196 Apples 1969–70
The fruits in Gathie Falk’s ceramic 196 Apples are stacked in a pyramid, much like one would see at a fruit stand; she describes them as “part organic form, part geometric structure.” Each of the 196 apples was first thrown on the wheel and then shaped by hand and glazed individually. All were stacked and fired together so that the pile would be bonded by the glaze. The methodological arrangement of the individual apples, which are consistent in size (in order to achieve the balance of the pyramid), is offset by the fact that each piece of fruit is in part handmade and is further made distinctive in the coloration of its glaze. Falk would choose either bright red or dark red glaze for the various apples, and further variation came about accidentally in the firing process and was embraced by Falk to represent different degrees of texture, ripeness, and bruising.
The Fruit Piles series—and particularly the piles of apples—constitutes perhaps the fundamental Falk image. She began working on the series in the late 1960s, making it of the same vintage as Home Environment, 1968. While repetition and the serial form are recurring devices in Falk’s practice, the Fruit Piles, in their orderly, systematic arrangements, are somewhat unique. Over the course of the three years that Falk worked on this series, she created dozens of piles of ceramic apples, oranges, and grapefruits. The largest and most iconic of these works is, undoubtedly, 196 Apples, which reveals the very particular way in which Falk used the language of ceramic sculpture. Finding a balance between beauty and ugliness is important to her, and this kind of aesthetic tension manifests quite remarkably in this work.
Responding to the arrangements of fruit that she saw every day at the greengrocers in her neighbourhood, Falk has said she was inspired to transform those ordinary displays into something more beautiful and captivating. The Fruit Piles are at the core of what Falk has described as “the veneration of the ordinary.” Apples and other fruit would appear in Falk’s work over the course of her career, as in the ceramic Picnics series, 1976–77, or the Nice Tables paintings, 1993–95. Eventually she trained her attention on the subject in painted form in the Apples series, 1994–96.
In a review of the first presentation of the Apples at Equinox Gallery, Vancouver, in 1997, art critic Robin Laurence drew the following revealing words from Falk: “Apples are something that people can dream about and find a great life force in. They’ve got blood and guts and flavour and juice… [t]he apple is just infinitely intricate and infinitely beautiful.”