The Portage

This year around the opening of the Portage competition exhibition there is a superabundance of other ceramic-related events. So many in fact, it ended up being called the Festival of Ceramics and included a number of facets not previously attempted alongside the exhibitions and artist’s talks at galleries and the main event itself (Portage), which are the usual. This year’s exhibition opening was accompanied by the conclusion of John Parker’s grand retrospective show and accompanying book, also at Te Uru, and we have several fresh white cube galleries joining in with shows of ceramics, a walking tour of the historical clay sites out west, a kiln firing by Nga Kaihanga Uku, slip casting demo, numerous open studio visits and a ‘collectors clinic’ for those who cannot resist the collectable allures of Crown Lynn wares and the annual ASP show had its opening dates adjusted to co-incide also. There’s probably even more I’m missing. Many of these events were already happening anyway and they have been collected together, under one label, for the eager ceramophile (albeit exhausted ceramophile). Some have been added in to enlarge or vary the event and now it’s at the point where the scale is overwhelming and it’s daunting to even start to get around. So, concentrating on the main event… (more to follow later)

The Portage was judged this year by Janet de Boos, probably well-known to most of you as former head of ceramics at Canberra and author of books on Glazes for Australian Potters. She has, over time, experienced generous cross-Tasman contact with New Zealand and its ceramics community formerly, via two-way travelers, and she was jurist for the Waiclay national event a few years ago. Janet spoke well at the opening event mentioning, as many have in the past, that absent was a good assortment of functional pots, with which she linked New Zealand’s long association. Further, she remarked upon the absence of anything risky or experimental where video representation of performance or time-based works are not unusual off-shore. However we did have some camera work included last year – which I think was the first time. Maybe that will grow. She remarked upon the ample presence, in entries, of what has been labelled , ‘sloppy clay’, a recent, mainly north American, movement that rejects, among other things, much adherence to the ‘craft’ aspect of clay practice plus an enthusiastic (sometimes over-vigorous) use of evidence of hand working. DeBoos links this with the West Coast Funk work from the 1960s and the current interest by artists with background in fine arts rather than ceramics who co-opt clay for its expressive potential displaying, to my eye, little or no interest in ceramics’ histories or traditions –some aspects of which could well, very often, strengthen the expression. However, West Coast Funk was absolutely an outgrowth of ceramic cultures and traditions but with an eye on the socio-political events of the day (plus that rarity for USA clay at the time – irony!) when one thinks about the work of initiators like Robert Arneson and Howard Kottler. With DeBoos I enjoy the best of this new style (sometimes because it challenges those long-held customs) but, like her, hold no regard for a simple re-iteration of what is currently hot off-shore (and there is a bit of that around). Anyway, she invited very little into this show despite there being names that are new.  She gave the Premier Award to a work entitled, “Clinch VI”, by Caroline Earley, American born and educated, former lecturer at Nelson Polytechnic and currently Assistant Professor at Boise State University in Indiana, USA. Caroline returns to NZ with her partner most summers and more, if possible, and has entered competitions or exhibited here and in Australia and undertaken residencies in ANU Canberra as well as in the USA. (One as prize from the Waiclay event of 2008).  The work is an apparently simple slip-cast, two-pronged double form with an apparently simple, featureless, milky white glaze coating. However, if you look carefully and think about it – the making would, since the two sections cannot be separated whole, be complicated and intricate. Conceptually it’s the work’s title that engages as much as does the making as a clinch is far more than any friendly hug and on a piece that carries intimations of the inchoately corporeal as this does, the work becomes slyly erogenous. Not a commonly found demeanor in Kiwi ceramics. It intrigued the judge enough to receive the top award.

_dsc5292

CLINCH VI , Caroline Earley

_dsc5293

CLINCH VI, Caroline Earley

Merit Awards were three. Jim Cooper made one of his assemblages of severally sourced, multiply pieced, vividly colourful works that exposes his interests in popular music, religious practices and cultural traditions deriving from Eastern philosophies. Modelled loosely, his work could initially be taken for a branch of the ‘sloppy clay’ fold except closer examination reveals a highly practiced hand that, despite loving the over-the-top, knows when there is enough and knows how to take risks while narrowly avoiding absolute disaster. Recently returned from his residency in Denmark at Guldagergaard, new work from Cooper may have absorbed something of his European sojourn and become even more eclectic. Any way, it could not contrast greater with this year’s winning work!

_dsc5492

Jim Cooper, Shrine from the temple of the good shepherds.

The second Merit went to Susannah Bridges with a series of what might be called light sculptures. Using porcelain impressed with textured fabrics Bridges added lighting inside what were basically simple cylinders that held added dynamism via bending and squeezing. When illuminated (absolutely necessary as a part of the work) the patterns of the various lace, embroideries and knitting were clearly illustrated to produce what in some ways became a contemporary version of a Victorian technique called lithophane. These were originally used to illustrate religious scenes or bucolic rural tableaux but always illuminated by added light behind the textured clay from either an electric bulb or a window. The judge remarked that for her, the remnants of pieces of the handmade or embellished fabric, crochet or knitting still attached to each work were what moved the work to its elevated reception. It was entitled, Stick to the Knitting.

_dsc5223

Susannah Bridges, Stick to the Knitting

The third Merit went to Emily Siddell and Mark Goody for their joint entry, Deconstructed Fables and consists of a multiply pieced chain, or over-scaled necklace as wall-hanging. A fine piece, their statement reads that ‘the work was inspired by a collection of Copeland and Spode dinnerware that was in Emily’s family since the late nineteenth century’. The Aesop’s Fables that are depicted upon the Staffordshire bone china production ware have been ‘deconstructed and re-assembled on porcelain beads much like a childhood memory can be fragmented’. The necklace represents, in its own way, family heirlooms that are often imbued with stories, memories and history. For this observer, one of the most engaging works in the show.

_dsc5469

Emily Siddell and Mark Goody, Deconstructed Fables

Greg Barron won the scholarship to Peter’s Valley next northern summer for his fine, wood-fired, ash embellished pitcher. While I am sure Greg will be a more than useful addition to the aspects of wood-fire culture at Peters Valley it will be great, some year, to see a winning artist who can take advantage of the other teachers available for access and broadening of vision as Peter’s Valley has more courses to offer than only from the wood-firing arena.

_dsc5343

Greg Barron

This year, for the first time, the judge included other works for special mention and they were awarded, without monetary reward, an “Honorable Mention” as she felt they deserved some elevation above the general inclusions. They were…

_dsc5304

Maak Bow for his modernist severely profiled, high design, monochromatic, classical bowls. Darth Vader as vessel?

_dsc5287

Susannah Bridges (yes, again) with a group of ovalled cast bowls in harmonious shades of brown.

_dsc5259

Mel Ford with a reduced version of her Canadian residency winning work of some years ago. Shore-gathered, abraded shards inserted into a clay matrix that revivifies the discarded into something contemporary.

birds

Madeleine Child with a group of birds and twigpots and again, about the best work statement of the show.

Kirsty Gardiner with another re-visit to former success – her winning work of some years ago only this time with a somewhat gothic ambiance and a confusing statement on the work.

_dsc5240

Kirsty Gardiner

_dsc5234

Chuck Joseph and what the judge saw as one of those grand European table centre-pieces (that litter so many German and French museums) and he interprets as deriving from naïve paintings and soft-paste collection items, only in Fauvist coloration. (Viola Frey made much fine work based upon junk shop finds. Great that a NZ artist derives inspiration from a similar source but gains manifestly different outcomes)

_dsc5352

Yi-Ming Lin offered a non-functional teapot set made from flower forms set on rocks. A curious, perhaps celebratory work with an even more curious statement.

_dsc5467

Janna van Hasselt with a group of thirty forms made from pouring porcelain slip to set on plaster and mounted upon mirror which adds a dimension not usually seen. Varied colour and pattern juxtaposed with repetition of scale, while simple, is visually effective.

_dsc5246

Paul Winspear with a large, stoneware bowl of a type seen many times but more convincing and successful than many because of the vibrancy of the colour of the interior.

_dsc5478

Helen Yau with work, which has received her attention for some years, linking silkworm codes with their cocoons and lace-like work to embrace both but the statement connects inadequately. (I thought the Gallery was re-jigging some of the challenging statements these days? But there are some real clunkers again this year).

Phew! Quite a list. Nice for the exhibitors of course, and a generous thought by the judge, but in a show of 52 works were an extra ten awards over the winning four really necessary? The minor awards were always a part of The Fletcher but that show contained some 200+ exhibits so the Commendations, as then called, with monetary reward, were significant. Here, the question hovers.

Mention of Portage cannot be made without reference to the catalogue, as always, a useful and well produced publication with statements by the judge and a return to the commissioned essay, a valuable  addition and useful record of issues not recorded often by other means. This essay is by Kim Paton, (fairly) new Director of Objectspace and right on the button as far as issues are concerned. Commenting on writing by Veiteberg, Greenhalgh and Clark, she cites potential loss of craft history and knowledge, via a lack of specifics of vocabulary and little critical discourse existing in our medium. This at a time when the field is currently expanding at its borders to embrace other disciplines (where critical discourses are the norm). She offers that Objectspace can support, in various ways, an expanded communication. Their new premises, to be at 13 Rose Road, Ponsonby will greatly enhance these opportunities. We must support their craft of facilitation with our craft of bringing work into existence and thus extend and enhance interpretation and communication around New Zealand ceramics. It’s important. We need attention to our histories and culture for it’s from these that much new work evolves, and therefore we need publications that address these issues via contemporary work practices. Objectspace can facilitate all this but it’s necessary to step through that open door. The alternative is being perhaps shuffled into some minor cul-de-sac where there is no communication except on a level of how to pull a handle or re-glaze a fired failed pot. Surely we are worth more than this so don’t sit and wait, support this major change for Objectspace for you are supporting yourselves by doing so.

Mention of the Portage cannot be complete without mention of their fine exhibition of John Parker’s work in the downstairs gallery. It’s an almost completely comprehensive display of his oeuvre over fifty years of practice. The only thing I noted absent were the very early, reduced stoneware domestic vessels that I have seen occasionally in private collections, but they do not fit this show anyway. This exhibition covers early, pre RCA work with the text-bearing ‘Nixon and Laird’ and ‘Love Potion’ bottles, the pastel hued glazed and agate bottles he made on return from London for a show at New Vision that stunned many of us ( there were no commercial colorants available here in the mid-late 70s!) along with samples from many other of his series – the evilly coloured and textured ‘hobby’ ceramics glazes, the marvelously pitted cratered glazes (I bought a large turquoise one for the Dowse collection), the departure to hand-building with the lattice bowls and the revelation of his self-deprecating humor with the ‘fake’ series (which I loved!) and the fun and importance of his Vortex Ware and much, much more. It’s all here and amazingly most exhibits are drawn from his own collection. It’s a pleasurable re-visit to an oeuvre that has maintained clear parameters yet shown infinite variation within those applied precincts of form and function. There is a beautifully produced book accompanying the exhibition that contains useful and informative essays by a variety of good writers, excellent design and images and modestly sized (in comparison with other recent publications), at 143 pages. This show is touring to other galleries – Te Papa is next. Don’t miss it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lex Dawson

I just read that old friend to all, Lex Dawson, died a day or two ago. Many will know that he had suffered a number of debilitating health issues over recent years and these eroded his ability to keep up with pottery occasions. However the welcome was still warm if one ventured to his nearby home in Onehunga.

A long time potter, Lex was a member of both Twelve Potters and The Potters Arms retail co-operatives and a former Director of the Auckland Studio Potter’s Centre. He taught many at both the Centre and in his long-term role as teacher with Carrington Polytechnic (he was first pottery course leader there and brought in Andrew Van der Putten and me as initial teachers for wheel work and hand-building), then was Assistant to Sally Vincent’s regime there and later in various roles once Carrington became Unitec.

Lex was well known throughout pottery circles up and down New Zealand for his bluff, good-natured warmth of manner and always supportive way of being with those less proficient than he.

Lex liked his pottery casual and relaxed but superbly functional and received a Commendation in the Fletcher Awards. With Greer Twiss he selected the ASP annual show for Auckland Museum and served actively on the ASP committee for many years.

Sincere Sympathies to Jill, Jack and Beth.

The funeral to which all are invited is on Wednesday 30th at 11am at the Mangere Lawn Cemetery, and following Big Day Out any gathered there around the fire can join in for sausages and a remembrance toast to Lex at the conclusion at 4-30pm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review

ETCHED IN FIRE

Chester Nealie 

Edited by Damian Skinner, with contributions by – Grace Cochrane, Morag Fraser, Andrew Grigg, Lucy Hammonds, Peter Lange, Denis O’Connor, Gillian McCracken, Justine Olsen, Owen Rye and biographical notes from Jan Irvine-Nealie.

Ron Sang Publications, 2016.

This is a heavyweight thumper of a book that can never be a bed-time read. It’s a sit up straight in a well supported chair book with over 300 pages – high quality, glossy, large format, with nine essays, several dozens of illustrations – some biographical but mainly of pots all made by Nealie, four interviews by the editor with the subject, extensive biographical notes and curricula vitae. Then there are luxurious addenda such as inserts of richly coloured substantial card (in bush green, ochre yellow, iron red and clay grey) embossed with scallop shell pattern, marking each of the four sections (on Making, Firing, Exhibiting and Owning) and further clusters of inserts, again differing in scale, colour, texture and weight to the main text paper and to the section entree type, with Nealie’s drawings of pots – sketchy, linear and lightly water-coloured here and there, with notations on, perhaps, kiln position or the clay used or planned for, or a pot spotted somewhere, and there are end-papers of great heft illustrated with fossil imagery. And, of course, hard covers. It all adds up to extraordinary production values and makes it probably the most sumptuous book on a potter yet produced in this country. The only addenda not included are a dust cover or slip case and maybe watermarks.

Photography of the work is uniformly excellent in spite of it being carried out by a number of different photographers each with their own style. The methods vary from the clear-cut ‘floating in space’ approach that I enjoy least, to the well-grounded as a pot should, and must, be, set weightily upon a surface so that its heft can be assessed visually. All photographers, however, have successfully captured the haptic qualities and surface diversity so evident in Nealie’s work and toward which he clearly invests much consideration and energy, as evidenced by reading some of the essay texts, particularly the editor’s interviews. The range of surfaces is spectacular and illustrates what must approach an almost complete compendium of what is possible with a small, select bunch of carefully edited glazes, a wood-fired kiln and skilled, experienced, stacking and firing.

Other photography documents a variety of subjects such as various kilns, pottery studios, working situations, exhibitions, landscapes, domestic interiors, and social occasions. These too are, in the main, excellently reproduced, considering the means of capture could range from a Box Brownie and real film negatives through to a cell-phone, when the time-span is taken into consideration. They serve their purpose well. A few have not survived the enlargement to full double page and needed use on a smaller scale, as they are far from crisply in focus. There must be reasons that escaped me as to why that scale was necessary for the information those images presented. But considering that it is a large book with so many images, those exemplary production values are on continuum.

It took me a while to work my way through all nine essays, four interviews and the biographical pages, but I did it in the end.  As you’d expect, they are a mixed bag and value to readers will vary depending upon interests and so reactions will be individual.

I enjoyed best the comments along with the occasional revelation offered by some of his old friends or colleagues who wrote with respect, humour and honesty. Most are probably familiar with the extroverted public side of Chester that irrepressibly comes to the fore before an audience, but here we are sometimes offered some avenues into the private man, whose interests are broad and collecting habits diverse and who can bring all those concerns into play in his pots’ surfaces, or at least make analogies that imply cogent links. This is also something he talks of in detail in his interviews with the editor. These lengthy passages on his work and firing indicate his primary interest to be surface. His perceptions and judgements with their subsequent actions, from the form of, and addenda to, his pots to the choices of slip and glaze along with which wood to be utilised, and when, through to treatment of post-firing unsatisfactory patches (which never occurred to me before as I’d always imagined a liberal dab of asceticism in the wood-firing processes) signify that it is this final aesthetic to which his attentions are mainly directed. The results generously underline this focus as attested by the many remarkably handsome pots illustrated.

Other essays that substantially engaged this reader were those under the banner of ‘Owning’, and here I learned something of Australian collections and their foci together with some thought-provoking discourse around display and audience experience. I was further beguiled by one man’s journey from chimney pots and drainage pipes moving steadily through to acquiring contemporary work in clay. Both essays read sincerely and record candidly the writers’ personal responses to encounters with Nealie’s pots along with some of the considerations and situations around them.

They contrast with some other tracts that read as detached and uninvolved and more as records of events made consequential to information received rather than any first-hand association or personal involvement. A third party viewpoint can be useful particularly if it’s also analytical. But this is largely lacking. I’d have interest in some interpretation of some of Nealie’s major exhibitions. As example, in his principal venture into work outside the vessel, the text reports his disappointment with the, “very little reaction”, to his exhibits generated from the expedition to the Auckland Islands and shown in the subsequent travelling group exhibition, ‘Art in the Subantarctic’. The minimal response, “definitely put me off”, presumably his doing more in that vein. “It was strange. The work sort of became dead”. His recounts of his readings and research on, and various adventures in, the Auckland Islands are most engaging; some of it enthralling. Then he describes his subsequent work and process in detail. But a broader viewpoint on the exhibition is not there. Surely there were, at least, newspaper and art magazine reviews about the exhibition? This was a large scale, multi-artist, well-funded venture that was seen in major venues up and down the country. More was required to help understand that, “very little reaction”.

There has been a mountain of work and effort contributed to this publication. Record must be made of the stalwart task undertaken by Jan Irvine-Nealie who compiled the extensive biographical notes and lists and further researched in support of various texts, as acknowledged by the editor – a mammoth task clearly accomplished meticulously. Along with the book design and values it’s impressive and contains every fact you ever wanted to know about Chester Nealie. Record should also be made of the mutable team that supported production of this book which has been in preparation over a prolonged period. Funding issues, movement of key players, changing team members, retiring publishers, replacement designers and such complicating issues all have affected the length of time it has taken for this publication to come to fruition. Getting a book, particularly a large complex one as this is, into production is a multifarious mission and all who furnished time and effort can take tribute for a task well completed. It’s not easy to tell but it seems likely that it’s been the vision of Chester and Jan Nealie which has been the constant and driving factor for this lengthy process. But all who supported also deserve accolades for a job well done.

So, does this book tap into and crack the Nealie code? Not really. That’s not what this book is designed to do. It’s an encyclopaedic celebration of the career of a man who found making pots more engaging than teaching; who began during the absolute dominance of the Anglo-oriental ethos in NZ ceramics and then discovered that the Oriental, with its particular potential for exploration, to be the most appealing part of that for him. From this developed a fascination for wood-firing with its culture, particularly the Japanese anagama approaches and their historical, aesthetic and romantic appeal for someone with his individual blend of background elements and talents. The diverse surface effects that can enliven an intelligently restricted range of pot forms are considered, pursued and explored in great depth and with myriad variations, until his expertise, within this discrete spectrum of ceramic expression, surpasses most. And it’s been under development for more than fifty years with a number of great adventures on the way. The personal is largely unseen and insights remain indistinct. So, this is a commemoration, not an interpretation.

This large, well designed and handsome tome is available from the Chester Nealie Book Committee – suggest, if you love his pots or have interest in wood-firing that you be in contact with Trien at the ASP or contact Masterworks Gallery for your copy. Cost $95.00 per.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

odds and ends

I have notice from Mino, Japan with their information on entry into their 11th International Ceramics Competition next year. Selection is lengthy and a tad complicated but it starts soon. First, if interested, download the info form from www.icfmino.com and fill out to register. You’ll need images- of you (headshot) up to 1MB. Then, 3 images of the work up to 2MB. You’ll need a statement…either with registration or else accompanying the work at final stage if you get that far. This to be UP TO 100 characters only and will be rejected if over.

Deadline is January 10, 2017….so not long! They request that the work be not larger than 4 cu.m in volume and not greater than 4m. high. Ha!

Be aware that ALL shipping expenses are now the responsibility of the entrant. (They used to pay to get the work there to Japan but no longer) Be aware also that it is more expensive to get work from Japan than to send to Japan. Be aware also that should they deem that the work is not the same as the image submitted they will return the work, with no other notice, to you freight forward. First you’ll know is a knock on the door by a FedEx courier with your work tucked under his arm and a bill in his hand. Read Ivan Albrecht’s account of his experiences for the last one in Ceramics Art and Perception – check index to find.

On the plus side, you are eligible to win a Grand Prize of 10 million yen, or 1 million yen for the Gold Award or lesser amounts for each of the other 14 awards (all prizes are also subject to tax before you get it) and all award entries become the property of the competition organisers until 2019 (when presumably you can have it returned at your expense) while the two main awards are kept by the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu. There is no mention of payment for the works so presumably the Awards are considered acquisitional.

However, even if you just get accepted for the exhibition you will get an Honorable Mention certificate and be in the always splendiferous catalogue. (The Japanese often do this better than anyone else…)

They have reduced the number of judges from the former ten for each category (Design/Art) to seven for all categories. That alone is a vast improvement for an Asian competition as massive judging panels are de rigueur generally and this is probably budgetary as judges fees were very high but that was when the Japanese economy was robust… alas…

They state that no information is available to the panel during judging (name /country /CV etc). Which brings it into line with what happens in most of the world. It’s a standard that the Fletcher Challenge Awards set many years ago. We were the first to institute that and it always stood us in good stead and meant even new grads were prepared to go to the expense of entering. Judging is in the usual two stages (used to be actual work and in one stage, but that has had to be wiped due to pressure internationally and inconvenience of sending work so far on spec and returning it). Even in Japan in a traditional ceramics area the available voluntary help is just not so prevalent these days.

For those maybe travelling that far, the exhibition will open in 15th September 2017 through to October 22nd in Mino which is easily accessible via train from Tokyo.

Good Luck!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

More on Yarrobil and Gulgong…

The latest Yarrobil issue is out and I have to say it’s one that gave me great pleasure to read. Much of the issue centres upon the last Gulgong event with 14 pages on the Kiwi contingent alone – pics of activities and poetry from Jim Cooper and Chuck Joseph plus some text from moi – my blog piece edited here and there for international comprehension. Then there are texts on Keith Brymer-Jones, a lovely meditation by writer John Hughes on Beth Cavener and pages on, and by, many of the ‘masters’ who were gathered there, Torbjorn Kvasbo, (Nway), Alessandro Gallo, (Italy), Akira Satake, (Jpn), Alexandra Engelfreit, (Nland), Rafa Perez, (Spn), Pete Callas (USA), Merran Esson, (Oz), Ian Jones (Oz) and Paul Davis, (Oz). Finally there are several pages with extracts from Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio’s dual keynote speech and I include some quotations of my own, at the end of this piece, taken from that speech that are well worth pondering….

Content not on the Gulgong event includes three texts about the late, great American ceramist, of neo-expressionist, playful and wilful oeuvre, Kirk Mangus, who, some of the Kiwi party to China, back in 2007, met in Jingdezhen at the Pottery Workshop when Takeshi was Director. Kirk was there with his son and was an engaging guest there with views on an anti-formalist way of approaching vessels of every kind, whether toward some dreamed up function or of the presence of some being. I remember well a couple of good conversations with him. It was Mangus who was largely responsible for the revival of wood-firing anagama kilns in the USA while head of ceramics at Ohio’s Kent State University (yes, that Kent State), although he did not use the effects as they are today largely used. That wasn’t his interest. His untimely death was a couple of years ago and it has been suggested that, “Anyone who is wood-firing today was influenced by Kirk”. And this issue contains yet more… It’s a splendid issue with lots to think over and learn (although not a glaze recipe in sight!!!!) Go get a copy. Better, take a subscription….

Now for those excerpts from Garth and Mark’s talk interspersed with my own remarks….

In reference to a rejection by mainstream art, clay culture erected what Garth Clark called, “Fortress Ceramica” . This label he used at a conference in Portland and at the Australian National Conference in Brisbane in2006, where I was also presenting and chairing a panel. “Fortress Ceramica” was (and is) a citadel that is almost completely autonomous culturally with its own museums, exhibiting venues, member societies, journals, writers, historians and critics’. We occupy our own exclusive little world. How true!

Garth stated that ‘Clay Gulgong is an outpost of the Fortress and reminds us of everything good about our community; the warmth, friendship, nurturing spirit and the hospitality. And one receives this welcome at every fortress around the world. It’s the best passport to hold. And it’s unique to us. Imagine this group as a gathering of painters if you dare, it would be as carefree and loving as an episode of Game of Thrones, a writhing serpent of ego, paranoia, and sociopathic ambition, perverted sex and death’. Again, how true!

‘The fortress also contains our weaknesses. Xenophobia, a fascination with process over aesthetics, a reluctance to be fully contemporary and a paucity of criticism. This puts it at risk’. Yes!

Another theme they commented on was the current interest by mainstream art in anything ceramic. ‘We waged war for 30 years from our gallery on 57th street for ceramics to be accepted as art and at least we weakened the walls. But we were amazed at the speed at which the walls fell after we closed in 2008. Suddenly the pace of acceptance quickened and the walls came down. Seemingly overnight ceramics became, as Roberta Smith, chief art critic for the New York Times, terms it, “the new video” and the medium of the moment.

Some in the ceramics community feared this takeover. Would they treat ceramics just as a material, not as the richly layered discipline it is with an amazing 15,000 year history and an atavistic, humanist vernacular? Would ceramists be excluded – from this new interest? Maybe they would only show ceramics from their own, non-specialist, art stars. And maybe they would dismiss the vessel as an outdated craft relic?

None of this has happened yet. As far as answered prayers go, this has been largely positive except for the art world’s wannabee ceramists who are barely at adult education level. What this means though is that ceramic art and The Fortress are irrevocably separated. We, the ceramic community, no longer have any say, or influence, in what is defined in our world as ceramic art.’

So it went, Garth and Mark delivered many a barb along with some measures of anodyne. It was pause for thought time really. For the full bunch of extracts you need to get the magazine (only $20) or Garth Clark’s booklet called, “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts” published by The Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009 and US$9 on Lulu but it can also be fully downloaded via Google and Adobe Reader PDF, but really , you should all own your own copy. I bought my copy at the time and have lifted it down from the shelf many times in the nearly ten years it has been sitting there – it’s worth it even if you don’t agree with every word. And I still don’t.

However, at this stage the pair intend also being at the next Gulgong in 2018, bringing a large contingent of Americans with them, so maybe plan to attend and hear it all, plus updates, for yourself? (I hear once it was announced the town is almost already booked out for rooms, but it’s possible to stay nearby in Mudgee, if you act fast).

I have been invited to again bring a bunch of Kiwis along to make and mix, and this time I think it will probably be mainly girls to see how they do against the boys’ (and Lauren’s) splendid showing this last time. If interested do be in touch (even if you’re a boy), maybe with some pictures if I don’t know your work, or you think I don’t. You must be prepared to be a team player, support others and work together as well as strut your own stuff very well, but I’m confident the girls can do this at least as well as the boys. The beds for this group are already booked so I understand. My job will be to put the best Kiwi foot forward that we can muster. CNZ will again be requested to cover basic expenses.

With the official Australian Ceramics conference currently hamstrung by severe reductions in official finance resulting, at the last one (Canberra 2015), in few internationals and those principally funded by their own various resources, not Australia’s. The Gulgong event, privately endowed and with its multiplicity of international guests, will perhaps be the destination of choice for Kiwis. I have gone to the Australian conference since the very early 1990s, missing only one I think, as it was always bigger and with multiple platforms for listening and learning no matter your level, plus many internationals – they were wonderful conferences, and I hope they revive, but right now, with uncertainty surrounding the Oz event’s future, as last I heard, Gulgong looks to be a heap more engaging, and with the introduction of a greater mix of platforms including some panels and papers and events (and still not a glaze recipe in sight!) it makes a far more interesting option than our own national gathering. In my view. It’s a week of full indulgence in clay culture with a great mix of participants. The locals are friendly and it’s not too hard on the brain…. yet.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Problem with Clay?

There seems to be some consternation around problems with current clay bodies available. I don’t know, but here’s John Lawrence’s assessment….

In 1963 Ann Verdcourt and I were senior lecturers in ceramics on the 5th floor of Luton Art School, England. We were struggling with about 300 students per week, anaemic clay and commercial colours and Russia threatening to eliminate us. We read an article on NZ pottery by Helen Mason and within months were winging our way to NZ with two small children.

We had been told that the school had a pottery department but all there was was a hut with no water or tables. We ordered a pile of Crum clay and waited for our first class of students – mostly ladies. Whatever their expectations they were confronted with the task of wedging a mass of dry materials into the wet Crum…they loved it!

Later after reasonable success with this, a young geological student turned up with a box of dry white materials. I tested this but I had no experience of clay in the raw and was not impressed until I saw the line of potters waiting to dig the clay on a nearby hill side. With an auger of some 8 meters I bored into the hill from the bottom of a 2 metre pit….the white clay went on and on.

From then on things moved fast, within a month or so there was a registered company entitled ‘Taruaru (Tararua?) Minerals’. . A lot more could be said about the progress of the company, some very amusing. It does not exist today.

However, most of the potters using the clay had piles of cracked bisquit behind their sheds showing that something was needed. With the help of Michael Cardew’s book ‘Pioneer Pottery’ this was worked out.

Now in my 86th year I have not returned to the hill for some 20 years, it is today a dairy farm sitting on top of millions of tonnes of the nicest clay I have ever used. There are several large deposits of the same clay in the North Island.

Ann recently bought 3 large amounts of ‘paperclay’. All the OZ ‘paperclay’ has different labels but it is all similar, = crap! I know what the problem is as we were some of the first to make it here. It is very easy to make.

The first two she discarded together with1 tonne of other PZ clay. She is now ‘trying’ to use the 3rd lot. What the hell do we do with it? I have not got the strength now to do too much. I think the ‘paperclay’ could work if mixed equal with non ‘paper’ clay I will try that.

If I was not 80+ years old I would be back in the hills of Pahiatua digging some of the 8 million tonnes of near white clay and making it into paperclay. I made a small amount last week and it was very good. We used that Pahiatua clay for everything for 10 years as did a lot of NZ potters.

With great respect Paul (Pepworth) is not a clay man I tried to get him interested in some of my recipes, he is brilliant otherwise, and there are a lot of people that could help; who know more than I do. Pahiatua Clay have just been refused funding.

John Lawrence.

<rosevilla@actrix.co.nz>

Now John did not explain further about the funding failure so I’m not sure what that part is about but if anyone has any comments please add here and if you have something more to say maybe write to John – he has the knowledge and is always happy to be helpful if he can.

We’ll await with bated breath to see if more can develop from all this. The Lawrence/Verdcourt household would be most interested as would many others as clay seems to be a hot topic these days.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

On Gulong

The Gulgong Experience… by a group who have never undergone it previously… The group consisted of Lauren Winstone, Brendan Adams, Jim Cooper, Steve Fullmer, Chuck Joseph and Matt McLean. We were to participate in the week’s events, make a joint work and take finished work along for an exhibition in a Gulgong venue and later at Mansfield Gallery, Darlinghurst, Sydney. That will open late this month. The exhibition consisted of what fitted in our suitcases.

The Gulgong is something of an Antipodean phenomenon, a bunch of invited offshore ‘masters’, (Usually from the northern hemisphere) working and demonstrating alongside another bunch of the homegrown and further assorted luminaries commenting, talking, observing and generally adding light to the proceedings and all interacting with the attending delegates – about 500 in capacity. It’s the longest ceramics event, of its type, anywhere in the world – not that there are many – and a quite unique experience.

This event pretty well takes over the small country town of Gulgong, a former gold mining, then clay mining, centre and now a supply town servicing local farms. It has gained some reputation as poet Henry Lawson’s base and that it is the only town featured in image on an Ozzie bank note. It seems that for much of the year it’s pretty quiet but when the clay festival comes to town, the joint jumps as several hundred clay folk take over restaurants, pubs and breakfast shops and add to the economies of supermarkets, antique and junk retailers and bus operators. Sleepy Hollow to Metropolis for a single week is quite an adjustment.

IMG_2664

scenes from Gulong

IMG_2706

scenes from Gulong

IMG_2707

scenes from Gulong

However the locals stay friendly and welcoming throughout and the visitors re-discover pleasures from their bygones such as pub evenings of gathered musical and poetic offerings – nothing glitzy but all very competent and thoroughly enjoyable as venerable, improvised and home-made instruments are plunked, strummed, plucked, tapped and drummed to some old, almost forgotten, tunes interspersed with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson verse by an assortment of locals. What a find! And it was not at all for our benefit, we simply stumbled upon a regular fortnightly gathering and they didn’t care if we were there, or not. It was a great, nostalgic, treat.

As for the event itself, it takes place on large grassy and treed grounds up a hill at the edge of the commercial area of town and mainly is housed in large marquees while the evening events take place in the town centre – mainly in the ‘Opera House’ although dancing in the street was encouraged on the first night accompanied by a lively band.

Each day all the masters and the Kiwi artist contingent set to work for a minimum of two hours each morning and afternoon. Here the Kiwis did us proud by putting in extra time at the outset so that Matt Mclean’s large grounding work was safely underway. Co-operation and guidance paid off handsomely here. After a couple of days each got on with their own contributions to the joint work which had a theme of migration.

IMG_2649

IMG_2617

team helps towards Matt’s large work

IMG_2622

team helps towards Matt’s large work

IMG_2635

team helps towards Matt’s large work

IMG_2807

team helps towards Matt’s large work

IMG_2818

cut into sections now drying in the sun

 

 

IMG_2757

Steve Fullmer

 

 

IMG_2825

Jim Cooper made a small army

Every day was filled with work and also with stopping for a while so as to observe the other demonstrators. There was great riches here with international artists of an exceptionally high calibre, in fact some of the best to be found anywhere with Torbjorn Kvasbo (Norway), Beth Cavener (USA), Rafa Perez (Spain) Alessadro Gallo (Italy), Alexandra Engelfriet (Netherlands), Jack Troy, John Neely and Pete Callas (USA) , Akira Satake (Japan) and Keith Brymer-Jones (UK) and one of the judges/commentators for the recent UK TV series on pottery. The ‘locals’ were also good value and included the tried and true such as Owen Rye and Merran Esson to some I had not met earlier like Paul Davis, Simon Reece and Ian Jones but all had something to offer.

Most luminous of the luminaries was probably Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio from USA and C-Files but there were various writers and academics adding their bits here and there and Marta Donaghy, manager of the CPA shop in London – who brought a British exhibition. This had some fine work by Walter Keeler.

IMG_2671

Walter Keeler

IMG_2672

Tanya Gomez

IMG_2689

Lara Scobie

(remember her highly textured boat forms that won FCCA back in 1992?) Well this is current work.

and more whose names I missed

IMG_2675

IMG_2677

IMG_2687

IMG_2695

(apologies for poor focus) and more. But like ours, generally small scale.

There was a Trade Marquee with, along with the coffee machine, the latest in kilns, pug mills, tools and ready- made all sorts available and a book and magazine section plus a section where visiting delegates could sell work which was simply laid out on trestles with honesty boxes of all sorts and names scrawled on the butcher’s paper background. Seemed to work just fine and I snaffled a small group of Tasmanian, Neil Hoffman’s subtly altered salt-glazed bowls.

And so it went, work all day interspersed with observation stints with various masters or working breakfasts and business lunches then heading to one of the many venues around town for an opening of an exhibition, and by about 5pm wander down from the hill to the Opera House to hear a presentation of work, a film, a discussion, a panel session or a talk on some issue. There were always several of these each evening. It was full-on every hour of the day.

Some of the highlights were…

Before we left Sydney for Gulgong, we all visited the Grayson Perry exhibition at MOCA Gallery. This was a huge show covering mainly his ceramics but also tapestries and iron sculptures. Most valuable, apart from seeing it up close and personal instead of with four corners on a screen or page, was the movie showing him at work. I have read of his regret that these days his ‘making’ is “too perfect” and that he chose clay because of its “happy amateur and naf status”. However the film (speeded up as it was), clearly showed him using a wooden profile and speed surforming the surface. That’s the main way you get perfection of form when hand-building, so I wonder about the lamentation?

Then, Jim, Lauren and I took the tram out to Leichardt and the Gallery NSW off-site storage facility. I had arranged to see Justin Paton’s recent purchase of four Ron Nagle works, and very fine they are. Unfortunately while I could photograph them I am not permitted to publish the images. However, this is probably the first ceramics purchase of contemporary ceramics (I am told since the 1950s) in recent times. Amazing what a starring role for the USA at the Venice Biennale can do for your status, prices and the collections in which you can be found.

At the Gallery of NSW as part of the 20th Art Biennale there was a clay slip plastered room by Taro Shinoda (Japan) that was best viewed from a tatami mat covered platform projected into the space. Not new but again process in slow motion.

IMG_2591

IMG_2586

IMG_2589

Initial VIP welcome evening at the Mansfield farm, Morning View, where the NZ contingent were included and we met the other guests and visitors. It was nice getting reacquainted with many of the guests and meeting some previously unknown. Great hospitality by the Mansfield Family. Gorgeous countryside and kangaroos, cockatoos and rosellas.

The great turnout for the opening of the NZ show – I counted about 100 squeezed in to our small shop (completely empty shop that is to be turned into a museum)and spilled onto the pavement and the road outside. Garth Clark had insisted that he and Mark open the show and they did us proud. The small exhibition looked fine and thanks must go to two partners who came along – Robin Fullmer and Louise Rive – who worked hard setting it all up. With inspired window décor “pots from a suitcase” (by Louise) over the next two days about 350 folk walked in the door to look at the work, check the documentation and chat with the minders.

IMG_2703

.Our gallery with Greatest Work in the World… 

IMG_2719

… and our preparations with welcome advice from John Parker.

 

 

IMG_2710

IMG_2716

IMG_2711

IMG_2723

IMG_2726

The Brits, the Japanese and we made representative exhibitions. Other shows were from a variety of groups including the ‘Masters’, the woodfirers, just friends and others. Shows were all over town in every conceivable space.

Torbjorn Kvasbo’s talk recounting his career which included each of his Fletcher entries and his work for my show in Taiwan. It was inspiring stuff and in my view cemented his place in the top level of current makers anywhere.

Keith Brymer-Jones was a real find He first came to attention dressed in drag and singing as he threw, in a u-tube clip on C-Files. He gained further traction as, along with Kate Malone, he was on weekly British TV as part of The Great Pottery Throw-down. Trained in a British commercial pottery he could throw porcelain like it was a soft toothy stoneware…. Four pulls and he had a substantial 25cm bowl, two swipes inside gave form and then he just cut it off and casually set it to one side and got on with the next – pretty impressive. He was great fun but at the same time was humble in the company of some of the masters there and gave full thanks for his commercial throwing training as opposed to an art school. He talked of throwing 1000 cups a week. He now gets all made by small potteries in China and visits them regularly. His outlets are UK and European design retailers such as Heals and Conran Group.

IMG_2801

IMG_2662

IMG_2647

Unconcerned re thin ozone layers!

The Spaniard, Rafa Perez who cut and sliced and layered a variety of clays then began a stressing process that would be completed by the kiln upon firing. It was work only about the material and its processes and the sort of thing that only those involved in ceramics at making level could ‘get’ on first encounter. I loved his pieces in the ‘Masters’ show.

IMG_2734IMG_2790IMG_2735

IMG_2770

IMG_2772

Merran Esson, recently retired head of ceramics at the National Art School, Sydney, made some striking and large scale vessels redolent of those corrugated iron structures seen corroding away in country landscapes, in stunning and evocative glaze colours.

IMG_2796

IMG_2743

IMG_2744

Beth Cavener brought her small child along and there was no shortage of carers. She made a Hare caught in a wire that, despite its scale, was very animated.

IMG_2832

IMG_2839

Amazing to hear that when dryer, it would be cut into small sections and each section hollowed to a meticulously even thickness before firing, then reassembled and painted. She completes two or three only, each year.

The last day out at Morning View Farm was one of celebration, picnics on the ‘lawn’ and Alexandra Engelfreit very physically coming to grips with a wall of clay and a ‘fashion parade’ with clay costumes modeled by competing teams. A delight was Janet Mansfiled’s own collection of pieces acquired over years – mainly wood-fired but samples of almost everything in its own museum building.

IMG_2864

the JM museum collection

 

That almost needed its own half day along with the library. Some details…

IMG_2867

IMG_2870

IMG_2877

IMG_2882

IMG_2890

IMG_2901

There was more, much more, far more than can be covered here. Best answer is to go yourself next time and take full part in the week. It’s a grand thing to have such an international event so close at hand, and all in English!

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized