in some aspects, particularly in regard to some of her pieces such as Breathe, which depicts figures in two separate camps immersed in lung-like arenas. “The Corona situation expects or urges us to work positively together to allow us to keep on breathing and stay alive,” Daisy says when asked what inspired Breathe. “For better life and new life.”

She’s also hopeful for the future. “The performing arts will find new ways to overcome this crisis. The real creative artists will always find solutions and will come up with new ideas.”

Artmarket Gallery has showcased Daisy’s work for more than a decade, starting with the Boman limited edition sculptures in 2008 following a meeting at a leading London gallery’s event. The gallery has itself come up with its own solutions to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic. One of which is holding ‘virtual views’ of its pieces.

Nick Power, of the gallery, says: “This is something we brought in as soon as Covid hit meaning that, because people cannot visit the gallery, we offer a personalised video of the piece being enquired about which went down extremely well.

The gallery also helps customers discover how the artwork, including Daisy’s will look in their home. “As part of virtual View, we also allow the client to send us a picture of their room and we will photoshop the piece they like so they get a better idea of how it will look,” adds Nick.

In a world where divisions and popular discourse are pronounced, following a new cycle dominated by Brexit, Trump – stories dominated by borders and differences among other matters, the themes explored in Daisy’s work are ones that resonate. Indeed, a recent display of hers featuring four tyres filled with floating Bo-men was inspired by refugees and the stories of “people searching for a better life”.

“Feelings of division and the need to get together have always been part of my art,” says Daisy. “These themes are universal and are part of the human race. In my work I try to express that togetherness is very important.”

It’s also perhaps not surprising that, with these conflicting aspects in her work, that Daisy is an admirer of the work of US artist Cy Twombly, who died in 2011. “To me, Twombly’s art has something nihilistic about it, but on the other hand something subtle, sensitive and poetic.” Which sounds a little like the lives and dramas of our square-headed clay friends.

Daisy grew up near Antwerp and still lives in the province. After studying interior design and photography at the Academy of Fine Art in Mol, she fell in love with clay as a medium “after visiting a beautiful art exhibition in Paris”. Later, she moved with her family to South Africa in the early 1980s – the inequality she witnessed affected her outlook and inspired the turmoil and need for belonging depicted by the Bo-men, which she developed upon her return to Belgium in 1986.

“I followed a course in ceramics art at an art academy in Belgium and it is during my five-year stay in South Africa that I found the time to follow more pottery lessons that I managed to develop a very personal style and develop it more and more.”

The Bo-men, whose identikit form transcends ideas of borders, segregation, race and nationality, come in many sizes, if not shapes – but all are created with Westerwald clay, which is then baked at a fiery 1160C. One of Daisy’s giant sculptures, The Antwerp Whisperer – large Bo-men figures climbing up onto the roof of an office building – has become a landmark in the city. People can order greetings and personal messages to loved one, which a reclining sculpture across the street will then ‘whisper’ to the listener once a code is entered by the person visiting it. Other cities that have exhibited Daisy’s work include Singapore, Zurich, London and San Francisco.

Artmarket Gallery exclusively represents Daisy’s original artwork in the UK. Taking the personal touch to exploring Daisy’s Bo-men universe, gallery directors Michelle and Robert Power travel to Daisy’s Belgium studio to hand-select the work at her studio, located in a rural hamlet just outside of Antwerp. Michelle and Robert meet Daisy and her husband Ludo, and then will enjoy a Belgium lunch and bottle of wine or two to finalise the selection process for pieces to exhibit.


It all sounds rather serene compared to the maelstrom that envelops the Bo-men. And it’s easy for those looking at Boman’s work to identify with the figures and see their individual everyday battles within them. The collaboration; competition; the endless, swirling activity, driven by primal urges and instincts towards a goal placed tantalisingly in the distance. But what have the Bo-men, and the creation of them, taught them about their creator?

“Thanks for the question, I never thought about it in this way,” says Daisy. “I suppose I am very influenced by my environment and the things going on in the world. I suppose that making art is a way for me to process these feelings without realising it.”

And, with a world that is experiencing together a shared crisis in the pandemic, it’s worth remembering that, whatever the Bo-men's differences and predicament, they almost always appear united towards a distant, common goal – a shared struggle. As Daisy says: “My work reflects life and the burdens of it. We always have to bear together.”

Boman on Bo-men

Daisy discusses the works that are featured in the Artmarket collection.

The use of colour in your work is minimal but dramatic as a result: rare red figures, as in Thoughts and Emotions appear to demonstrate feelings being overwhelmed by logic. Is this a hopeful vision?

The red in a particular work was an accent that I felt was necessary for this work. Sometimes colour is an expression, a way to accent things of feelings that comes along.

In virtually all of the pieces in this Artmarket exhibition, the Bo-men are in perpetual, turbulent, constant motion. In Continuity, it seems this battle is eternal, stuck and trapped together in their own little world. The only time they seem slightly at rest, or capable of thought, is when they’re alone, on their own lofty perch in Bo-men on Stone. So, can the Bo-men ever be at peace in each other’s company?

My Bo-men are always on the move for the best. Your description is well understood. The viewer's interpretation is very important and is also different for everyone.

Conversation appears to tackle the binary, competing dialogue that an issue such as Brexit feeds into. But it’s also fascinating to see the Bo-men seemingly competing within their own tribes and the turbulence within them. Is that a fair reflection of your own outlook of public debate?

Competing will always be part of the human being and conversation will try to deal with this and come to an agreement. The figures in my work are an expression of my inner feelings, not specifically focused on one event.

Versions of the Bo-men – little and large – have been exhibited in public and interacting with the landscape. What have been your favourite such displays, and what do they represent?

In Antwerp I have an interactive installation called The Antwerp Whisperer’. Five large Bo-men figures climbing on a five-story office building. People can order greetings and send and listen to them.

In Singapore I have 13 large Bo-men figures installed on several places in a huge new office building from PSA. There are also other installations in a hotel and a huge apartment development.
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