New (old) Discovery

Many are the uses of ceramic as we all know. Here is one we probably were blissfully unaware of that has been displayed, on and off but always upside down, in the British Museum for many years as a ‘vase’. Imagine the below image turned around and you can understand how that came about…Mace-head UMMA city State, Sumeria. 2400BC Brit Museum.jpg

So, what actually is it?         It is a mace-head.

A mace is a heavy club of something (latterly metal and often spiked) that was used as a weapon of death. First, the enemy would be immobilised by a thrown mesh net and then executed with a mace. This one is fired clay.  Once the inscribed cuneiform was translated it became evident this was made for  King Gishakidu of Umma – an ancient city-state in Sumeria (Mesopotamia – what is now the ‘middle east’ ). It dates from the Early Dynastic period, c.2400BC.

Who would know?   Ceramic’s uses are manifold!

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Obituary: America’s Warren McKenzie

Here is an obit on McKenzie written by Sandy Simon of Trax Gallery in San Francisco. She was a student of his many years ago.

Warren’s way of life and work touched so many. He was not without ego, as so many attribute to him, but rather he was entrenched in his belief of keeping pots affordable. He made no excuses for the pots; they were made quickly and forms were often repeated. He wanted people to use them daily. Warren was “Mingei” to his core. The word, “Mingei” was coined by a Japanese maker and author, Soetsu Yanagi, in recognition of The Unknown Craftsman, (the title of his book) which were makers of pottery sold and used without pomp and circumstance.
Warren made himself available to people, he took the time to return letters, meet with strangers, share his stories. I was lucky to have had him for a teacher, as many were during his thirty seven years at the University of Minnesota. Aside from Warren, or Mac, as we called him, the bigger part included our remarkable classmates in the late sixties; Mark Pharis, , Michael Simon, Randy Johnston, Laurie Samuelson, George Beers, to name a few. We were all energized and transformed by Warren’s warmth, his genuineness, and his commitment to making pots. He sometimes had us students over for a meal – I will never forget the warmth in his kitchen generated by so many pots by so many potters that he eagerly shared with us.
Warren was wrong telling us we could make a living without teaching, without getting our degree – “just do it” was his mantra long before Nike had it. We tried, then secretly cursed him for telling us so, yet eventually we each found a way to make enough money to continue to live and work in his way.
Many years had passed before I opened TRAX in 1994 in Berkeley, CA. I asked Warren if he would agree to a show. He said yes and he came and did the first workshop I had in our old Voulkos warehouse on the RR tracks. I was amazed at the response. It was before cell phones; I had to hold a phone in each hand to answer calls about his work. I had to rent bleachers to accommodate all of the people who wanted to attend his workshop. The response had me spinning. Where had I been? When had my old teacher gotten so famous? I really didn’t know. I continued to host Warren and workshops and exhibitions of his for the next 20 years. He would never ask me to sell his work at his prices. I bought them outright and he’d say charge what you want. Randy Johnston advised me to sell them at market prices as others were buying them from TRAX strictly for resale – nothing made Warren madder than this. For this reason he had to close his home salesroom. He realized he couldn’t continue to dictate the prices for his pots. The market for his pots was out of his control. He refused to take his share of any profits but rather told me to use the money to support the gallery so younger, less known potters could exhibit at TRAX. This was what I did and it was through his generosity that TRAX continued.
He will be missed but his legacy will go on. TRAX will go on.

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Peter Hawkesby at Anna Miles

Get on your bike or Lime scooter, or your own feet if necessary and zap along to Anna Miles’ Gallery in Upper Queen Street. Do not pass go and do not collect 200. Just get there and view, in the large old vitrine, some of the finest vessels you are likely to see this year.

Peter Hawkesby has been in evidence recently as he has tried ‘riding the bike again’, as he puts it. Active many years ago, his work was pilloried by some, viewed incomprehensibly by many but admired and enjoyed by others possessed of a different eye and way of assessing worth in a lump of fired clay. Life intervened and Hawkesby had little to do with ceramics for many years. However, with time passed, the call to ride again along with fewer work demands has meant he is back on that bike. And going for it!

There was an initial show of his assemblages at Anna Miles. Consisting various components, some of which had lain awaiting notice for many years beneath a compost heap, while others were freshly minted and still evidencing effects from their recent passage through fire. They stood, leaned or lay supine in disparate postures narrating a variety of possibilities around the exhibition’s heading of  Scratch a Cenotaph. Distinctly votive in ambiance the works nevertheless successfully held any hovering reverence pretty much at bay; instead the elements rallied together for an insouciant muster underscored by Hawkesby’s signature big fat ticks – orange peeled, glossily dribbled and dripped or starkly desiccated of surface, contributing their own positivity to the confluence while signifying enjoyment in the process.

There was an intermediate appearance of his work when he exhibited further assemblages as guest artist for the ASP’s annual event at Pah Homestead (still on – go see),  but it is the current display, as part of  Anna Miles end-of-year group show, The Ocelot Dominion, where the next manifestation of his bike riding skills become evident.

His Blunted Devil Cups have a utilitarian objective although not in any conventional sense.  They offer a sober spontaneity that makes a virtue of their uncontrived blips, runs, blow-outs and piercings which sparsely interrupt an otherwise austere, ashen, soda’d surface more akin to a heaving reflective sea or soft stone than skin of an orange.  Mounted upon variously surfaced elements that inform around their passage through fire, the layered base forms suggest altars and underscore the symbolic and ritual roles of their labelling.  There are few indications of the exuberance so apparent in the earlier assemblages but a casually draped decorative strip cloaking a lip or a spiky addition on a rim, suggestive of a horn, reassure that the adornments of his title are still within grasp. Here be magic that can embellish and colour the rituals of living with a restrained elegance while linking with the very origins of fired clay.

There is also a splendid Edo-ish two-part vase, its sections secured with macaroni elbows at the juncture and surfaced with splotches of deep blue and slashes and scratches that catch and contain rivulets of soda, plus a hand-built teapot of similar ilk that expresses the surface of the clay in ways that relate to the immediacy of pre-industrial wares. These pieces are more than decorative and demonstrate that function can be both explicit and implied.

While at Anna Miles Gallery you will find a range of work by Richard Stratton – very different in their precision assemblies and adherence to historical methods long buried in out-of-date technical tomes and as he looks at ceramics’ inheritances he’s also reconfiguring how a vessel should, or can, simply be. In this case – referencing structuralist architecture.

Both these artist’s work revel in some of the rich potential of their chosen medium; in its subtleties and malleability in riposte to spontaneity or its responses to lengthy, painstaking and well-researched process and subversive cognition. Both are worth spending time with and that’s possible until the gallery closes on December 22nd.

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The vitrine with Devil Cups.

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Blunted Devil Cup II

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Blunted Devil Cup I

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Blunted Devil Cup

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Reverse side

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Vase approx 31cmH.

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Another Competition…

This one is a major though. It’s the LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize. LOEWE is a Spanish high-end leather goods manufacturer which began as a craft cooperative in 1846 and now being run by its fifth generation.  They have provided a private Cultural Foundation since 1988 which supports creative, educational and heritage programmes in the fields of poetry, dance, photography, art and craft. One of their primary functions is to support design and craftsmanship and, since 2016 they have offered a competitive, annual, Craft Prize to celebrate excellence and craftsmanship that aims to set a standard for the future. Artists in areas of applied art such as ceramics, bookbinding, enamelwork, lacquer, glass, jewellery, metal, wood, paper or textiles etc are invited to enter.

The prize for the winning entry is Euros 50,000 (over NZ$91,000 ) and along with other finalists be featured in a catalogue and exhibitions in Loewe galleries in major cities around the world. The judging and initial exhibition will take place in Tokyo, Japan. Entries may be single works or a series – understood as a number of objects considered as a single artistic creation.

They state, in this search for excellence in craftsmanship,  ”Craft artists who leave their individual imprint on their work dig into the quicksands of art and claim the chance of making trades flourish once again, recycling and not forgetting the past. The LOEWE FOUNDATION aims to recognise outstanding works that show artistic vision and innovation, and which reflect the personal language and distinct hand of their maker. The LOEWE FOUNDATION aims to support artistic craft and acknowledge leading artisans from around the world at the forefront of their fields. The winning work should reinterpret tradition to make it relevant now and demonstrate the continuing valuable contribution to the culture of our time.”    So,  it seems they seek a contemporary, innovative version of the traditional that acknowledges its history somehow…

As you’d expect with a European based event, entry process is a tad complicated. Two to five good images or film of the entry, a portfolio showing up to five other works from the maker’s career,  CV information with short biography, a brief conceptual statement, copy of passport or ID document.

Initial judgement will be from images and by a panel of nine experts consisting representatives of LOEWE  and museums and magazines featuring Craft, plus expert makers of high reputation. Following this initial decision the resultant 15-30 finalists are notified and the selected works will be sent to Japan for the final decision by another, different panel of eleven experts. This panel is somewhat different in that the only artist involved is the previous year’s winner (Jennifer Lee – ceramist, U.K., was winner for 2017) The remainder are Heads of Museums and Arts Trusts, well-known designers and architects and representatives of LOEWE. All organisation and costs of transport to Japan plus insurances are covered by LOEWE. Winners are also taken to Japan at LOEWE’s expense and as their guests.

 

Time is short this year as entry must be made by end of October. Initial judgement will be made in January and finalist’s works to be in Japan by April 1, 2019. Decisions announced in May, 2019. However it’s not impossible if you have good work on hand plus good images of earlier work.  Entry fee not required. There is a heap of information about copyright issues for both entrants and to protect LOEWE, plus, clearly, LOEWE intend to control all press information.                                                                                            Obviously you need to be confident  about your work and CV but if so this seems aimed at being one of, if not the, world’s major competitions for craft media as other European events reduce in presence or have narrow constituent aims and some Asian competitions are either implicated in discredited practices while others simply do not offer access to international press and resultant prestige for finalists. Much more information can be gained from https://craftprize.loewe.com or www.loewe.com or www.blogfundacionloewe.es or https://craftprize.loewe.com/en/faq

It would be great to see a Kiwi among the finalists.

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Rick’s Emergent Award and Things to come…

This morning the winner of the Quartz Museum’s inaugural Emergent Practitioner in Clay Award was announced by our Prime Minister, in her role as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, in a gracious short speech. Jacinda looked as delighted as I feel sure that the winner of the $10,000 must be. His name is Oliver Morse, he’s from Wellington and the winning work is entitled House of Dee and here are images of its front and back, I am unsure which is which and it really doesn’t matter, but it seems, from its presentation, to distinctly have front and back. It’s a tad hard to tell but I assume the pot is round. Jacinda displayed it with the large aperture to the front so maybe she understood how it should be.winner #2_MG_6279 medium res-1 (2).jpg

The Award was judged by the Trustees for the Rick Rudd Foundation, Collector Tom Seaman and artists Paul Rayner and Rick Rudd. No technical details are given but its size can be judged by watching Jacinda hold it and it’s somewhere about 30cm high maybe a bit more. Go to…  https://youtu.be/uch  It looks hand built of terracotta clay with a white slip as background for the hand scribed and painted figurative surface illustrations. More importantly, the judges’ statement mentions that “the work could only have been made in the 21st Century….” And that’s dead right. Much of the new work seen in international sites is either loosely handbuilt and artfully, extravagantly textured with vibrant colour that takes it past the natural base often cited as source. Drips and blobs, lumpen and fissured, slumped and perforated surfaces and all in glorious technicolour. The other principal avenue is the figurative – modelled or drawn and painted, in toto or simply parts. Works present narratives or play with organised religion, sexuality or gender; they are often sourced in the feminine or the domestic but further viewing can reveal something deeper and darker. Always however, the hand-built, and often loosely so, is paramount and demonstrable skill often eschewed – even if often there.

Go to some of the online sites for art or ceramics and find their lists of the ‘new artists in clay’ and these two genres will be much in evidence. Or open any one of about five or six new print publications on the ‘new expression in ceramics’ and there are many, many more. And with few repeats of names. So this really is quite a movement happening. Possibly the strongest for a very long time.

Oliver Morse’s exhibit taps into this figurative genre. According to the press release, he has a history in painting and theatre and the work is autobiographical. That’s hard to see from the images but we’ll look forward to seeing more from this artist who has been but two years in this interesting avenue, one with a long history, from ancient Egyptians, Persians and Greeks to the Peruvian Moche and Mexican Aztecs to Majolica and Delft of European origins. It’s the stuff by which cultures and civilisations are known.  Morse’s painting is charmingly loose as it floats around the vessel, which the judges stated, “… is simply canvas…the drawing confident, lively and sketchy, in keeping with the vessel itself.” As can be observed from the other side, he has not left the interior unembellished either. There is a dark figure, horned, painted inside. Is “Dee’s house” where the devil lurks one wonders? There is no artist’s statement to offer some clues but the lightly clothed figures around the outside surface might suggest some contemporary bacchanale? A wild night in Wellington?

Speculation aside, the Trust intends to offer this Award triannually and focus particularly upon early career artists. The criteria, about the word ‘emergent’, which apparently confused some of the 65 entrants this year, will be clarified then. There are some 37 works selected by the judges that will be on exhibition at Quartz until March next year. This includes Morse’s winning work so you can see what moved the judging committee. Meanwhile he has a most useful $10,000 to invest in his work and career. We’ll look forward to seeing what his win brings to his oeuvre in the future.

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Images, courtesy Quartz Museum, by Richard Wooton.

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Robyn Stewart – 1938-2018.

One of Robyn’s large semi-enclosed pieces that are, perhaps, her signature works. This one, 52cm dia. x 14cm h., is finished in burnished and matte surfaced style.

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Robyn Stewart came to clay in the mid-70s, like many others of the time, after another career. She learned some basics from Pat Perrin and Margaret Milne knowing she was moving, with family, to a Northland farm where there was ample earthenware clay beneath the thin crust of topsoil. She wanted a creative outlet while there and it was while she was attending classes with Margaret Milne that the students were shown a film about the Native American pueblo potter, Maria Martinez, from the San Ildefonso pueblo near Santa Fe in New Mexico. In it Martinez demonstrated her re-making of traditional vessels –something that had faded in vigour due to the advent of enamelled tin pots and jars well suited for cooking and uses for ceremonial vessels reduced as the culture declined. Martinez led a revival that economically revitalised not only her own San Ildefonso Pueblo but, along with Nampeyo from the Hopi tribal group, did much to restore cultural values in several tribal areas by identifying and pioneering a route to economic independence through making pots in traditional styles. This activity generated toward Santa Fe becoming the second most valuable art market in the USA. Maria Martinez’s method of leavening the clay with sand, coiling, burnishing and dung firing (loosely covered with discarded vehicle number plates) immediately struck Robyn as a perfect methodology for her intended activities on that Northland farm.

She experimented and after about eighteen months of failures where improvements came frustratingly slowly she succeeded in producing some small, charming, burnished vessels with Maori designs that she continued to expand into a considerable oeuvre over the course of her lifetime of potting. She was never tempted to join the ranks of domestic ware makers – dominant at the time. Within NZ she pioneered burnished vessel forms and experimented boldly with scale, form and decoration. Early on she went to a Northland Polytech Summer School where she met Manos Nathan who had returned to his marae from the UK in response to a call from his seniors. He, a design graduate, was wanted for carving and worked at Matatina learning from Mauri Marsden. Nathan had books brought back by his father who had been with the party that went to the USA as part of the Te Maori exhibition that toured to several main centres. The books were on traditional Southwest potting, Nampeyo and Maria Martinez. So when Robyn met Manos there was much to discuss and they subsequently worked together. Manos found the burnished surface a perfect vehicle for his carving and developed new forms in clay for Maori traditions in returning umbilical cords and afterbirths to home soil, and Urupa uses. Robyn was subsequently invited to join the first art hui that Manos set up at his marae at Matatina and from those hui the Kaihanga Uku group of clayworkers was formed (although they called themselves ‘the muddies’! Robyn was made an honorary member.

Robyn subsequently travelled to many places to teach her ‘low tech’ method of making in clay, often returning several times to places such as Rarotonga, or Zimbabwe and other east African countries, Indonesia and India. Wherever she landed she made friends through her enthusiasm, warmth and enjoyment of her meditative processes. Her work had enormous appeal due to scale, tactility, a refined gleam of surface and the elegant simplification of design. It was interesting to hear the credit she gave, for the immaculate finish, to her jeweller’s ‘bloodstone’ – her principal tool, apart from her clever fingers. Vessels would range from a few centimetres to more than 50cm across and her work was regularly in great demand by various government departments for official gifts, for they fitted their criteria to perfection.

Robyn, always was sensitive to the troubles of others and kind and thoughtful in her responses. She has maintained a low profile in recent years due to health issues she could not overcome. Her friends will be relieved that she is no longer suffering but will miss her and mourn her passing.

 

 

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Obituary: Janice Tchalenko 1942-2018

This is an edited version of  Tanya Harrod’s The Guardian obit for her friend, Janice Tchalenko who will be known and remembered by many of our senior practitioners.  She bridged the gap between art and industry.

Janice Tchalenko, has died aged 76. She was an admired ceramicist, designer and artist who collaborated on textiles and ceramics with Designers Guild and Next Interiors, and created a series of satirical ceramic sculptures with Roger Law of Spitting Image.

Setting out in the 1960s and 70s she made fashionable domestic wares, “brown pots”, informed by the work of Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach, working, she ironically noted, as “a peasant potter in Peckham”. But in 1981 she revolutionised the field, shocking many studio potter colleagues, by evolving glazes of great richness and depth of colour to adorn reduction-fired stoneware; painting, sponging and slip-trailing complex semi-abstract decorative schema on bold simplified shapes; using piscatorial and amphibian casts as handles and knobs; and taking inspiration from the ceramics of the Middle East, from the capricious mannerist Bernard Palissy, and from European rococo earthenware and porcelain and 19th century art pottery.

A series of large thrown bowls, flared jugs with flowing handles and press moulded dishes followed – magnificent objects, much admired and much imitated, elsewhere and here in NZ. But her work was, in tune with her socialist politics, aimed to reach a wider audience. From 1983 in collaboration with Steven Course at the Dartington Training Workshop, renamed Dart Pottery in 1984, she designed tableware ranges. These  – Poppy, Black Rose and Leopard, were an instant success, winning both the Manchester Prize for Art in Production and the BBC Radio 4 Enterprise Award in 1988. Production at Dart, initially hand-thrown, became more mechanised as demand soared. Decoration, however, was always hand-painted using techniques evolved by Tchalenko.

Tchalenko was born in Rugby, Warwickshire. After attending Manor Park primary school, Janice won a place at Barr’s Hill, a girls’ grammar school. Further education was discouraged by her family and at 16 she became an accounts clerk in the same GPO building as her father and brother. Aged 17 she took the clerical officer exams for the Foreign Office and moved to London where she dealt with embassy accounts.

In 1964, she married John Tchalenko, a geologist, and later a researcher and filmmaker, who had moved into a flat in her building. Because he was of Russian descent, Janice was deemed a security risk and lost her Foreign Office job.

She decided to become a potter, learning to throw at Putney School of Art, working as potter’s assistant and as an art therapist at the Priory hospital. From 1969 to 1971 she took the vocational pottery course at Harrow School of Art, a highly practical training that taught production throwing, kiln and wheel building and glaze and clay technology.

She became an outstanding thrower and was recruited by Colin Pearson to teach the skill at Camberwell School of Art (1972-87). There she encountered the ceramic artist Glenys Barton, thus meeting a whole generation of outstanding female graduates from the Royal College of Art – Alison Britton, Jill CrowleyCarol McNicoll and Jacqui Poncelet. They partly inspired her to turn to freer forms and vivid colours as did her travels with John in Russia and Iran.

Tchalenko went on to teach at the Royal College of Art (1981-96), being elected a fellow of the College in 1987.

Roger Law, who had long admired and collected her work, became an unexpected collaborator in 1993. With the Spitting Image workshop, Law and Tchalenko created startling ceramic sculptures of each of the Seven Deadly Sins, in two versions, shown at and bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum, and also purchased by the British Council. In 1996, at the Richard Dennis Gallery, Law and Tchalenko showed Modern Antiques, Toby Jug-like caricatures of famous potters from Palissy to Leach, and editions of vases and bowls writhing with lizards and fish.

There were further collaborations – with the furniture designer Jane Dillon, the sculptor Richard Wentworth, with Nick Mosse’s workshops in Ireland and with the ceramic designer Sue Pryke – Tchalenko’s house in Therapia Road, Peckham, was a nexus for artistic interchange. In the 1990s Tchalenko became an ambassador for British ceramics, curating exhibitions for the British Council and holding workshops all over the world. In 1992 she had a retrospective exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield. Crossing boundaries characterised Tchalenko’s career.

Seniority brought fresh friendships and further experimentation, including a turn to porcelain, printmaking and a series of large painterly ceramic panels. Her final exhibitions were in France in autumn 2017. She was included in the remarkable L’Expérience de la Couleur at the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres in Paris alongside  work from Josef AlbersSonia Delaunay and Yves Klein. While at Hélène Aziza’s gallery, 19 rue Paul Fort, Paris, she showed among friends – Elisabeth Fritsch, Britton, McNicoll and Poncelet. Her work is in many public collections including the V&A, the Ashmolean Museum, the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Los Angeles County Museum and the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres.

Tchalenko is survived by John and their son, Luke, and two grandchildren, Thea and Kira, and by her twin brother, David.

For images of the work that made her world-famous go to http://www.janictchalenko.com/archive/#/1980-2000/ Also on the site is work made prior (from her brown pot era and later work made as a mature artist.

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