PORTLAND, Maine — Artist Aiden Fraser makes tall, elegant ceramic mugs shaped like the naked female form.
But they’re not novelty items meant to titillate the male gaze.
Instead, they’re unidealized, realistic. Breasts are uneven. Bellies sag. Appendectomy scars and tattoos are visible. Armpit hair makes an appearance.
Rather than hide these often-disguised human details usually thought of as flaws, Fraser draws attention to them with bright gold leaf, celebrating the forms’ so-called imperfections.
Like the real women the mugs are modeled after, no two are alike. Fraser hand-crafts each piece and demand has been so great, she recently began making them full time.
Q: When did you start making this kind of work?
A: It was my senior year in college, when I took a ceramics class because I had three more credits to fill. I just started doing them and thought they were really cool. I posted them online and people loved them. I felt really vulnerable when I started making these naked bodies. I felt naked making them. It started as something really vulnerable. Then, I became more comfortable and outspoken with my work. Now, I really enjoy the conversations that come out of the work.
Q: These don’t feel vulnerable to me.
A: No. They’re more “as-is.” Someone described them as unobserved. Yeah, she’s unobserved. She’s just a body, living, more nude than naked. They’re just real.
Q: Your business card reads “ceramics for self love.” What does that mean?
A: I’m representing the acceptance of all bodies through my work. This is a journey of self-love as much as it is a passion for ceramic art. I’ve found my outlook on myself and others has really changed through the simple act of making different bodies, over and over again — and studying them, and seeing myself in the mirror. I want women to see themselves when they see my work. I want people to see a fat body in my work and say, “That’s beautiful, I love it,” and then look in the mirror.
Q: Do women see themselves in your work?
A: Yeah. Some women will come in and see my pieces and chuckle, saying, “How’d you get that picture of me?” You know, kind of making fun of themselves, because it’s a non-ideal body. But I say, “Thank you.” That’s exactly what I want it to look like. They often don’t know how to respond to that.
Q: What other kinds of responses do you get?
A: It’s mostly positive and mostly women. They come onto my Instagram or a market booth and they just glow. It’s so fun. It’s like they’ve been craving work like this. I’ve had some weird comments from older men trying to be funny — but mostly positive.
Q: When these are finished, you burnish parts of them with gold. Why?
A: Everyone loves gold, it’s fun. It brings attention to whatever I put it on. It could be scars or armpit hair or freckles. It’s a luxurious, fun addition that elevates the work. The political part of me is putting it on the parts that are usually censored — but the part of me that likes to look at pretty things loves it as well.
Q: This has become a full-time job for you.
A: Yes. Before the pandemic I was a waitress. I was miserable. So, I just started selling work from my kitchen, online.
Q: How many of these have you sold since going full time?
A: I have no idea. Dozens and dozens. I don’t have any left. As many as I make, I sell — which is amazing, and also kind of stressful. I never feel like I’m making enough. It’s a very slow process. I throw them, trim them, sculpt, fire them, glaze them, fire again, then I do the gold luster and fire again.
Q: When you decided to do this full time, who did you envision your customers would be?
A: I think I knew it might be women like me. Younger women who struggle with their body image but know they shouldn’t have to. That’s what this was born out of, a frustration of wanting to love yourself. I want to be the influence I needed when I was growing up. I’m excited to see what kind of women this generation produces because of the body-positivity movement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To see more of Fraser’s work, visit her Instagram page.