END of an ERA continued…

Barry Brickells’ Memorial Service on Wednesday last followed a private internment the evening prior for family and workers from Driving Creek and a few close old friends. The numbers for that were limited to how many the train could carry half-way up the mountain to his chosen burial site behind Driving Creek – 64. The Memorial Service the next day had to be held in the hall of the local, Coromandel Area School, as not only was half the town there but more friends and associates from Barry’s many-stranded life came from all over the country – the deep south, the capital, small and large towns and many from Auckland. Some of those even persuaded the Gulf ferry company to delay the return journey so that travel by boat, on a hot, humid mid-summer’s day might be engaged rather then the three hour journey by car down motorways and across long flat plains.  The hall was packed, extra seating had to be brought in from all over the school and a number had to stand at the sides, and gladly did, for the more than two hour event.  There were somewhere over 900 people gathered.

His brother and sisters gave an initial eulogy. Then many was the story told by old friends, of course. Contributions were made not only by the pottery and the arts communities but also from people involved with him in his conservation activities and rail restoration projects as well as Trust Board representation from Driving Creek itself.  There was a small choir that sang a cappella and joined with the assembled audience for a chorus of “He’ll be coming round the mountain”.  The ceremony was grand and well managed as was the country-style feast that followed. Barry would have loved it.

 

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End of an Era. Barry Brickell 26.10.1935 – 23.1. 2016

Barry Brickell is no longer with us. He died on Saturday afternoon in Coromandel. There is a private ceremony on Tuesday next and a Memorial Service on Wednesday at 1pm to which all are invited.

It’s the end of an era; one that has been called pioneering, and it was in many ways although those ‘50s blokes, of which Barry was absolutely one, were not pathfinders in the sense that they started the studio pot-making thing – here in NZ, that was women of the ‘30s, working in earthenware – but they were in the sense that pottery made in reduced stoneware and styled in the anglo-oriental manner prescribed by Bernard Leach and cohorts, was de rigueur by the mid-‘50s. It was part of a move towards a different way of life in the post-war world; one where there was a simpler, more creative, elemental and co-operative way of dealing with life. And Barry Brickell lived that life. In fact he, while the youngest, was in many ways the flag-bearer of that whole ethos. As a young man and several different attempts at education toward a parentally satisfying ‘respectable’ career and ‘a carpet on my office floor’ he turned his back and left school-teaching after two terms and became a full-time potter in Coromandel in 1961. He was preceded in that aim by Mirek Smisek, but as Barry would say, he was ‘the first New Zealand born, full-time, maker of stoneware pots’. He bought a small property and simply began. Building his own wheel the first to make a pot on it was Bernard Leach himself when visiting in 1962.

He lived there in Coromandel his whole life, moving to the present Driving Creek a little later, but many influences came his way. Once he had discovered pot-making the earliest was Len Castle when Barry was just 15. Barry, as became his lifelong habit, began a lively correspondence but Castle participated, ‘less so’; as was his wont. Barry, during one successful stint at higher education that culminated in a science degree, flatted with Hamish Keith in Newton – an enclave peopled with many from the arts – where they both built kilns and made pots and ‘generated amazing creative energy’. That year he also met Yvonne Rust in Christchurch who became a lifelong friend and who invited him to come meet Shoji Hamada when he visited Christchurch in 1965. Michael Illingworth came to stay in Coromandel and they worked together ‘and art blossomed’ until Illingworth was evicted by Barry’s father because of his habits with the other sort of pot. By 1963 many began arriving, drawn by the creative environment, and Barry built a railway, with much help, to transport clay, later commissioning the building of his first locomotive to pull his, by then, four wagons. He later bought his own boat, that was eventually followed by several others, so as to make trading his wares to Auckland much easier. One idea seemed to simply open up another and Barry was always busy, working long hours with his Herculean energy achieving more than seemed possible for one man. And it wasn’t really one man. Somehow, his inquiring mind and highly individual persona along with what could be viewed as a romantic way of life attracted all sorts. Many arrived. Idealistic young potters arrived looking for teaching but found themselves instead being asked to dig clay, hump river shingle or plant native trees where pines had been extracted. Older men came, looking to be engineers on the railway and hoping to drive the train and while there were requested to help build viaduct structures or plaster cutting walls with the mountains of empty wine bottles that were generated on the property. Arriving , seeking a place to meditate and hang out discussing philosophies, would be profoundly disappointing as there was no guru to be found for he was too busy working and planning the next development. Not that there was no time for fun. A couple of car-loads of potters, one day and following the imbibing of much good whiskey were given a train ride at speed that ended with derailment and ejection into the clay pits, fortunately with no serious injury.

Barry travelled to various places – Australia, Canada, Europe, USA, where the histories (of trains or ceramics) interested him but viewed all with a critical eye and an inquiring attitude returning with ever deeper convictions that his own path was where he needed to be and always, there were the pots. I use the term pots in the Kiwi sense that works of clay, made in studio, are pots but in Barry’s case that included domestic ware that never really left the 1960s behind, large one-off pots of scale and presence that were thrown and hand-worked, free-standing sculpture with subject matter ranging from curious llama-like creatures to totems of a more abstract nature and always his own ‘Spiromorphs’ individually, distinctly his and more sculptures around the subject of railways and engines sometimes on a scale beyond imagining. Finally, what were, in many opinions, his finest works – the commissioned wall mural bas-relief tile works where subject matter was usually concerned with industry. The domestic ware ranged from coffee mugs through a range of bowls to the handsome ‘Fatso’ and ‘Thinso’ Jugs where the corpulent numbers won hands down and where he and I once had a spirited discussion on the merits of various forms of handle – for which he asserted there was only one possible formula.

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Fatso Jug. Collection Andrew Grigg.

The large vessels were capped by his work for the Seville World Fair Exhibition and its subsequent display in the Niewe Kirk in Dam Square in Amsterdam. I saw the exhibition there and recall thinking at the time that it was Barry’s large, fat-rimmed heavily fingered vessel of distinctly Polynesian extraction that stood up possibly the best to the soaring architecture within that old 17thC church. It stopped me in my tracks when I came across it and that salty, heavily grogged, wood-fired surface somehow made me homesick.

The spiromorphs were distinctly his own and he did them in a variety of scales and surfaces but always they bulged in sensuous or spirited fashion or sometimes danced and sliced sideways in a variety of rhythms that made their expressions almost musical. Here are three…

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Salted Spiromorph. DCR collection.

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Brett McDowell collection

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Three Spiromorphs. Brett McDowell collection

The sculptural ‘creatures’… were singular beings, often four legged with peaceful expressions above long necks and with curled tails. A few morphed into engines in curious ways.

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Collection John Matthews

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Collection Andrew Grigg

Closer to his heart probably were the sculptures involving his parallel love of anything railway. This one lives outside the gallery at Driving Creek and has an iron body but with ceramic additions.

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Biggest of all was the commissioned one that belched real steam, for the Matthews collection in New Plymouth, and that was a part of the touring exhibition of two years ago. Sadly this, and others, was destroyed in the fire at Matthews Gallery and home last year.

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from Matthews Gallery

And here is a smaller but salted hybrid pot/engine from Andrew Grigg’s collection

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Andrew Grigg Collection

The large commissioned tile murals are hard to view because they reside in industrial works and offices from Invercargill to London; they are magnificent, thoroughly researched and designed works that rightly receive many plaudits. This is the one in New Plymouth at the Shell Todd offices.

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Shell Todd

Here are my personal favourites. James Mack commissioned a set of tiles commemorating workers on the railways for The Dowse collection.

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Dowse_1491These are the works that rise first to mind when thinking of the work of Barry Brickell. They contain all that was special about the man.

Finally here are two portraits, taken many years apart.

The first by the late Steve Rumsey who was only one of the photographers who made the pilgrimage to DCR fairly regularly. It shows a young Barry with an early rail version, no engine but his own muscle and one of the clay carts plus a huge pot.

The second, shows his good humour, hand-cut hair and relaxed mien when in good company.

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Photograph by Steve Rumsey

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Photograph by Haru Sameshina

There are multiple images of Barry taken over the years. Many of them really good ones and by a notable array of prominent photographers. Some were used for the excellent book, His Own Steam on Barry’s lifetime’s work produced by The Dowse on the occasion of his major retrospective exhibition in 2013 which toured around the country to most centres. The essays by David Craig and Gregory O’Brien are well worth reading and the one by David Craig, in unedited form, has been reproduced in the publication, Empire of Dirt produced by Objectspace in late 2015 and is still available and highly recommended as a superb rendering of the whole man, warts and all, just as it should be.

Barry was in many ways the poster boy for the entire clay culture of the time. His was the seemingly romantic retreat from city life, the peaceful rural situation, the idyllic lifestyle. It was so through to late in the 20thC. It was a singular time and has reproduced favourably in many images and publications. Far fewer saw the hard work, the dawn to dusk labour, the constant planning and the financial strains that were mercifully relieved once the railway was utilised for the enjoyment of visitors and then the hordes of tourists. Few saw the times he was isolated and even labelled eccentric in later years until the Dowse retrospective rectified that with a wide show that examined all aspects of the man and his oeuvre. It was a worthy tribute. Sadly, he never received the nation’s Arts Laureate accolade, which honour he richly deserved. But he would not worry on that score at all.

For a man who enjoyed his body, loved to work with no or barely any clothes (to the shock-horror of occasional unprepared visitors) it was his body that finally let him down. At 80, after all those years of hard physical labour from dawn to dusk, things wore out and ‘bits began to go awfully wrong’ as he said one evening. He bore the results of the very drastic treatments received with grace and fortitude however, and complained not at all. He would still manage a large helping of roast lamb, mint sauce and roast vegetables with ‘real gravy!’ His mind, always sharp and questioning was still enjoying a challenge to some theory of his and even as he lay in bed he would relish waiting impatiently until the argument reached some conclusion so he might demolish it, often using his own invented language from whose twists and curls and meaning he derived further delight to explain!

We shall not see his like again. He was truly a one-off.

 

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THE 2015 PORTAGE AWARDS

Entertainment has sometimes been a part of opening events for The Portage Awards. When the barn of a community hall across the road from Lopdell House was used there would be dance music, and even dancing sometimes. When the event was moved downtown due to the building programme,  one very balmy night at The Cloud on the waterfront wharf there was music (really needed a string quartet) and later, on a stormy night at the Silos under a flapping, snapping, wind-whipped canopy we were charmed by the popera trio O Sol3 Mio. The Pati brothers and cousin were not one bit fazed by any rain splattering overhead or howling gale and overcame the weather with what is now their familiar smiling humour and some high notes and harmonies. No one danced. It was a captivated audience.

I always imagined, but never asked, that the entertainment was a requirement for the Portage organisation – that as they are in one sense, hosting the evening and many folk pay to be there, that entertainment is de rigueur, so accepted it as part of the event. I’m not sure it is, or was always present but it has been of recent times. But like many of ceramic derivation there I preferred to spend my time looking at the work and catching up with folk from out of town and not seen for a while, than dancing.

But dancing again was a feature for this last one. To the throbbing strains of Cheryl Moana Marie, New Zealand’s very own Engelbert Humperdinck, John Rowles, all silver quiff and gleaming dentistry, was working hard and with good humour to get folk up on their feet. It worked a bit despite the largely ceramic crowd edging backwards so they could chat. There was dancing in the mosh pit.

All this took place at basement level straight off the carpark and considerable effort had been made to convert what could be bleak space to something celebratory with hanging roses, a few tables and chairs and enormous pots of flowers on stands. One problem for the otherwise splendid Te Uru gallery complex is that there is no obvious place for things ceremonial. There is the basement tried this year, or last year’s venue – the roof of Lopdell House next door which is architecturally adjoined to the gallery by a glass bridge. However then an unfortunate turn of weather meant a retreat indoors was swiftly made as soon as formalities were over. En plein air can be tricky when it’s not March. There is a schoolroom, a basically utilitarian space, with low ceilings, possibly best suited to the classes often held there but perhaps something might be done with it for celebrations. The foyer is too small and other gallery space, which would possibly serve admirably, is filled with other exhibitions. It’s a challenge, and one with no obvious answer, yet.

But the main event is the announcement of prizes for the competition and I was rightly castigated for not listing everything in times past so this year, the prizes went to – Paul Maseyk, Merit, for ‘Essential Equipment for a Competent Arsonist’, Virginia Leonard, Merit, for ‘Too Many Surgeons’, John Parker won the Residency Award with ’13 Blue Vents’, while the Premier Award went to Raewyn Atkinson for ‘Wasters III (Accumulate) 2015’.

 

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Raewyn Atkinson for ‘Wasters III (Accumulate) 2015’

This latter work, an accumulation of pieces of celadon-glazed porcelain tableware deemed unfit for utility or display some other way bore poignancy on several counts. It’s a quiet work that murmurs and hums its stories and despite its lofty connections is never grandiloquent. Initially it’s the associations contained within all that labour and exactitude with a difficult clay, now fused, warped, split, cracked, chipped or mutated beyond functionality, or the glaze flaws, pin-holed, blistered, puckered, peeled, corrugated, crawled or kiln crud blemished by their journey through intense heat. But layered upon this elegiac record, other relationships enter.

Making celadon-glazed porcelain tableware by hand is a loaded undertaking. There is that link with the Far East as that was the source of such wares until Europe, in the early 1700s, finally managed to produce its own. The colour, hovering quietly between green and blue was given lyrical names by the Chinese such as iced water or sky after rain, although some Emperors preferred their porcelain white, pure and translucent but again there were poetic descriptors. Celadon was the name of a shepherd, in a 17thC French performance, that wore soft grey-green ribbons and this name, a European one, stayed with the hue. Cross-currents abound. There are sunken boatloads of porcelain, along old shipping routes, periodically discovered after having been in the sea for anything up to five hundred years. Their re-emergence makes recurrent headlines and record auction values. There is a museum in Holland where, because of their age they are kept, as found, in water and seen underfoot through layers of thick glass. Considering the nature of porcelain this may not be entirely necessary but it makes a romantic exhibit that draws ardent visitors. Work such as this jostles with stories and histories.

Then, as all exhibits are damaged, other narratives accumulate and Atkinson mentions a beach of shards in California, near the site of a former factory. This facet chronicles the loss of skills as manufacturing re-locates from the west and returns to its roots in the East and the discards signify another inevitable effect of global capitalism. In the east, regular jettisons of freshly minted shards flash white stripes down the murky banks of the torpid river that winds through Jingdezhen while dusty mounds of unwanted manufactured ware lie stacked outside disused factories.

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All of which adds layers to issues around why make hand-thrown tableware in porcelain at the start of the third millennium? One response is, there is pleasure in working directly with materials and engaging with those forces in an era of fabricator-led, often outsourced, artistic and design-led endeavour and 3D printers steadily come into masterful use. Making an object with hands and fingers affords it a voice that articulates on materiality and making processes. The skills necessary for porcelain are acquired gradually for as a medium it presents very different challenges than do other clays; its lack of ‘tooth’ for throwing is frustrating, making it something akin to raising toothpaste rather than a minutely grainy medium. As can be seen in this exhibit, it is unforgiving of a nano- second’s inattention and intolerant of any slight incompatible adjustment in environment. Porcelain is, despite its apparent fragility, provocative and steely stuff.

Then there is that attendant lingering aura of palace rather than cottage. All those Emperors, Princes, Electors and Kings with their droit de seigneur over courts, cities and principalities. Meissen and Sevres; tableware for palaces and a source of those good connections. For the collector – for ‘collecting’ such high-value work is surely the aim rather than simply ‘acquire’ – the unmistakeable marks of something individually hand-made in an increasingly digitised world is covetable. The faint traces that cannot be eradicated, nor should they be, carry further resonances of palace. Atkinson’s abstract amalgam adds to a rich and regal narrative, notes beauty in the discarded and offers some beautifully packaged pockets of space while raising issues around how we decide values of certain objects.

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Paul Maseyk, ‘Essential Equipment for a Competent Arsonist’ (Merit)

Paul Maseyk’s group of five jars with illustrations around the subject of tools for starting a mischievous fire fits well with work we have seen earlier from this artist. However in these works, his classical, ‘in the round’ approach with continuous bands of patterns of familiar motifs betwixt some unfamiliar ones, is missing. These linear devices divided his large vessels into sections so that reading his messages and personal revelations was a simple matter. The current works are aligned with the Sweetbread series in his DPAG show of last year – there were no divisions; just accurately painted anatomical illustrations decorating one side of the pot leaving the other side empty of imagery. These were arranged along a wall shelf.

The current work is similarly designed with imagery only on one side and no banding devices. The difference being that this time the group is displayed clustered on a low plinth so that walking around, not along, was the way to view. In the bunch of unadorned ‘back’ views, of precisely turned, plain-surfaced, assorted vessels with only scale as principal formal element in common, there was little to engage. The imagery on the ‘fronts’ however, was well elaborated and accurately rendered when it came to the matches, gasoline can and lighter etc surreally topping linear figures.  However the all-round works with imagery as in, ‘Commando Maseyk vs the Zig Zag Man’ on his smoking habits, or, ‘Going to Shit’ around issues on farming practices carry a more personal ring and seem more successful works.

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Virginia Leonard, ‘Too many Surgeons’ (Merit)

Virginia Leonard’s large, variously capped and colourful, layered vessels laced with resin, are strong and visceral objects that look as though they came together solely by instinct. They observe the ‘sloppy craft’ movement that was a large part of North America’s response to increased status of theory in formal education in the ‘90s. As a movement it particularly affected fibre and ceramics and was bolstered by the resurgence of a hand-made look across media. Reaction to this theoretical input manifested differently in the UK and Scandinavia but nevertheless led to some vigorous cross-disciplinarity in all three of these leading areas that has rarely happened before.  The American clay expression often intentionally looks poorly made. Led by artists such as Nicole Cherubini, Beverley Semmes and Arlene Sechet it is characterised by an irreverence for technique and messy, loose handling often typified by heavily fingered coiling and surfaces left ‘spontaneous’ with supporting casually made plinths of plywood or reinforcing steel rod that can resemble workshop detritus but are a part of the work. Forms are influenced by traditional ceramic objects but also defy them by parodying domesticity using pot forms only as shapes rather than objects that are useful. Sometimes lustred all over and sometimes draped with junk jewellery or bedecked by small handles that could not possibly lift the vessel; they are frolics of excess.

We have had our own ‘sloppy craft’ adherents for a number of years in artists like Martin Popplewell or Jim Cooper. Both can make a classical, well formed pot if they so chose but instead Popplewell utilises casually formed and sometimes broken vessels or even shards to carry his various brush-painted illustrations or texts that needle ceramic, or any other, traditions he chances upon – grubby jokes, pungent comments on life, single expletives or mordant observations are rendered in idiosyncratic style aimed at deflating the portentous and undermining the serious and scrawled across surfaces often underscored by his leitmotif grid. His nonchalant and iconoclastic approach can skewer with trenchant intent or be there simply to amuse himself. Cooper follows a figurative path and vigorously models characters and situations often taken from a sliver of the ‘60s when a new generation fused music, meditation and LSD in attempting to see and understand the world in a different way. Cooper crosses media using cut-outs from seed catalogues, fake flowers, ‘finds’ from the $2 shop and absurd, shiny and psychedelic, drippy, syrupy, viscid ceramic surfaces where the apparent loosely naive, almost child-like quality of surface rendering has been consciously and timely acquired. Both artists have trained in formal systems at tertiary level and held major exhibitions in public galleries as well as enjoying support from ‘white cube’ spaces. Both happily work in other media. Where the Americans had antecedents for this post, post-modern work in George E. Ohr or the Kirkpatrick brothers, for those of Popplewell’s and Cooper’s generation there was the far more recent, but still removed, work of Peter Hawkesby.

Leonard’s addition of resin looks fresh and offers tempting drips that beg to be touched by fingers, (to see if they’re as flexible as they appear) but solutions to the curiosity aroused by additions of some decal ‘Willow Pattern’ imagery is evaded, although some links to the domestic via what has been the most widely used and imitated design for domestic tableware is tentatively there. Her allusions to chronic pain and their negation by abstraction is again mysterious (or is it ‘the lack’ that Cherubini talks about?) but a clay vessel is a ‘body’ (with neck and foot and stance etc) and this resemblance is most marked in the red work (‘Ward Rounds’) that on the outside rather looks like what’s inside in all its bloody mucilaginous viscerality. Quite remarkable surfaces indeed.

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Virginia Leonard, ‘Ward Rounds”

In complete contrast is John Parker’s work as he continues his extended pursuit of the wheel-formed vessel characterised by clarity of form, line and surface tension with a minimalist, reductive aesthetic that evidences his total control of process. His preference, over many years, for bowl and bottle forms, with no lids, feet, handles or marks of process has been a singular project. Surface diversities are provided by horizontal grooves and steps of varied widths and in this he continues his relationship with the work of Keith Murray, Ernie Shufflebottom and some industrial forms such as electrical insulators.

Much of this work has been glazed white with variation provided by alterations in surface from high gloss through various mattes to crusty volcanic textures which somewhat obscured the crispness of profile and linearity. Occasionally there have been excursions in to black or grey and at intervals, red. However this year has seen another variation. His shows at Masterworks and Avid and his entry in this Portage exhibition presented blue, deep and rich, and placed the thrown forms onto their side with no base leaving a tube-like form open-ended at both sides and displayed on a wall. Now their title is ’13 Blue Vents’, maintaining the connection with the industrial but without specific function although Parker offers a somewhat unsettling concept with a suggestion about their purpose being less benign than appears through links to science fiction cinema. It will be interesting to see if this engaging theme continues to develop.

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John Parker. ‘13 Blue Vents.’ (Residency)

Clusters, pairs, bunches and assemblages were strongly represented this year. They made a mixed bag and include what could be regarded as ‘the traditional’ with vessels in groups and pairs that were wood-fired and soda/ salt surfaced, by Duncan Shearer, Suzy Dunser and Carol Stewart. Shearer’s shelf-full of non-functional forms are about surface and repetition of profile with observance of the spaces between (something his albarello form doesn’t do a lot for). Albarelli were originally spice and herb jars of earthenware, often elaborately and colourfully decorated on a base tin glaze. The shape allowed easy grasp when taking down from a shelf so as to extract some contents. Shearer uses the albarello’s concave profile to allow a rib line to curve upward or support a vestigial, decorative, shoulder knob. How nice it could be to see allusively usable ware actually returned to some potential function and some decorative work under that salt-patina’d or orange-peel surface. They are fine as they are (something to look at) but we have been looking at them for a long time, and not only from Shearer. It might add a bunch of interest to push things further along and see where those base parameters might take things. Dunser’s teapots /pourer adaptations of oil can particularities are, in contrast, supremely functional with their perfect centres of gravity making pouring a pleasure. Individually each is successful; as a group their disparate addenda and functions don’t allow them to work.

Largest group of all was Susannah Bridges’, ‘The Library’, her collection of five rows of ‘experimental references’ in cylindrical form. Collected over years, Bridges exhibits all the tests, trials and speculative versions she has made during that time.

Exhibitions are just that. A display of the best of all the many researches and tests every artist must necessarily make so as to produce that occasional ‘cracker’. And it’s the crackers that should be exhibited. A compendium and summary of every idea conceived and mistake made is for the privacy of the studio. To serve as reminder never to do that again.

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Then there was a joint entry from Kate Walker as illustrator and Caroline Early as ceramist. The aims are many for these wall works which in turn are asked to bear numerous concepts. Perhaps the wall pieces, unadorned with flocking or line drawings of ‘ambiguous contacts’ and all those attendant ‘non-specific objects and activities’, might be sufficient exhibit alone?

This exhibition was also notable for some cross media works. Presumably a growing trend. Aston Christie’s video extension of a tile made from a sled dog’s paw print ….

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And Michael Potter’s ceramic pinhole camera plus image…

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Intriguing was Ezmic Partington’s , “ Ebola Bowl” which was an unheimlich number carrying promptings of a Petri dish and attendant multiplying sinister microorganisms…

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And I enjoyed Chuck Joseph’s riff on his interests in movies and NZ history and conservation with a neatly executed and titled, “ The Assassination of Mr Tui by the coward White-backed Magpie”.

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The exhibition itself is well displayed utilising the two galleries to full advantage, particularly for Atkinson and Parker’s work and the lighting, with its combination of natural light and gallery lighting works superbly.

The exhibition was again complemented by the ‘Clayathon’ bus tour (don’t you hate punning titles?) around galleries with ceramic exhibitions. These ranged from the judges ‘walk and talk’ of the Te Uru exhibition, to the new Museum of Ceramics in New Lynn and site of the Crown Lynn factory legacy, to Anna Miles gallery and Richard Stratton’s past catalogue, Front Room with Ande and Campbell Hegan’s show, and Corbans Estate where a firing was being started in a scarily vertical, hand-built and plastered kiln (that reputedly later collapsed). At Objectspace was a show of writer-selected ceramic objects, ‘Empire of Dirt’, and writing on them with a publication containing a range of essays of varying lengths around ceramics in the widest sense. And all well worth reading. Writers include Jenny Bornholdt, David Craig, Denis O’Connor, Martin Poppelwell, Louise Rive, Gregory O’Brien, Tessa Laird and others…subjects range from The Beach Artware small production factory back in the ‘70s, A poem about a Tony Fomison clay sculpture of a cat’s head, a notional piece about clay discards and another about the beauty of bagwall bricks to a Lucie Rie bowl representing many in Ernst Plishke’s collection to dental prosthetics and Day of the Dead devils and more… The compendium of writing can be obtained from Objectspace once they re-open again, and finally to Gus Fisher Gallery to round out the day.

Apologies for the lateness of this review. I was unwell and could not get back to the gallery for another and closer look at the show until a week ago. Then holidays got in the way. But its finally done.

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Book Review. Edmund de Waal. THE WHITE ROAD: a pilgrimage of sorts Pub. Chatto and Windus.

This is a slightly expanded and unedited version of my Listener review. That is, like I wrote it in the first place.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­I wish Edmund de Waal’s new book, ‘The White Road: A pilgrimage of sorts’, did not feel like a response to a publisher’s plea for another bestseller covering historical research and journeys, as his generational family memoir, ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’, translated into 30 languages and given by everybody to everybody else for Christmas 2010, on the way earning him an OBE and several awards. It does. But does that mean it’s an unsatisfying book? Not at all. For ceramics aficionados and lovers of a winding narrative it is awesome, in every sense. This episodic recount of DeWaal’s search around the arcana and histories of porcelain joins some long-missed dots along the passages of history’s ‘white gold’. It’s an exhaustive traverse from kaolin mountains in China to porcelain rooms and alchemy in 18thC. Germany; to Britain’s Cornish moorland pockmarked by mineral digs (who’s watching Poldark?) and Stoke-on-Trent’s dark satanic mills peopled with working children. To Cherokee-owned deposits in Tennessee and what is one of the darkest moments of the 20thC – Dachau’s concentration camp where the Allach Porcelain Factory utilised prisoner labour to produce Nazi-approved statuary; where the whiteness and clarity of the clay symbolised Aryan purity.

De Waal’s protagonists are an intriguing lot. There was Pere d’Entrecolles, the French Jesuit sent to convert heathen Chinese in 1712 and who wrote accounts of the making of porcelain from the place it was first formulated. His writing has been of value for potters ever since and copies can still be found (the originals in French of course). Or the German intellectual, Tschirnhaus, whose precision straightened the muddled attempts of the scattered youth, Bottger, who was credited with Europe’s first manufacture and their despotic ruler, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and libertine who kept both men under restraint to service his collection obsession, gathering 35,798 pieces before he died. There was the earnest Quaker apothecary, William Cookworthy, who realised how porcelain might be produced in England’s west country only to be thwarted by the avuncular yet merciless Josiah Wedgewood with his interests staked in Stoke-on-Trent rather than the south. Cookworthy’s partner, Richard Champion who lies forever where he bartered with the Cherokee for their ‘unaker’ – white earth, and we learn that Himmler claimed Allach porcelain was “one of the few things that give me pleasure”.

This is no simple linear narrative, but a sprawling journey interspersed with personal accounts of De Waal’s shifting studios, and preparations for his own porcelain rooms in grand venues like London’s Geffrye Museum and the V&A, or the Gagosian dealership in New York, alongside his transition from potter to installer of many bits of porcelain. There are so many multi-layered, interwoven stories that at times he seems uncertain about which tense to write in. His enjoyment, apparent in all his writing, of obscure words, in this case such as congeries (mass/heap), gelid (cold/frosty), mazy (cannot find – anyone help?), or jeremiad (complaint/lamentation), shines through the lyrical artiness of his writing style. Nevertheless, this sometimes irritatingly fragmented scrapbook, laced with digressions, is also bearer of some superbly evocative phrases, “the sad smudge of smoke” (from a dying kiln), “cobalt allows the world to be turned into stories” (marvellous and how very true…) and, “Porcelain consumes hills, the wood on the hills, it silts the rivers and clogs the harbours, enters the deltas of your lungs.” And more ways of describing white than any reader could imagine.

*********************

Absolutely worth a read in my view if you have any interest in the history of porcelain.    While many in ceramics will know bits and pieces of this series of tales, or even large chunks of it, The White Road describes it all in roughly chronological order although most is layered in the 1700s where the majority of significant events happened. De Waal has made the history of the research and hard graft that went into producing a European version of ‘white gold’ a much more engaging narrative than does the author of The Arcanum, Janet Gleeson, as far as I know the only other account of this development in early 18thC Germany. Her version is fuller and more worthy but less interestingly written. I am sure it could be ordered from The Ceramics Library which specialises in those out-of-print ceramics books.

In contrast, here is another review of The White Road taken from Private Eye and sent to me from England. It’s an ‘ouch’ kind of review as rather than content, on which I mainly concentrated my allowed 500 words, it focuses upon De Waal’s meditative, digressive style where he pauses narrative to examine words and thoughts that arise. Style is a very personal thing. This piece really mocks De Waals’ cleverly and it must have struck bone. It’s also funny and you need to read the book to know how funny. However there is the point that if ceramics is now subject (or butt for that matter) of nationally read satire, it must have made a dent or three somewhere. For, when you think about it, if writing on ceramics had been knocked like this, even five years ago, folk would have wondered what the hell this was all about. Or it would be profoundly ignored. So now, thanks to De Waal, Ai Weiwei, Grayson Perry and the Great British Pottery Throwdown et al, readers and viewers have a much better idea about what ceramics, pottery and the joys of the hand-made are all about.

dewaal

 

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New Work

I need help with this one. I was taken to Salon 94, Freeman Alley, down in the Lower East side of Manhattan. There in the midst of this former tenement slum with a high artist population and its ethnic mixes, Jewish and African eateries, bargain knock-off shops and drug dealers, has sprung some very chic art galleries. Salon 94 has been there a while as my friend Raphael de Villers had a show there a couple of years ago and apparently did well. I still have the invitation as his style with clay is about as close as one can get to Jim Cooper’s without either of them knowing the other in any way.

However this visit was to see the work of a Japanese artist in clay (the gallery does show a range of media) in one of their venues – there are several in adjacent alleys it seemed. This particular artist, so I was told, is the new darling of New York avant- garde art watchers and is booked be part of an international touring Japanese group ceramics show coming up in MAD, NYC, about now, and has been well shown in Japan at major galleries. His first institutional solo show will be in St Louis Museum of Art, Missouri in 2017. He has been picked up by one of the very influential Belgian galleries – Pierre Marie Giraud in Brussels. So I went to see with great interest.

Name: Takuro Kuwata, age 34 and graduate of Kyoto Saga Art College – Dept Fine Arts/Ceramics, in 2001. In I walked, stopped dead and my heart sank. Dead centre and confidently standing there was what initially looked a lot like a metre and a half high phallic number in an optimistic sky blue with a lavish splash of red fluid on top and a bright yellow ballet skirt. There was a very pink, shorter one topped with hundreds and thousands beside it. Never seen anything like it.

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Gingerly moving closer one could see it was actually strange, at least the tutu was very strange, more like fluoro yellow meringue than clay in its varying textures but at least the red run on top was recognisably familiar. Fluid, runny red, low temp, highly reflective glaze.

Takuro Kuwata

Turning to the pink one the spots seemed to have actually burst through the clay matrix and sat there in glistening gold and blue perfection, almost, as a few seemed about to dribble downward and one or two had. Peering closer it was clear that these droplets had not been painted and lustred after the firing and fired again – too clean for that to have happened. They actually seemed to have burst through and lay there glistening and glowing on the matt, watermelon pink surface.

Takuro Kuwata

Takuro Kuwata

Nearby was a low table of all silver and gold works lavishly glistening and shimmering their precious metallic surfaces, forms mainly tower-like and overblown tea-bowls. Perhaps. Some were tea-bowl sized. One with what looked like rocks at top was for all the world like a partially unwrapped, starting to melt, Magnum or Memphis Meltdown!

Takuro Kuwata

It was necessary to look as closely as the vigilant gallery assistant would allow. (Unfortunately picking up to see the colour of the clay or measure the weight was very forbidden!) The gallery assistant assured me all works were porcelain. After looking and thinking at length I started to appreciate the control that was visible. It was not as wild as one might initially imagine. Again the drops had not, as far as we could see, been painted after the event but were molten when surfacing (if that was what happened…) They looked for all the world like they were solid gold that had come through in almost melted state…. but that’s not possible is it? Works were expensive, but not that expensive.

These two were simply stunning as well as enigmas

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Looking closely at some, one could see small, evenly spaced holes or tunnels and looking even closer there were rods protruding or even fallen right out and it seemed it was they that held the meringue in place, or assisted the melt or….? And where the meringue clay had simply fissured rather than sagged fully they were clearly visible and had even lifted out with the movement and were floating, seemingly, in meringue. Like a small candle sagged into a failed pavlova perhaps…

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IMG_1951 IMG_1952 IMG_1953 Some just seemed like joyous play with colour.

IMG_1965 IMG_1966 Or with texture…

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side view

side view

And to further confound there was a video showing unloading for another show…

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Anyone know what went down here? Any clues? I’d so like to know.

I ended up not loving everything, but I think that may have been more of a colour issue than anything else, but I did enjoy many of them, and would happily have taken a couple home had I been able to afford them. And had I ever got to the top of the waiting list and all those folk who had reserved works make up their minds which one or two to buy.

It was an interesting hour or two – anyone with a few clues is invited to put us all wise….please.

*****

TV

Anyone still pining after the soggy bottoms and cringeworthy puns of The Great British Bake Off, make a note in your diaries, for next week sees the launch of its somewhat messier cousin, The Great Pottery Throw Down.

Ten potters from up and down the UK will be making their way to the home of the British pottery industry, Stoke-On-Trent in Staffordshire, to begin their quest to be crowned Top Potter. They are a mix of ages, experience and gender with inevitably one black, one Indian and one gay along with British rural and urban types represented.

Hosted by radio DJ Sara Cox. Advised by the well-known potters Kate Malone and Keith Brymer-Jones, and produced by the same company as the Bake Off, the Throw Down will inevitably remind viewers of that sexy potter’s wheel scene from the 1990 movie Ghost. But unfortunately without Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

However, these contestants are more skilled than a couple of movie stars – all are already accomplished and part-time or full-time potters. The first episode of Throw Down will put the potters through their paces with a four day assignment making stackable kitchen bowls. Every episode apparently finishes with a kiln opening and judgement of the results. Then as is now the tradition in such dramas, elimination probably inevitably follows for one contestant each week. Oh, the tension. Could anyone who can get BBC2 keep an eye on this and let us know? It starts in the UK on Nov.3 at 9pm. Wow. Prime time viewing… Just what we always wanted and have not enjoyed since Dylan Tate and The Fletcher days!

!

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Picasso’s ceramics and a show at Yale…

Before Portage is with us, here are two shows seen in recent times that really were worth spending time with.

Mainly images – words really unnecessary…

At MOMA – Picasso’s sculpture. Less known than his paintings the sculpture show took up an entire floor and were executed in a variety of media. Those imaged here are mainly ceramic but some in other media – some mixed in the same work like the pudding basin in ‘Pregnant Woman’ and a few are cast bronze but the maquette or original was clearly clay – as in ‘Cat’ or ‘Goat’. The ceramics were principally made at Madoura Pottery, Vallauris as the exhibition was chronologically arranged. Only sour note was the wall text in this section which said he made in ceramic ‘for a few years’ from his base at La Californie near Cannes near Vallauris. It was actually a period of over 20 years that he regularly visited the Ramie’s Madoura Pottery . I’d have thought 20+ years was a bit more than ‘a few’.

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Then we were taken to New Haven in Connecticut and Yale University where their art gallery, designed by Louis Kahn is set very comfortably between neo-Gothic and Edwardian architecture. It is far more extensive than can be imagined from the street and is actually three conjoined buildings of at least three stories each. The collections are exquisite – like someone picked the eyes out of The Met’s collections in many categories. There we saw a private collection of ceramics – amassed over some 25 years by Linda Leonard Schlenger placed with other art from the Yale collection for an exhibition entitled, ‘The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art’ which was a re-examination of the role of post-war ceramics within the context of contemporary art from the period (painting, photography, sculpture and works on paper) via formal, historical and theoretical affinities. ‘Other’artists ranged from deKooning to Motherwell to Noguchi to Ruscha and co while ceramics, which formed the main part of the show were by mainly Ruth Duckworth, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Peter Voulkos and Ken Price with some others such as Jim Melchert, John Mason, Ron Nagle, Richard Shaw, Magdalene Odundo and Martin Puryear added in here and there.

Have to say, I have seen many Lucie Rie’s as there is a goodly amount of her early work here from her 1950s/60s tableware shipped to Stocktons, Cadeaux etc and quite a few later individual works brought back mainly by visiting potters and now steadily creeping into museum collections (I have done three shows myself in the past). Some however are finding their way to off-shore collections on occasion. However, there are only 3/4 Copers here as far as I know, and I think one may have bitten the dust in the Christchurch ‘quake. Viewing off shore there are usually two or three Ries to each Coper. His output was considerably smaller that hers.

The show at Yale however had far more Copers than anything else. I feel sure I shall never see such a gathering again. It was a great privilege that I feel very lucky to have been told about and taken to see. The same might be said of the Duckworths also – that biomorphic abstraction fitted well with Noguchi and Puryear…clay became part of a larger conversation on abstraction and a later visit to the Noguchi museum in Williamsburg saw more affinities(a couple of images included….). Viewing these works together it was possible to see the complex connections and the detailed exploration of ideas, visual strategies and personal explorations. Some images from the Yale collections are included.

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Duckworth

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

Coper

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Coper

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Coper

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Coper and Rie

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Rie

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Rie

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Rie

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Rie

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

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Voulkos

Voulkos

Voulkos

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Price

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Price

Arneson

Shaw

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Shaw, close up

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Arneson

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Arneson

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Arneson

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Early Price and Nagle

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Nagle

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Paintings from the Yale Collection

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Paintings from the Yale Collection

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Paintings from the Yale Collection

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Paintings from the Yale Collection

paintings from the Yale collection

paintings from the Yale collection

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Reclining nude is Viola Frey of course

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early Chinese

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early Chinese

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early Chinese

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from the Yale collection

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from the Yale collection

Finally…

Magdalene Odundo

Magdalene Odundo

Isamu Noguch

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguch

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguch

Isamu Noguchi

Finally a few images from Washington Square…lovely park in the west Village…

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a grand piano playing Brahms…he had 2 buckets – both pretty full!

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Jazz quartets to…

jazz duos

jazz duos

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Musicians everywhere…single drummers

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Folk enjoying the sun but where was she going…it was lunchtime…

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The Portage is nigh…

This year’s judge Ingrid Murphy arrives next week. Her first tasks will be to view her initial selection of work and confirm their selection, or not, then to choose the prizewinners . Following that she embarks upon a visit down country – this year flying visits to Queenstown, Dunedin and Nelson. She will give talks and workshops and return to Auckland on Tuesday 10th.

Ingrid is Head of Ceramics, called Subject Leader at Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales which is probably the UK’s leading institution for education in Applied Arts these days. She has always taught alongside studio practice and has been in that position in Cardiff for the past four years. See pic of her below, and to know more about her own work – she is currently a finalist in the British Ceramics Biennial – you will find images and links on that website. In fact it’s pretty interesting to view all the artists in what could be termed Britain’s Portage Award.

Ingrid Murphy

Ingrid Murphy

Thursday 12th , at Te Uru, Titirangi is the opening of the Portage Awards and announcement of the winners – $15,000 or a Residency at Guldagergaard, Skaelskor, Denmark. Exhibition with all finalists and a solo exhibition by Richard Stratton, winner of the last Guldagergaard Residency. Tickets from the gallery.

Friday 13th opening Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Road, 6pm of Empire of Dirt – ceramic exhibition plus the launch of a new NZ publication of writing around and about ceramics. Blue Black installation in the window.

Afterwards, an open invitation for those interested, a relaxed gathering at my place, just down the hill at 14 Sheridan Lane, Freemans Bay as opportunity to gather, talk and meet the judge, Ingrid and her husband, Jon. (Just refrain from flashing your phne camera with images of your work… please) Please bring contribution for the supper…Any time from 7-30 but we won’t be late as Clayathon is the next morning…. All welcome.

Saturday 14th Clayathon… all day bus tour around all the ceramics oriented venues. Begins at 9-15am and heads for eight venues in west /central Auckland. It includes new venues such as Te Toi Uku (Art of Clay) museum for ceramics, another visit to Te Uru where Ingrid will do a walk-around her choices in the show. Something of a firing spectacle at Corban Estate and a visit to Brendan Adams Front Room Gallery with works by Campbell Hegan and Ande Barrett-Hegan. A landing at Anna Miles new gallery space where high tea will be served, Masterworks and the Gus Fisher, plus a performance at Objectspace at 2-45pm. Artists, Emily Siddell, Kate Fitzharris, Richard Stratton and Paul Hartigan all giving talks at various venues plus you will be informed, entertained, fed and watered at intervals the whole day…. finishing about 6pm. Just in time to totter to bed!

You must register for this!

Bookings are essential and payment must be received no later than Friday 6 November 2015.

Booking & enquiries to:

gusfishergallery@auckland.ac.nz

09 9236646

Cost of $65 includes:

Commentary on board the bus and a paper bag

lunch with meat or vegetarian options available.

Payment options: MasterCard or Visa, cash or cheque, payable to Gus Fisher Gallery.

Further details may be found at…

http://www.teuru.org.nz/teuru/assets/File/Festival%20of%20Ceramics%202015_publication.pdf

Detailed programme will be forwarded on receipt of payment.

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