Stratton’s View from Denmark

Richard is now in Guldagergaard, (pronounced Gooliagoor or something pretty similar) which is in the town on Skaelskor – a harbour town on the south west coast of the biggest island of Denmark, about four hours by road from Copenhagen. Skaelskor faces the mainland part of Denmark that’s joined on to Germany these days.

Richard won the Residency at Guldagergaard from then judge, Paul Scott, two Portage Awards ago. We set it up sitting in my back yard when Paul was here and we were talking about what might benefit NZ ceramic practices. After discussing and making a case for the advantages that come from residencies and such exchanges, Paul simply telephoned Guldagergaard (he is a regular teacher there) and bingo, one residency to add to the rewards of entering the Portage – if you’re lucky. Stratton was our first winner but last year he could not go so its availability lapsed for the last competition. I went there again last year and it was reinstituted and it will figure in the prizes again for this year’s Portage.

Finally Richard is there. Guldagergaard is set in a beautiful park that is steadily becoming bedecked with large scale outdoor ceramic sculpture made by former residents. The studios and kilns etc are in the former stables there. The entire complex was once a grand estate. Here is Richard’s image… taken from the front steps of the residence and office building toward the old stables.

stratton writ and image

His notes…

Well it has been over a week since I exited the train after a twelve hour journey from Germany, no Kroner in my pocket and pulling a 50 kg case behind me.

Since this time I have assimilated into an Artist in Residence at Guldagergaard.

Guldagergaard is based in a small township of Skaelskor, about a 15 minute bus ride south of Slagelse as the crow flies.

When you start here, life becomes a bit surreal, you live, eat and work at Guldagergaard, along with other visiting artists and the studio assistants. The latter can usually outnumber the artists.

A usual day consists of starting at 9am and breakfast, then all day studio work till 7pm, break to eat a communal dinner, then back to work or watch a movie.

As you can imagine, the work that you make drives your studio time. One thing is that you have to bring almost everything in the way of tools, with you as well as an Ipod or something similar as everybody uses one in the studio.

Regarding the setup: Kilns of all types and sizes and the plaster room is fully functional with extractor fans and lathes. There are technicians and staff to help you with those new techniques that you are wanting to try, from print to 3d printer.

This place pulls you out of your comfort zone which is a good thing. Here you cannot just run to the local pottery supplier to peruse the shelves for that perfect stain. It’s all Ebay and online and not cheap.

This leads to a sort of dazed, what am I doing here? kind of thing but the feeling only lasts a couple of days.

I have heard stories of other residents not leaving the premises for a month, only stepping out to the local supermarket for their supplies when it is their turn to cook. Residents take turns to supply and cook dinner so that cross cultural eating takes place and you can also get a taste of ‘home’. Skaelskor is not known for its night life.

The other artists, assistants and staff make this place what it is. They become your network and family.

My studio partner and housemate is Justin Novak from America, he is leaving this week for another residency in Rome but he is a regular here at Guldagergaard as I am sure I will be as well.

So, we’ll look forward to another billet-doux from Denmark in due course – maybe with more pictures and see what work he, and others there , are doing.

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Peter Stichbury 1924 – 2015

Yesterday, we lost a lovely man in the passing of Peter Stichbury, just five days after his 91st birthday. Last of those seen as pioneers from the late 1940s, Peter, along with Roy Cowan and Mirek Smisek, was unfailingly generous in his teaching and his sharing of accumulated knowledge. The highly regarded recipe for his mix of clays and other materials, trod with linked arms and bare feet then pugged and left to mature for as long as we could keep our hands off it, was de rigueur at most evening pottery classes and used by many of the domestic-ware makers of the day. It was an agreeably textural, responsively plastic, useful stoneware body that coloured nicely in reduction and took kindly to whatever glaze was applied. Like the man, it was well-mannered, moderate and temperate, and adaptable to almost any situation

Following war service, teacher and art specialist training, his first job was as Assistant Art lecturer at Ardmore Teacher’s College. It was while he was a student at Auckland Teachers Training College that he first learned something of clay when he learned of and attended evening classes at Avondale College. There he followed Pat Perrin and Len Castle as students to R.N. Field who introduced them to Bernard Leach’s, A Potter’s Book published in 1940 and which rapidly gained reputation as the ‘potters bible’ for its influential essay, ‘Towards a Standard’ and the useful practical information contained within its pages. Stichbury and Castle were part of a small group which included fellow student, Patrick Motley, a fettler at Crum Brick and Tile and who suggested they might slip some pieces into the pipe kilns there – at the time, salt glazed. They placed their work on top of the utility ware near the kiln’s crown where the pots received the best possible doses of industrial salting. It was an exciting time as information on salting clays was slowly acquired and disseminated among the seriously interested aspiring potters who oriented around the Avondale classes. Castle experimented with a silicaceous clay from Westmere Beach while Stichbury extracted clay from Pigeon Mountain at Pakuranga.

It was Peter Stichbury who was first, in 1957, to receive a fellowship from the Association of NZ Art Societies, precursor to Creative NZ, to study in Saint Ives, England. Taking Diane, his wife, he arrived in late September and where he learned many extra throwing skills from William Marshall who was in charge of the production wares for the catalogue and who was the most skilled thrower at Saint Ives. He did not stay the full time with Leach at Saint Ives, as I learned some years ago when I interviewed him for an English organisation working on information from former Leach apprentices. Not much enamoured of Leach himself he preferred to go with Diane to work for Michael Cardew, by then at Abuja in Nigeria. There he became Cardew’s first western student finding he was given more freedom to throw as he pleased. Cardew’s total dedication to setting up what was to be a new national industry and his charismatic personality helped cement Stichbury’s future direction. The articles he sent from Nigeria to Helen Mason, then editor of the NZ Potter magazine, which began life in 1958, were catalytic in increasing the knowledge and information available to readers and the fine pots – his own and those of Cardew and Ladi Kwali – which returned with him to this country, served as exemplars for the increasing numbers of students and budding potters.

He set up the pottery department at Ardmore to which he was appointed to a full lectureship and where he taught student teachers, many of whom, in the 60’s and 70’s became potters instead of teachers as soon as their two years of compulsory service was up. Stichbury stayed there his entire career as head of the department and made his fine tableware for much of that period. He also made signature large platters that he decorated on-glaze with Karekare iron-sand and for which he gained a considerable reputation.

In 1968 he invited Cardew to come and who followed Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada earlier in the decade. Cardew conducted workshops using the Stichbury clay recipe and the pots were fired, with help from Neil Grant at Ardmore. Many have entered institutional collections and sit there beside Peter’s.

He became, what was then a principal accolade – ‘full-time’ – in the late 60s and Diane joined him in 1970 with both caring for their three daughters, Phillipa, Rebecca and Catherine. However he never stopped teaching, giving frequent weekend workshops in his home studio set among the trees in their large garden down a long right-of-way off Great South Road in Manurewa. He also held regular classes for the ASP over a number of years and gave workshops throughout the country. He also served as an officer and President for the ASP and the NZ Society of Potters and remained an honorary member of both organisations.

Stan Jenkins chronicled his life on film along with one on Castle and on Smisek and these were made for the Department of Education and still available. He developed other interests and made superb musical instruments, cellos and violas, for his daughters and his pottery was included in a small collection gifted to Queen Elizabeth in 1974 when she visited here. There was an image of those pots in the NZ Potter magazine I recall, (Peter’s Len’s, Mirek’s, Margaret Milne’s, Graeme Storm’s…. more….)    I wonder where she keeps them?

With the new century Peter slowed down for the first time and eventually hung up his turning tools some years ago when they sold their property after many good years and moved to smaller quarters, closer to town and family. He was awarded Member of the NZ Order of Merit in 2002 for services to pottery.

He will be missed, for his quiet but steadfast purpose and his intelligent perceptions on pots and on life, his love of his family which he always kept foremost and his generosity in everything he came to. Our sympathies must go to Diane and to his daughters and extended family. There is a private ceremony this week but a more public event will take place at a later time.

Cider Jar with tap, 1951 stoneware, salt glazed 260h x160 widest dimension.

Cider Jar with tap, 1951
stoneware, salt glazed
260h x160 widest dimension.

Vase, late 1950s stoneware, salt glazed 310h x 135 w

Vase, late 1950s
stoneware, salt glazed
310h x 135 w

Peter Stichbury stamp.

Peter Stichbury stamp.

Plate, 1969 Stoneware, tenmoku with iron sand decoration 360mm Dia.

Plate, 1969
Stoneware, tenmoku with iron sand decoration
360mm Dia.

Peter unstacking his kiln, late 1960s Photo - Steve Rumsey.

Peter unstacking his kiln, late 1960s
Photo – Steve Rumsey.

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odds and ends…and assorted miscellany

Richard Stratton is away in Europe on an OE about attending the session at Guldagergarard in Skaelskor, Denmark that he won at The Portage competitions a couple of years ago. He has not yet travelled as far as Denmark but has been in London where he has been up to his knees in Thames River mud and on stony banks scrabbling around at low tide searching for the historic shards he was informed were there. Turned out the information was reliable and voila! See the image below. It’s a Westerwald 1650-75 so he says (and who would doubt?) Which means it’s salted and early – Westerwald was the area in Germany that was an early developer in salt-glazing.

Richard found the mudlarking world a curious place and many have been there before him so he had to purchase some that he coveted. He also discovered that, like much in Britain, it has its own class structures and hierarchy and will write more on this later – which I shall pass on.

He was also up in the Stoke–on-Trent area (formerly The Potteries before they shifted to Asia) where he met up with Neil Brownsword, the recent Supreme Winner (US$ 55,000) of the Korean Ceramics competition with his project on the demise of the pottery industry in England. Projects, rather than single or groups of objects are one of the most prominent of the new movements in art that includes ceramics.

Richard is currently in Germany on his way to Westerwald and its fine Museum of Ceramics at Hohr-Grenzhausen. A must visit for someone like Richard as the historical display is very extensive as shards from that area are as old as 1000 years BC and also shows ceramics as up-to-date as nose-cones for space ships and other scientific paraphernalia, as well as exhibitions of contemporary work, of every description, in the medium. It is one of Europe’s major ceramics venues and the town of Hohr-Grenzhausen has a tertiary education system devoted to ceramics, and around the museum, I remember a number of artist’s ateliers and studios for resident artists as well as thriving activities by locals, several of whom were regular exhibitors in the Fletcher exhibitions. We shall look forward to more news after his few days there.

Westerwald shard - Thames

Westerwald shard – Thames

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The recent auction of a part of Ron Sang’s collection of art and ceramics, at Art and Object, realised almost 2m. Not a bad retirement deposit. Some record prices were recorded, mainly involving Len Castle’s later work. One of those large scale bowls with crackled, matt yellow interiors reached $13,505. It was the last of three on offer (images of Ron’s house interior, in the catalogue, show he owned at least seven!). There are apparently more than fifty of these spectacular bowls in existence …after that price more will surely emerge. The ‘Sulphurous’ bowls were shown and sold adjacent to one another but there were also two of those ‘Inverted Volcano’ pieces shown and sold separately. The first went for $8790 (estimate of $5-8,000) while the later one (same estimate) went for a record $10,800. Who knows how many of those press-moulded pieces are in existence. I have heard reports of the backs of station-wagons chocka with them – but maybe the second buyer felt that the second one on offer was the last. A round ‘Lava Lake’ bowl also with the red selenium glaze reached $9360 while an earlier, press-moulded large, stoneware, ‘Blossom Vase’ at almost 60cm h. with a barium blue semi-matte glaze reached a comparatively modest $6300. It’s curious that it was Castle’s earlier work (textured stoneware from the 60s and 70s – unglazed and washed with ferruginous earths or glazed with Japanese chuns and tenmokus) that is mainly collected in institutions and admired by a range of the knowledgeable, yet the high auction prices are gained by later earthenware, (albeit with spectacular glazing even if it’s bought ready-made,) but bearing effects that rehearse what came about earlier via far high temperatures. Possibly it’s the influence of the last book, produced by Len himself, which irretrievably tied his work to regional volcanic areas through juxtapositions of images, and his own writing and titles of course, despite earlier refuting such regionalist associations (See NZ Potter Vol. 18/1, p.23).

It was good to see several of Roy Cowan’s early work on offer, a couple of which, despite many visits to the Sang house, I had never noticed before. Two of these large, salt-glazed works, based upon growth/plant forms and offering subtle commentary upon our indigenous and native forestry management also reached high prices at $10,800 and $12,605. Roy Cowan was an interesting and gentle man, a very generous and inventive artist and overall intelligent commentator on the state of things in ceramics here and who never failed to give of his best no matter what he thought of things. A pity he is no longer alive to see how his work is received these days. He’d be pleased.

Other ceramic folk included in the Sang sale were, Graham Ambrose, Ray Rogers, Nicholas Brandon, John Parker, Peter Collis, Richard Parker, Chester Nealie, Campbell Hegan, Lawrence Ewing, Peter Stichbury and Graeme Storm. An all boy’s lineup. But I feel sure there will be more Ron Sang sales to come for this is far from the finite list of his holdings in ceramics.

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There is an exhibition of the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection coming soon at Waikato Art Museum in Hamilton. The collection comprises paintings, works on paper and ceramics. However you won’t be too surprised to learn that the ceramics part of the collection, now comprising only the winning works from the 22 years of the competition’s long run (still the longest award ever in NZ), are not going to be a part of the show.

The Fletcher collection used to be more extensive and representative in its selection of ceramics with works chosen for inclusion, from what was entered, since its inception in 1977. However some were decommissioned in 1993 as they did not fit the new parameters for display at Fletcher House in Penrose while, after the cessation of the exhibition in 1998, all but actual winning works were sold off at bargain prices as it seemed they were too difficult to store and curate. The state of the remaining winning works was cause for concern when placed on show at Objectspace a few years ago. Could that be why we can no longer see them on display?

Merilyn Wiseman has been battling to have her winning work represented by the correct image on the FC Art Collection website, for some considerable time. Seems that finally an image of the correct work has now been made and will, in due course, be placed on view on the site. The image of some other of Merilyn’s work that was in the winner’s place, for no known reason, will be finally removed and consigned to some other situation.

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Thinking about Stoke-on-Trent, the closed Spode Factory there is in process of being turned into a ‘creative village’ in the Old China Hall part of the huge complex. There will be 43 studios for resident artists and designers. Work starts in May and it will be complete by end of year. It is a collaboration between Britain’s Arts Council and local bodies funding.

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MOMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art) is hosting an editing marathon in conjunction with International Women’s Day. This Edit-a-thon is designed to improve the presence of women and their work in the visual arts (of all sorts) in on-line arenas such as Wikipedia. This is because women are in general (according to MOMA) severely under-represented as well as the fact that entries on female artists regularly mention issues like gender, relationship status and family in opposition to male entries that do not carry such information. The event begins with a half-hour tutorial and apart from in MOMA it is also being carried out in other major international institutions such as LACMA in LA, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and the Tate in London.

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The saga of the NZ Pottery Museum and its collected works – which mostly seems to be on a back burner – must be of concern to those who have consigned their precious collections to this cause. It seems that way as it pops up as topic for grizzles fairly regularly. Well, I hear that one at least decided to do something about it and instead of waiting for the Clark Homestead to be gifted for the purpose (which Trish Clark – daughter of…. assures me cannot happen) he has gone and bought a large empty building in Whanganui to do just that. (Make a museum for the glory of….)

This benefactor is rumoured to be none other than Rick Rudd. I know no more and await, with bated breath and many other interested parties, for Rick to fill us all in on detail….     watch this space…

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Finally… George Woodman, husband of the redoubtable Betty – still making new work in her early 80s… – is quoted as saying….. ”To hear ceramists talk about their work is like listening to a discussion of fur, purr and pounce without any mention of the cat!”

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Commentary on any of the above is welcome….

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CONGRATULATIONS!

to

RAEWYN ATKINSON

Who has been awarded a ‘Special Prize’ in the Korean Ceramics Biennale 2015, for her entry entitled, Deep Time #29. The Deep Time series arose via her engagement with New Zealand’s Antarctic Programme, where she was a participant in 2000/01, and is based around the core samples taken by scientists towards dating and observing climate responses over long time periods. Raewyn is one of ten prizewinners in this major international competition. With 2629 entries from 74 countries originally, the judging team reduced the exhibition to one hundred and Raewyn’s work was one of the ten considered the most outstanding of those. Others are listed below.

Grand Prize: Neil Brownsword, UK .

Gold Award: Andrew Burton, UK

Silver Awards (2): Brad Taylor, USA, Jiin Ahn, Korea

Bronze Awards (3): Alexandra Engelfreit, Netherlands, Huben Ohne Druben, France, Team, Jeffrey Millar and Thomas Schmidt, USA and Canada

Special Awards (3): Annouchka Brochet, Russia, Kosmas Ballis, USA, Raewyn Atkinson, NZ

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL, BUT PARTICULARLY RAEWYN! WELL DONE

Raewyn Atkinson, Deep Time #29

Raewyn Atkinson, Deep Time #29

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Anders Ruhwald Downunder

Danish-born, USA based ceramist, Anders Ruhwald left New Zealand a couple of days ago after a brief visit of about three weeks as guest of Whitecliffe College of Art. He, and family, had some social and vacation time initially in Auckland and on Waiheke then in Central Otago. His final week was taking seminars for Masters candidates at Whitecliffe and as part of this he gave a talk on his own work at Auckland Art Gallery. Which is all a rather boring way of introduction for what I found to be a most engaging talk.

Ruhwald was introduced to the audience as ‘one of the world’s leading ceramists’ which is the sort of hyperbole to be expected from those hosting and paying the bills, and the sort of remark it is usually good to stay clear of because such claims are, of course, contingent upon a host of ‘ifs and buts’. Nevertheless Ruhwald has, since graduation from Bornholm School of Glass and Ceramics in 2000, carved an extensive trajectory through some impressive educational and residency programmes first in northern Europe then in Canada and the USA. Bornholm is a Danish island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden that has a long history of arts and crafts practitioners. I visited last year and thought that, although larger, it had much the same feel as Waiheke. Maybe it’s just islands but in both there resonates echoes of earlier communities of artists and craftsmen in the numbers of art spaces, galleries and former production places and present celebrations of those still current.

Ruhwald went from Bornholm to Copenhagen then England and Royal College. He is now Artist in Residence and Head of Ceramics at Cranbrook Art Academy, a private educational institution with only graduate programmes, outside of Detroit in Michigan, USA. Cranbrook has ten departments designated by medium or product –Fibre, Photography, Printmaking, Metalsmithing, Painting, 3D Design, 2D Design, Sculpture and Architecture each headed by an established artist or designer who is the primary mentor for students and the head of their studio program. Each has a personal studio located within their department and graduate students work directly alongside their Artist-in-Residence and learn what it means to be a working artist and how a leading practice is built and maintained.  Artists in Residence (and their partners and families) live on campus – very close to their studios.  In this, Cranbrook is not simply a graduate program – it is billed as a unique community of artists and designers living and working together, on a campus designed for this kind of exchange by Eliel Sarinen the first Architect in Residence. It sounds like a dream job – no worries about accommodation or studio and expected, first and foremost, to produce work and exhibit, and with students already graduated in ceramics beside you to assist, challenge and feed into the projects. Tony Hepburn was Ruhwald’s predecessor, who went there from Alfred, SUNY. There is a long history of excellence there and seems there is no shortage of students even though they are paying with upwards of 30,000 dollars annually. It’s a different world.

Ruhwald’s talk covered three areas: His own recent work; an intervention he carried out in the Saarinen House which sits on campus as a sort of monument to the famous architect and another project in an empty house Ruhwald has bought in Detroit (where property is on an opposing track to Auckland’s!). All were interesting and the Saarinen House work can be seen on the internet while the new house project is currently in gestation. It was his personal work that engaged my interest most.

We had earlier contact a few years ago as I included his work in an exhibition I curated for Yinnge International Ceramics Museum in Taiwan. Divided into a series of rooms, I included Ruhwald’s work in the ‘domestic interior’ area which I saw in that Freudian term, ‘the unheimlich’ and along with other works: Marek Cecula’s curious, ostensibly sanitary and bodily intimate but otherwise unclassifiable objects, Richard Slee’s trajectory of flies, Raewyn Atkinson’s glowing, wall-hung, over-scaled necklace of anti-depression pills, Shu Mei Su’s table and chair made from writhing, twisted apparent reinforcing steel and Kristin Johansen’s ironically humorous and ambiguous, Crotch Mirror, Handle and Shaving Foam Holder. Ruhwald’s Purple Interior was as comfortable, or uncomfortable, as any other in the blacked out, spot-lit space we conjured for them. These were the works most difficult to discuss in the training sessions we held with the docents, upon whom we would be reliant once opening events were complete and the museum settled to regular exhibition mode. I realised one of the many cultural divides which was that while the west is not averse to visualising the home as repository for mixed responses, often several deriving from different emotions at once, it was unusual in Asia where the home is viewed very differently.

Ruhwald’s work sits astride some of the strands of what is considered current or avant-garde in ceramics today – minimalism, surface, references to the body and to play, the increasingly permeable spaces between ceramics and design or ceramics and art, both at the same time, and above all – installation. Yet it has a distinct presence that echoes no other and is unmistakeably his.

His work maintains subtle resonances with pottery in the modelling and fingering marks on many surfaces. Rhythmical and even, they solicit reminders of, and probably indicate, careful and skilled, hand building and offer surface activity with rhythmical patterns of shadows. These are contrasted here and there with an almost industrial sleek surface which perhaps links with Danish design in their clean reductivity. However, the forms are not so glibly identified. Often over-scaled, and initially apparently simple, they represent nothing much in particular but somehow manage to hover between minimalist sculpture, bits from children’s broken wooden toys and parts of implements like cake mixers or vacuum cleaners – just sliced-off bits that might have been ever so slightly functional … logical familiarity disintegrates and you find yourself seeking clues in his occasional apparent references to decorative elements like candles. This might be a giant candle, that a chair frame hanging on a wall, maybe these could be giant mechanised stick insects or those up-scaled shelf brackets. But it’s no use. Easy connections are rarely forthcoming and titles, often clues to content, don’t help a heap. Although, some might. “If all man’s products were well designed, joy and harmony would emerge eternally triumphant” was one where all works surfaced in an even, dense black sheen, looked like they were taken from an overpriced catalogue and seemed to me commenting upon Denmark’s on-going reputation for domestic design objects. Another was, “Almost Nothing” where this time all works were token and white, again possibly commenting upon tropes of interior design. But what to make of “The View from the Sides of My Nose” or “Temperance!” or “We float in space and cannot perceive the new order”? It’s not straightforward, or effortless.

Consistent is an eschewing of conventional foundations. His works can sit firmly upon the floor, slouch or lean against a wall, be suspended from above or propped up on multiple fragile-looking striped sticks, but they don’t occupy a plinth. There are few obvious means of support anywhere. A leitmotif seems to be a blue light bulb and this maintains that recurrent connection with the domestic, even the frivolous domestic when hung with three or four glass beads around its strange glow; a sort-of ultra-minimalist chandelier. The domestic is always present but is more a sense than any divination or logic. It’s fairly apparent in forms that can only be interpreted as window frames despite their lumpy surface treatment but then you are confronted by a structure with some resemblance to a ships funnel except that instead of a depth into which you might dive, there is mirror at the opening and it becomes more like an eye glaring back. Constant is an odd interplay and tension between being just slightly menacing and poking the mickey.

All exhibitions I have sighted are installation – another constant. And Ruhwald does not install into a white cube but instead makes an entire environment for his little-bit discomforting works that I read somewhere he calls, ‘inconveniences’ – how apt! He hangs curtains of plastic strip like those that droop in doorways in warm weather as fly repellents. Or he builds walls and floors of tiles, carefully colour co-ordinated with the works themselves. These ‘inconveniences’ demand their own space that is carved out from whatever the exhibiting institution offers, rather than being fitted into surrounding architecture.

Then the colour – strong, and flat and even. Some shows are monochromatic. In others there are just two colours involved, like a strong orange and deep turquoise blue and these can add yet another layer of disquiet when almost spectrally opposite in hue and it occurred to me that if photographed with black and white film they would probably appear to be the same boring mid-grey. Layers of intrigue…

For those who were in town and able to attend his talk, Ruhwald’s commentary was straightforward, easy to follow and thankfully free of art jargon. I enjoyed it and it clarified plenty for me although he left much unsaid so that the viewer might mull those ambiguities, incompatibilities and feelings of unease the work can engender. Certainly his work makes clear that ceramics is no longer a discreet practice with clear boundaries. It sits easily into that spectrum where art intersects with ceramics and is shown in private or public galleries which usually exhibit contemporary art and which, very few years ago, would have firmly closed doors to anything labelled ‘made from clay’. But what I enjoyed most was the fact that his work is all about what a large majority of ceramics has always been all about and that is the humble domestic interior.2-18-15

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almost-nothing_1

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Overthrown Ceramics at the Limit Part of Marvelous Mud

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Images that follow are taken from the artist’s website where more of his exhibitions might be viewed. Individual works are not titled. The exhibitions were between 2005-2013.

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Worth a View

With ceramics the 2D view can mislead or confuse and it’s best to be able to walk around works. But then that’s not possible with off-shore shows and here is one that is absolutely worth a view. You don’t get the whole picture of course but this is work deserving of a look and a think.

Sent to me by one of the artists in the show it is currently being exhibited at Smith College in the USA which is a private liberal arts college for women in Massacheusetts. Their mission is to ‘educate women of promise for lives of distinction’ and the arts are covered as vigorously as any other subject. I was fortunate enough to visit the campus last year and saw the fine gallery where this current show is displayed so can imagine a little how it might manifest. It would be quietly mounted allowing the works themselves to soar.

Called Touch Fire, it is Japanese women ceramic artists deriving from several generations and clearly, those different generations show. Starting with centuries embedded traditions in ceramics that deprived women of developing into being artists in their own rights. These included only menial tasks allowed for women, including in some areas being forbidden to enter the kiln site when menstruating, or banned from ever touching the kiln at all, the exhibition’s title becomes self-explanatory. Starting with the immediate post-war generation where they learned from relatives or husbands the exhibition takes us through the start of higher education for women to the so-called ‘Super Girls’ of the 1980s who aggressively challenged male hierarchies and to current times when there are now a majority of female students at institutes of higher learning in the arts, including ceramics.

Some may recall the very different and excellent exhibits we would have in ‘The Fletcher’ exhibitions during the ‘90s that (we worked out) derived from independent female studio ceramists, particularly from the Osaka/Kyoto areas. They were some of those ‘Super Girls’ who were determined to avoid the male-dominated hierarchical systems that were, at that time, still powerfully present in Japanese ceramics and which prevented them from participating in numerous events in Japan. When I eventually met some of them I learned how positively they viewed ‘The Fletcher’ as it treated everyone equally and anonymously with no bias for gender. (To tell the truth, in those days we had trouble telling Japanese female from male names!)

This site is of the catalogue so, in addition to images of the works, there are also bios, small histories and some working methods, where particular, are briefly covered. The range is vast but with one exception, all is hand-building of some sort rather than wheel-based. Much of the work derives from nature and textiles but also includes socio=political comment and sexual allegory, with a feminine aesthetic. Techniques include, enamel overglazing, pate de verre, silk screening, terra sigillata and casting elements.

Ninety four works by twenty-odd artists – spend an hour or so…

Go to http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum2/archived_exhibitions/touchfire/what_youll_see.htm

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Paul Maseyk at DPAG

One Pot Wonder.

I had a (literally) flying visit to Dunedin so as to replace David Craig, who had to go to New Guinea, on a panel at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery where were three exhibitions with ceramic content. That in itself is worthy of a mention – the principal gallery in one of our principal cities shows contemporary ceramics in three concurrent exhibitions. Unheard of…

There is the Barry Brickell retrospective and a group exhibition entitled ‘Sleight of Hand’ about diverse artistic practices such as illusion, theatricality and transformation that includes Madeleine Child’s gorse, in partially sprayed state, contrasting vibrant growth and dead wood as one of the exhibits. Then there is a survey show called One Pot Wonder by Paul Maseyk.

This is Maseyk’s first survey show and was at the invitation of DPAG Director Cam McCracken and first mooted when he was at the Dowse but the idea continued after McCracken moved to Dunedin. It’s appropriate that Maseyk should be showing alongside the Brickell show as he has spent a lot of time at Driving Creek, altogether about four years out of the past fifteen. While he says that ‘Barry is not a teacher, in the teacher sense’, he also says, ‘just living there is all the learning needed as everything is there for a potter to use and it is up to you to get into it. Clay, machinery and, above all, the wonderful wood kilns to use; it is a potter’s paradise.’ Despite being in paradise, he has stayed his own man. There is not, on first glance, very much similarity between Brickell’s robustly-coiled, gritty shingle-inclusioned, wood-ash flushed and salted, iron bearing clays and Maseyk’s thrown and precision-turned, pale, tight-surfaced, linear decorated oxidized bodies. But perhaps one aspect that has rubbed off is a fearlessness concerning scale as both tackle large works successfully.

It is scale that immediately strikes when viewing Maseyk’s exhibition. It’s beautifully set out – ample space, good heights for each work using tables, shelves and plinths and effective lighting which highlights exhibits in a slightly darkened room.

General View

General View

Scale is emphasised by placing the largest work outside the exhibition room, on a landing opposite and above. It’s the title work and stands at over two metres tall looming down across the gallery lobby space toward the entry to the main show. It’s worth the trip up the stairs and would have been diminished by the low-ceilinged gallery space (it is former retail space not purpose-built). Initial viewing confirms that here is an up-scaled version of where he has been engaged for some time – the quotation of a classical Greek vessel atop an elongated, elaborated, occasionally oddly proportioned base delineated with fine lines, repeat motifs from multiple sources and minutely detailed illustrations of personal and appropriated imagery. They become, at this scale and with alternating straight and carefully curved silhouettes, more totems than pots. There are protrusions in the form of animal handles, cylinders and breasts but the more overt, sexual angst of youth, imagery of earlier years has tempered into that of the expectant father at 40. However, at the gallery entrance the sign reads “Please Note: This exhibition contains images of nudity and adult themes” beneath the admonition not to touch the artworks. So the Playboy bunny depicted at top has not fully left the room.

One Pot Wonder

One Pot Wonder, 2014

The exhibition is of vessels. Not all are functional although most look as though they might but on the trio Big Blue, Big Orange and Big Yellow with their spouts and handles and practical-looking, brilliantly hued glazes – something of a departure for him – no orifices can be seen and he confesses these were attempts to make something bright, solid coloured and with what seems an obvious use but no way of doing it.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Rainbow

Rainbow

Rainbow

Rainbow

His Rainbow is also brilliantly coloured, seven works with similarly formed bases and variations in the upper parts clothed in iridescent, highly reflective automotive paint in – as you’d expect – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It was something he learned when on a residency in the USA and another artist arranged this for his own work. Maseyk noted the idea but only tried it after return, employing ‘a marvellous craftsman’, whom he reimburses with beer. One codicil is that a marvellous panel beater would apply such highly reflective surface finish and stunning colour only onto perfection of base but these pots display turning marks in places and that emphasise process instead of glorifying form. But it’s a successful strategy that he also uses effectively on another work, ‘Movement of Squares’ where the central, globular, gold finished area separates top and bottom; his typically eye-confusing grids and their repetition in house facades. It also suggested comment on the Kiwi average of a house shift every seven years.

Movement of Squares, 2011

Movement of Squares

Other works carry anatomical imagery rendered in what seems a new method for him in that, instead of his usual linear rendering, these are shaded with highlights and lowlights as he saw in a book on human anatomy and wanted to see if they could be replicated on a pot, not simple when painting with slip that dries instantly on contact with raw surface. These are a small series that experiment with the application of this imagery and it perhaps was the challenge that drove this as some are more effective than others. Details of anatomy are oddly applied to curiously mechanistic looking small forms and it’s a challenge to see correspondences. Others are more successful when the anatomy is confined to the neck of the vessel and interiors rendered in gold paint. Most cogent was a larger, single work entitled ‘Going to Shit’ where the realistically painted anatomy is that of an export carcass and the work delivers a familiarity of form and multiple illustrations. The crisply turned profile is perfectly balanced by patterns of simply rendered cows heads and doing what cows do while the body carries Chinese and New Zealand flags, commercial logos and a 2L plastic milk bottle with the word Pooh as content. The message is underscored by an image of an iconic tourist landscape with a lake draining down a plughole and it all seems more pristine by application of a clear shiny overglaze (something he has avoided in the past). While the politics is rather ingenuously delivered it possibly marks a broadening out from the regular inclusion of his personal adventures that marked earlier work.

Pieces of Meat, 2011

Pieces of Meat, 2011

Sweetbreads I-V

Sweetbreads I-V

Sweetbreads 2012

Sweetbreads 2012

Going to Shit

Going to Shit

Going to Shit

Going to Shit

This is where he shines most brightly – the work he has developed pretty much since leaving Polytech and he “stumbled across red clay, slip, and clear glaze together with a fortuitous gift of an ‘ultimate slip trailer’…. that freed me up from making pots, dipping them in boring glazes and firing them to stoneware temperatures. I could make a pot as a canvas and then draw whatever I wanted on it (or whatever I was able given my drawing limitations) and then fire it into permanence and usability”. When searching through historical ceramic books he came across Greek pots with their formal proportions and depictions of life and decided, since he ‘had gradually been increasing detail anyway’, to make his own version including the friezes and meanders (ornamental patterns). It’s been a steady development of vessel forms and surfaces with incremental additions of new techniques and media.

He is not the first of course. Californians Michael and Magdalena Frimkess have been collaborating since the 1960s on work celebrating Greek vases, among other iconic forms where he throws and she decorates with contemporary imagery such as people riding tandem bicycles or pushing supermarket trolleys. Garth Clark called them ‘prescient pioneers in Postmodern ceramics’. They recently enjoyed a retrospective at the Hammer Museum in LA at the instigation of no less than Ricky Swallow, a fan of their work. Englishman Grayson Perry springs to mind with his detailed drawing and other means of reproduction on to classically formed pots as critique of life, but his subject matter is darker, more threatening, but also often more conglomerate and enigmatic. Maseyk’s earlier linear illustrations could be provocative but their overt nature carried elements of the brashness of youth; the ‘look what I’m into’, often seen in youthful work of many genres, yet somehow they stayed light and peculiarly earnest because his self-deprecating humour ran blithely through. But as he says, “definitely a lot of the content is personal, but then no one will ever know what is or isn’t when I am not around to explain it”.

Clearly personal are two older works included in the show. ‘Commando Maseyk versus the Zig-Zag man’ of 2006 and ‘Portrait of the Artist on a Young Horse’ of 2007 are consummate examples. Classically formed vessels top well formed pedestals of good proportion without any over-reaching and all crisply turned as ground for his slip-painted surface ornamentation. This features repeat motifs, Bridget Riley-ish trompe l’oeil devices, mind-numbingly, closely packed, parallel, fine lines and quotations from a variety of sources from commercial logos to Lichtenstein’s lifts from Marvel comics enclosing personal narratives around a battle with tobacco or girlfriend issues. Restricted to black and white with small emphases of colour, the welcome high contrast is snappy: something not always achieved as slip can simply look dusty with no glaze to clarify distinctions. These are fine examples of his work: obsessional, personal and well resolved with his knack for applying embellishments fitting well, even enhancing, the pots’ profiles. They are decorated pots, a long-standing ceramic tradition and these devices wouldn’t work applied to a flat surface with four corners. They are risky in that they go against many enduring tenets about ceramics in this country and occupy a unique corner for their maker.

Commando Maseyk vs the ZigZag man, 2006

Commando Maseyk vs the ZigZag man, 2006

Portrait of the Artist on a Young Horse 2007

Portrait of the Artist on a Young Horse 2007

His time in the USA at Montana’s Archie Bray on a residency, that eventually stretched to almost two years, gave him a freedom (the great American buzz-word) to increase media, content and scale – often unavoidable assets of longer State-side visits where possibly the sheer numbers of populace or maybe the isolation in Montana engenders an anonymity and carelessness of consequence. His work on return, in an exhibition at Auckland’s Masterworks, carried all of that confidence but perhaps needed the grounding of ‘home’ to rub off the more confrontational and prurient bits, or possibly it’s been the tempering scrutiny of a tighter and closer community, or maybe it’s just time. But he has continued to experiment and work with others when opportunity arises, added new methods and media, deepened his oeuvre and exhibiting regularly. And now he’s just had his first survey. We should look forward to the next one with interest and see where he has gone.

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