Odds and Ends

TWO BOOKS

With the recent visit of Tanya Harrod I was moved to obtain her earlier book, The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century and, as for her book on Cardew, I am singularly impressed with the scholarship, the breadth and the voluminous, easy to read text that, within its lively pages examines the wider cultural context that shaped the development of the crafts movement from which we in New Zealand took so much leadership over the last century.

I haven’t yet read it all of course; there are nearly 500 pages and over 500 illustrations between the cloth-bound, large format covers. It’s so heavy that, like The Last Sane Man on Cardew , it is beyond bedtime reading unless well propped with pillows, sandwiches and a glass of milk and beyond popping into the bag for an in-flight read on a long plane trip. But again, like the Cardew book, it’s a ten year, tour de force for its erudition, research and good humour. She never loses a firm grip on the important threads running through the principal crafts like ceramics, jewellery, furniture and, for much of the century, weaving and textiles. But she also picks up on some very British craft practices that we simply do, and did, not have here except, occasionally, a lone practitioner here and there. Crafts like lettering, book-binding, wall-paper block printing , blacksmithing and tile murals for stations on underground services. There will be more once I sit to read in full, I’m sure.

There is much that has relevance for us such as images of Harry Davis at the wheel (which elegance I vividly recall) raising money here for his Peruvian venture. Then there are mentions of New Zealanders who had a part to play for British crafts, and ceramics in particular, like Kenneth Clark, who had interesting things to say on our art education, and lack of it, when visiting back here, and particularly the charismatic Central School teacher, William Newland, who gleefully opposed Leach’s dictums as leader of the ‘Picassettes’, and who kept a low profile when he visited ‘home’. The inception, rise and (almost) fall of the Crafts organisations are also thoroughly charted with timely information for where we ourselves are now. But Harrod’s fluid writing style never allows this to become a slog.

This is a monumental achievement, generous, scholarly and readable, a visual and textual treasure trove that raises good questions, tells good stories and celebrates great crafts. It deserves to be in every specialist library and costs only about $70 from Abe books.

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There is another publication newly available, ‘One Hundred Vases for Helen’, and this accompanies an exhibition of the same name at Masterworks. This is no all-encompassing history but a paean to one of our mid-century generation of pioneer potters, the late Helen Mason who died a year ago at the grand age of 99 after a lifetime devoted to the studio pottery movement and all who went under that banner. Helen learned her pottery in the 1950’s and ‘60’s absorbing the Anglo-oriental, modifying that with our down-under ethos on locality of materials and aesthetic grounded in nature and landscape which indigenised our way with clay. She stayed with those principals of making for the rest of her days working with spontaneity and enthusiasm. Her generosity was legendary as was her infectious zest for life. The cover of this publication is a wonderful image, by Gil Hanly, that encapsulates all of these attributes.

Inside are two texts about her, one written by Barry Brickell who knew her well and appreciated her gifts, another by Brian Wood which chronicles some of her life in a less personal way but with assistance from Helen’s daughter, Julia. Both texts could have done with an editorial eye as Brickell’s includes ‘facts’ like Pat Perrin went to pottery classes in Hutt Valley with Mason. Not. And Wood writes of Helen’s use of tree stumps as display furniture as a change to the standard of the time – the white plinth. Again, not. The standard of the time was wooden planks supported on concrete blocks. The tree stumps were simply a part of those ‘natural’ mores. Just see any image from the period in old copies of the NZ Potter. White plinths took quite a bit longer and only came about accompanying the shift away from a steady diet of domestic ware toward ceramics being presented as ‘art’.

What is a fine aid, again with the help of Helen’s daughter, is a timeline which not only marks milestones in Helen’s life but forms a useful checklist here and there for ceramics events of note. Helen lived through a lot in those 99 years. While the book mainly covers ground already enclosed by Helen Mason’s own publication of some years back it draws together a variety of others’ views on her considerable contributions to clay culture and inter-cultural connections in New Zealand in the 20th Century. She was the essence of the think globally, act locally, ethos.

There are reminiscences on a variety of encounters with Helen from each of the 20 exhibitors of 100 Vases for Helen, some heartfelt and deeply private, others confessing she was known to them only by reputation until very recently, still others wrote more obliquely. It makes a revealing read.

Then there was the exhibition. One hundred vases. Well, nearly one hundred. Some interpretations of ‘vase’ were fairly broad. A couple of voluminous containers had small openings and lids. Others were unglazed earthenware so their water holding properties warrant testing. While there was a corner of chromatic and stylistic harmony from Ann Verdcourt, John Lawrence and Barbara Skelton offering some colourful lift, the overwhelming feel of the show is a revisit of the sixties (in some instances via pots actually from the era). For many present this was cause for celebration, for others, still in recovery from the sea of tenmoku, tessha and greyish, brownish gleam, reason to reach for the smelling salts. The display furniture, grey and vast and flat, did not work for this selection like it did in its earlier manifestation at Objectspace and the Uku Rere exhibition there. Exhibitions in the 1960s and ‘70s, with very similar exhibits to these, offered tighter spaces and there was lots of up and down-ing of different works on small individual box forms. Overwhelmingly, works were clustered, even crowded, together for mass effect rather than set out in separate splendour as today. This display failed to land in either camp but awkwardly straddled both.

Still, that was not what the exhibition was about. It was a great opening with faces not seen for a very long time having a wonderful time catching up, and a celebration of a fine and generous lady who was unstintingly supportive and positive, and whose joy in a long and productive life is encapsulated in the book’s cover image. Copies are available from Masterworks. $30.

Finally, thought you might enjoy this image, seen in a Californian branch of Toys r Us. What a clever girl that is! And all you need is 4x C batteries…

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batteries not included

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odds and ends

THE OZ CONFERENCE

Those who watched Takeshi Yasuda, late last year, may remember the very well paced, half hour, insightful film of his life in Jingdezhen, China. That was made by his UK based gallery, Goldmark. The owner/director of Goldmark Gallery was a keynote speaker at the Australian Triennial of Ceramics on July 9-12. All Keynote speakers were excellent. There was the UK craft historian, Tanya Harrod who followed the Aussie gig by being in New Zealand (just left)talking about her book on Cardew and other craft matters. There was Jacques Kaufmann, Swiss/French President of the International Academy of Ceramics and Mike Goldmark whose gallery (although he calls it, deliberately, ‘the shop’ , is probably currently the UK’s leading venue for ceramic exhibitions despite the fact that the Goldmark gallery is situated, not in London or some major city but in Uppingham. Where? I hear you ask. Uppingham, in the Midlands – smack in the middle of rural countryside and picture book villages to the east of Birmingham and before you get to Peterborough.

Mike Goldmark had the packed audience eating from his hand in very few minutes. Urbane, relaxed and articulate with no notes in sight he proved a superb raconteur. He made the following points as to why and what his ideas are.

His gallery already sold paintings and prints (names like Chagall, Matisse, Paolozzi, Matta, Klee, Kandinski and Duchamp and many more, less familiar). Then, he had been using hand-made pots himself for nearly 40 years but ten years ago he decided to add pots (not ceramics) because he became aware of how badly many gallerists treated their potters (he actually said England had a lousy set of ceramic retailers) and determined that the best thing he could do was sell as many as possible for the potters. He was ‘not interested in making money but in selling pots’. He has, reputedly, achieved extraordinary results for those he represents but feels he has ‘not yet scratched the surface.’

He thinks the world needs ‘no more ornaments – there are already far too many’ – so he would sell only tableware. His potters include, Jim Malone, Svend Bayer, Mike Dodd, Phil Rogers and, a personal favourite – Jean-Nicolas Gerard from France as well as several Japanese, Koreans and Scandinavians.

He requests that all clients handle the pots. Everyone who enters gets a coffee and often a meal if they time their visit right.

He makes it a rule to give away at least a unomi/cup a week, preferably to a young onlooker and telling them that if they do not enjoy it to pass it on to someone else. In a world overloaded with the virtual and the mass produced, a ‘real’ unomi from which to drink was a learned and pleasurable experience, or should be. So, believing this, he makes it happen by starting the process.

He was ‘not interested in collectors’ but in people who love and wish to use pottery.

Instead of the usual 60/70 pots for an exhibition he asks for 200+ and requests the potter to make these the best he/she has ever made. He ‘did the maths’ and realised that shows confined to 65 pieces, on display for 2/3 weeks, equalled no money, or not enough, for artist or gallery.

He starts selling as soon as he unpacks rather than waiting for the opening. When told this was ‘pre-selling’ he calmly agrees, saying that selling as much as possible was only good for the artist.

He makes a catalogue at no cost to the artist for every show and usually also a film on the artist and his/her work. They are for sale online along with the gallery publications on artists and art. However if you purchase work these are gifted to you. In his view, too few galleries are generous to clients. He is very sure it pays – both artist and gallery – to be just that.

It certainly seemed a very popular approach in Canberra. He received thunderous applause that threatened to approach a standing ovation!

His gallery and the artists he represents are online – Goldmark.

Or Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham will encourage Mr Google to help.

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Ross M-A continues to steadily improve down there in the Hutt Rehab unit, according to news from there and Wanganui – thanks to Raewyn. This will be a long haul though. Any cards/letters c/o 90 Mortimer Tce Brooklyn Wellington please.

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The two talks by Tanya Harrod that I have heard recently were excellent. One in Canberra that was around the conference theme of Stepping Up and which roamed historical ceramics and cultural issues most engagingly, and the other, on Michael Cardew at Studio One in Ponsonby Road, to a packed audience, was a grand adjunct to her comprehensive book about this ceramic magus. Cardew has always puzzled me to an extent. He was a paradox. The grand pots, and we have a number of fine examples here in NZ made during his first visit and to be found in the collections particularly of art galleries like Dunedin’s, contrasted with his cavalier treatment of his wife and children who were, by his decree, condemned to a very austere (to say the least) existence. Or the esteem bestowed on him by all the people I ever talked with, who worked with him at Abuja or Winchcombe compared with his disdainful, dismissive attitudes to staunch and unswerving workmen like Sidney Tustin and Elijah Comfort, and yet he saw himself as democratic and counter-cultural! Harrod spared him not at all, yet her liking and acceptance for the man shone throughout her talk. It was erudite, exhaustively researched and delivered with grace and generosity. Ten years of research and writing condensed into an hour. Her selections of what to address was well considered. A tour de force and a privilege to hear.

I recently was a small part of an exercise by the American, Studio Potter magazine, currently easily one of the world’s very best in my view, where the new Editor, Elenor Wilson, asked a number of people to write a short critical article on the book, hoping that this review will enlighten a new generation (the one younger than me) of American potters about Cardew and his impact on ceramic culture everywhere’. The people asked included former apprentices, and workers plus writers like me from a variety of sources. I’m looking forward with great interest to my copy arriving to see what others made of this contradiction of a man.

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Tony Bacon’s critical article on the morphing of his “Domestic Ware Award” into, following removal of the word ‘functional’, a “Fire and Clay lite” exhibition and competition is a point in time and worth discussion. With enormous interest all around the world in new tableware this exhibition was neither fish nor fowl with not a lot that was different from what appears in the annual Fire and Clay show. What’s wrong with having two, very separate, public exhibitions instead of two where the only real difference was the venue, which incidentally was excellent with a good display that allowed ample space – very necessary for a show that wishes to be seen as an exhibition and not as another sale of work.   But there is nothing foolish about keeping the content very different from the show at Pah Homestead – usual venue for Fire and Clay these days. Surely it’s beneficial for the two shows to complement and counterpoint one another rather than look like two bites of the same cherry?

Then the Editor’s point about comparisons between usage values for a bottle form and a fruit bowl form is well made. Both are largely unusable as one could only keep fruit of a certain scale and surface tension contained while the other sits with those 19thC English wares that include cider flagons, puncheons and such bottle forms, which are more about profile than containment. Classifications in this day and age are a conundrum. There was little wrong with what was on show at Allpress Gallery and who knows what the instructions to the Selector/Judge were? But some fell into the category labelled ‘sculpture’ these days. They aren’t. It’s ornament or object and like Mr Goldmark says – far too much in the world. I too would like to see more teapots rather than pots about a teapot. Far too many of those also, and nothing new to say. Here are a few images from Oz taken a week or two back that caught my eye…

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all very functional but fresh to the eye for various reasons!

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Then the other big event; the national, NZ Potters Inc 50th at Auckland Museum. Again the same range of work – perhaps a bit more ‘sculpture’ that isn’t and more ornament that is, but what a dismal display! Surrounded by walls that carried images and information that had nothing whatsoever to do with the ceramics on display the Museum had supplied far too few vitrines so that the ceramics were fighting for a bit of breathing space. It seemed a bit like the vitrines, tightly packed with pots had been temporarily set down before being moved on to where they were meant to be. There were enough pots to make a good display, just not enough vitrines in which to display them. The vitrines themselves were given ample space so the exhibition looked OK on approach, however the vitrines were insufficient in number for the job. Cavalier treatment for a medium that had been a major draw-card for the place for many years.

In one vitrine Merilyn Wiseman’s akimbo-armed vase in dazzling Rinso white was about the only piece that seemed to defy the massively scaled vessel by Greg Barron that towered above it and all else. Everything else was cheek by jowl with often four exhibits in a case that required but one, or two at most. It all felt as though the museum just cleared a bit of their Auckland Stories exhibit for the ceramics and that all would be restored in a day or so. And so it came to pass, for a few days later I saw the space without the ceramics and all seemed to have returned to ‘normal’. It was possible to see what all the superfluous wall information was about once the ceramics had been removed (Auckland social history). Again whatever was instructed to the selector was cast to the wind by the seemingly capricious attitude of the Museum. What could be some good pieces here and there were unable to be seen in any kindly light. It was a sad display for the Society’s 50th.

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general view with Wiseman and Barron works plus two other exhibits

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Merilyn Wiseman (foreground) Greg Barron behind

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Louis Kittilson display. 

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general view with four exhibits.

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There is a flush of shows around town currently. Sadly I failed to get to ‘Beastly’ at Masterworks by Katherine Smythe as was away at the Oz Ceramics Triennale. This year it was a low budget affair in comparison with the many earlier events I have attended over the years. Seems Tony Abbot’s budget cuts are biting deep and his disdain for arts shines through. Best remark of the conference was from an aboriginal potter from Ernabella in the Narutjarra Homeland, south-east of Ayers Rock/Uluru who asked that someone please tell the Prime Minister that living in remote desert locations which need support and resources, is ‘not a lifestyle choice’.

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The window at Objectspace, holds some large scale works by Darren Keith, a recent graduate from Whitecliffe. Consisting mainly tapered forms, open at both ends, which, in their constructed surface details, suggest something industrial like a nose cone section from a piece of salvaged space junk or else something historical and architectural – maybe part of a Greek column where it expands to support a pediment or anchor to a wide base. They reminded me most of the work of American, Stephen Montgomery who makes massively scaled fictitious assemblages embodying industrial decay. But Mongomery’s work is trompe l’oeil with utterly convincing surfaces of decay and disintegration and the work by Keith is either too inexperienced to convey that convincingly or he wishes to deliberately retain some hand-made qualities and avoid the mimetic. Still, the pieces have a presence that few recent grads manage to communicate and where Keith travels from here will be of interest.

I do, however, hope he drops the habit of the overreaching statement that many Whitecliffe grads produce as there have been several in recent times who have achieved a showing in Objectspace’s window. While some statements are plain unintelligible, others confuse, seemingly deliberately so as to subdue any doubts by the reader and observer that this is serious art. Stuff like, ‘…integrate a visual dialogue between construction and fabrication’ (which are surely the same thing?), or ‘…reveal intimate visual memories connected through time, material process, which gives spirit to the selective memories and shapes of an object’. (Whaaaat?) or ‘… the ability to show and abstraction heightened and intense energy in an object or image to represent the original historical reference of a memory’ (jeeeeze…) or quotes dropped in from other artists which in the context, just don’t make sense, like, “’Rocks and angle grinders are a big part of my history and these pieces pay tribute to them.’ Peter Lange.” No context makes no sense.

The artist’s statement is a challenge. Making a good one can be easily as difficult as making the work. Too much euphuism is as problematic as too much ‘my inspiration…’ at the other end. Simple, short and shining clarity works best.

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Portage entries are due by Sunday, August 23rd. This year’s judge is Ingrid Murphy who is head of ceramics at the UK’s principal undergraduate teaching institution in Cardiff, Wales. She has extensive experience as a teacher and has received a number of awards for her teaching and for her personal work including a fellowship for Innovative Teaching, and Awards for Individual Practice, and Purchase prizes. One of her specialties is as I heard her talk last year in Dublin, as part of ‘The Future’ section of the International Academy of Ceramics Assembly. An exploration of change making technologies applied to traditional ceramic practice. Here is an opportunity to hear one of the best demonstrate and explain where ceramics might be heading, and why, or not. She is a National Adviser for the Arts Council of Wales and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy- UK, an External Examiner for B.A., M.A. and M.Phil at colleges in the UK and Supervisor of Research degrees to PhD level. She has articles in journals and magazines – Ceramics Art and Perception, La Ceramica, Neue Keramik, Ceramic Review and Ceramics Ireland. She is bringing a variety of talks with her so once opportunities are opened do get her to talk to your group if you can. I have a list of talks and their abstracts now. From my experience in Dublin last year I can promise a great deal of humour and guarantee that at the same time you will learn a lot and hear a lot that you never thought about before. Besides she is bringing a small portable 3D printer with her.

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MORE NEWS AND UPDATES

Update on Ross Michell-Anyon from the Wanganui Chronicle newspaper… with thanks to Raewyn. Ross is, apparently, improving every day – but it will be late September or early October before Ross goes home. Currently in the acquired brain injury rehabilitation centre in Porirua following a 12-metre fall on April 21, Ross’ wife, Bobbi, said the recovery would be slow but was under way. “He’s definitely making progress. He is staying awake longer but his condition still fluctuates a lot and he finds activity tiring”. Bobbi added that Ross was now able to feed himself and has been eating from his own pots.”He wasn’t able to swallow until probably several days ago, but he had Weetbix and milk and coffee for breakfast. When he can consume enough food to sustain his body, then the feeding tube will be removed.” “He’s very much still in an internal world. He doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know what’s happened.” But he is talking. “They’re fully formed words, but they don’t join together. We talk for a long time about all sorts of unusual things. He says to me sometimes, ‘Now what is the time, darling?’ He sort of thinks that he needs to be doing something but he can’t remember what.” He was able to laugh and smile. “The sense of humour is definitely there.” Bobbi said she would return home to Whanganui shortly but continue to visit her Ross at weekends. “It’s really early days, but from where he was, in a coma, until now is really good progress. He needs to just get on with getting better- and he’s got great support here.” So, clearly this is to be a long haul for Ross. Cards and notes to c/o 90 Mortimer Terrace, Brooklyn, Wellington.

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New Ceramics Magazine from Australia – called YARROBIL – yes I know, and neither do I. But the editorial says they are looking for contributions – intelligent, lively and accomplished, devoid of jargon but would be happy about irreverence or wittiness plus engaging and daring. They include the scholarly particularly if original and based on primary research although wish to avoid the artist writing about their work claiming a strong philosophical influence by a particular philosopher and you look at the work and it’s simply not happening… (right-on!). Reviews are welcome if clever, funny, irreverent and/or witty… so say the joint editors Neil and Bernadette Mansfield and with those aims they are not a lot different from any of the other ceramic magazines and journals currently available. I’m sure the editors of the NZ Potters variously labeled publications in their motley incarnations would not disagree. Anyway, just received my first copy and I have to say it’s a really propitious start. Almost square format, first-rate contemporary design of generous proportions with plenty of well managed white space, good production values with weighty matte paper and superb reproduction of images with a useful over-gloss – that adds depth. Additionally, it has almost 80 pages, few adverts and those all full-page so none of those ever smaller boxes within boxes, although there are a couple of ‘articles’ that are read more like infomercials. Content is almost exclusively Australian, at least for this first issue. But then, the first issue, (which I still have) of Ceramics Art and Perception was also largely Aussie. But that soon changed, and probably so will this. Before I go on, did you catch the names of the editors? Yes, this is a dynastic venture with not only Neil and Bernadette but also Josh, Charlie, Max and Siobhan of the Mansfield clan listed as on staff. Only the Creative Director sports another surname (Melissa Kallas)but maybe she was one and changed when she got married? I don’t know. Anyway, the entrepreneurial spirit of Janet clearly lives on. So too, it would appear, does her penchant for the effects of wood-firing and the Anglo-oriental philosophy, as work in this genre, and, one way or another, some close relatives, makes up much of the content of this initial issue. Further on content – they have pretty much nailed it as to their stated aims. The writing is varied in style from the poetic, to the analytical, to the meditative, to the joyously domestic, to ‘ficto-critical’, to the ruminative, and every word of it is worth reading. There is the tale of a family’s response to a work where the maker’s name is not mentioned, notes on journeying to Japan but about influences and observances not travelogue, engaging circumlocutions on what functional might actually mean if it’s not tableware, ponderings upon the intimacies of a change in country- and therefore materials- on work, a little on direct physical interaction with a massive quantity of clay and the process of surrendering, mentions of history, archaeology and entropy, information on celadon glaze and a lyrical series of apprehensions around some sculpture and more, much more. All pieces are short, amounting to about maybe an A4 page at most, if A4 pages were part of the picture here, to barely more than a couple of paras with an image. It’s lively, salient and I think the word is crisp. Furthermore it costs just $20 a copy. I shall get more as it’s different to my most favorite ceramic journal, the Studio Potter out of the USA. It’s not the read that the American bi-annual is but then, it costs less. They are chalk and cheese really and both highly recommended. Subscriptions can be obtained from editor@yarrowbil.com, or www.yarrobil.com or write to Mansfield Ceramics, 269 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, Sydney 2010, NSW, Australia. Jane Sawyer in Melbourne (WCC and Director of Slow Clay) is co-ordinating a specifically targeted appeal on behalf of the World Crafts Council – Australian Branch. Almost one year ago I visited Nepal for the first time. On the advice of a wise friend I took a “Go-Pack” in case there was an earthquake. What’s a Go-Pack, I asked. Well, apparently it’s what all the NGO’s require their employees and volunteers to carry in earthquake zones. It’s basically a survival day-pack with emergency supplies to keep going for a few days: space blanket, first aid kit, muesli bars, water and purifier, solar radio, torch, that sort of thing. Not the usual contents of my travel bag for a holiday! It seemed like overkill – should I really worry so much? I was laughed at by plenty, including my nearest and dearest, for being too paranoid. But I took my Go-Pack, had the most wonderful holiday, begrudgingly shared the muesli bars with my skeptical partner on the last day and quietly thanked my unknown angel that luckily we didn’t have cause to unpack the Go-Pack. On one year, almost to the day, and I have been given cause to wonder if the Go-Pack would have helped us at all if we had been in the tragic earthquake on 25 April. If we had been inside any of the beautiful heritage buildings that we visited – which are now in ruins, crumbled like dry biscuits – a little Go-Pack would probably have been useless. But seeing the survivors struggling in the following days to remain dignified and patient whilst joining queues for food and water, perhaps it would have helped until the Australian Government helicoptered me out of there. But the local Nepalis can’t fly away. It is their home and damaged as it is, they must stay and rebuild. They are spiritually strong, determined and compassionate people but they have a long journey ahead, probably years, to rebuild not just their physical buildings but their lives. And the government is disorganised and corrupt. This disaster has claimed over 7000 people and countless whole villages and towns in one of the poorest countries in the world. How can we best help?  Not just now but ongoing and consistently into the future. Do we send donations to a big aid organisation? Yes, obviously we do. But what if we know people on the ground are not getting aid? What if we have connections to those communities and know individuals? Let me describe one such connection to one of the communities most damaged, the heritage town of Bhaktapur and its neighbouring village Thimi. I was taken there a year ago by World Craft Council vice president, and a local Nepali, Pushar Man Shakya, to meet the local pottery cooperative members and to visit studios. I visited many potters, saw their wonderful crafts, their sublime skills and heard their stories. It was a privilege to have an insight from a local and I have maintained my connections to some of the potters over the past year. Both Bhaktapur and Thimi are traditional pottery towns and Bhaktapur is listed as a World Heritage Site due to its ancient temples, woodcarvings and ceramic sculptures. Many of the traditional potters live in four story con-joined ‘terrace’ houses surrounding large courtyards. Yes, four story buildings in an earthquake zone built with no steel frames or concrete, just soft hand-made bricks and ancient hand carved wood. This unique architecture has developed around the needs of the potters: the traditional kilns are fired with straw and ash and would simply blow away and be a fire-hazzard if any wind got into those courtyards so the tall brick buildings are actually protecting the kilns whilst also providing a warm and sunny place to dry the pots and work in co-operative ways, sharing the firing and clay-mixing jobs. It is a peculiar architecture and, as far as I know, unique to the potters. It provides a practical and inspiring solution for a cooperative community that has been built naturally over time according to the unique needs of generations of potters. And the pottery produced is equally inspiring. With no electricity (yes, despite having the best hydropower in the world, we were told that the government rations electricity to their own people due to archaic financial deals that were made with India in the 1970’s!) the potters work completely off-grid, using home-made wheels powered by hand and finished by a highly-skilled hand-paddling method. These sublimely-skilled potters make wheel-thrown and hand-built vessels and sculptures from local earthenware clay. These vessels are low-fired in straw and ash kilns, and sold to the locals for curd-setting, water-coolers, alcohol (Rakishi) fermenting vessels, general storage vessels, roof tiles and decorative architectural sculptures. With no chance of tourists supporting the pottery industry (the pots don’t travel well), the potters have a hard enough life without losing their homes and studios. And that’s where we/you come in. The impressive Australian craft organisation Seven Women has started an Emergency Earthquake Relief Fund. More specifically, the ceramics community has a global reach and there are now many ways that we can assist Nepal in the recovery. Potters helping potters. Already, there was the Clay for Nepal on 15-17 May, where ceramicists generously donated their works for an online auction, the proceeds of which went to Oxfam Australia Nepal Earthquake Fund. It was a great opportunity to help Nepal while acquiring a beautiful art work. Oxfam are a credible organisation that deserves support, but there’s also the potential for donations that go to potters directly. We have created a safe way to get our donations direct to the traditional potters through the World Craft Council – Australia. If you can help with this project directly, please join us. The World Craft Council – Australia will work closely with the Federation of Handicraft Associations Nepal, who will then distribute the money to the potters to help re-build so that they can maintain their strong links to their ceramic history. The vice-president of the World Craft Council, Pushkar Man Shakya, who is on the ground in Nepal will help advise the Federation of Handicraft Associations Nepal and ensure 100% of our funds reach the potters. We are very grateful to Mr Shakya and the Federation. We are fundraising here on potters networks to send money directly to the particular pottery towns that have been badly damaged with the aim to help the potters rebuild their houses and studios and return to work making their wares. WCCA knows direct action can help enormously and so they have created a direct pathway for long term help for potters and have even identified the families most in need already. It is not inconceivable that this could make a big difference to the future continuation of these potters’ pottery heritage – with your help. In NZ we do not have a branch of the WCC any longer, so it is up to us to support Australia’s work in this area. Easy – bank to bank online. Please donate if you can: Account title: World Crafts Council Australia Inc Bank: Commonwealth Bank Australia Branch: BSB 063-111 Account number: 1086-1862 Be sure to label your transfer with the word ‘Nepal. Email at support@wccaustralia.org.au if you have any questions or if you would like to help out with organising future fund-raising activities. If you want to be updated about the Nepal situation or a future emergency affecting craftspersons, you can also send your details here. http://wccaustralia.org.au Thanks from Jane Sawyer  

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Up the Golden Staircase

Right up in this instance, for on the top floor of Te Uru Gallery is 5×5: New Conversations with Clay. It’s a re-view of a show done back in 1980 at Denis Cohn’s gallery in Durham Street West that has since been espoused as the start of a new wave in the great sea of ceramics. And it probably was. But it was no swashing, crashing, clamorous breaker, more of a rolling upsurge that began half-way through the ‘70s.

All five of those who exhibited at Cohn’s gallery: Bronwynne Cornish, Warren Tippett, John Parker, Denis O’Connor and Peter Hawkesby, had been working away from the orthodoxy of the Anglo-oriental ethos for some time finding it restrictive of large areas of ceramic history and dismissive of what happened outside its domain. Cornish could be considered ‘first’ as she was never ‘in’. She visited the west coast of the USA in 1973 and exposure to what was happening there by Bay Area artists opened her frames of reference for work.

Another ‘first’, due to never having fully ventured down the Anglo-oriental highway, was Peter Hawkesby who during a rural apprenticeship realised that his route lay elsewhere and after return to Auckland found Denis O’Connor and Waiheke Island. O’Connor, in the spirit of the times found the economics of reduced functional ware supportive but read a variety of publications outside of what was commonly available. In 1978 the pair left for a three month stint in California, determined to see for themselves what of the ceramic ferment, that radicalised traditional approaches there in the late ‘50s, was still in evidence.

John Parker returned in 1977 from four years in London and study at Royal College, where the industrial was taught alongside the hand-made. There he formed the parameters for his own expression and returned with enhanced recognition for the possibilities available to ceramic practices.

Warren Tippett was the only one without first-hand off-shore experience and as heir apparent (or a leading contender) to the Anglo-oriental/Castle/Brickell mantle his inclusion induced most surprise. However he had already made giant leaps into new aesthetic territory. Along with urbanisation of his hitherto rural practice and lifestyle, he held exhibitions of exuberant surface where he pushed the Anglo-oriental as far as it could go and followed by turning everything on its head by dropping temperature, switching to earthenware and oxidation, and abandoning obvious function.

As part of this exhibition, there was one piece each from that initial five. Unfortunately only two of the pieces were from the original exhibition – Parker’s and O’Connor’s. The others were a recent revival or something produced in the years between. Hawkesby’s ‘Blunted Devil Cups’ were close to what I recall being in and to images from the time. Cornish’s undated exhibit seemed furthest away while Tippett’s was from a couple of years later than 5×5 and consists the cubes that he continued in one form or another for many years. It shows his new approach to clays, firings and colour in contrast to the muted tones of the Anglo-oriental. This made an engaging adjunct to the main event and a useful point of comparison.

The Originals and Tippett’s cubes in the background.

The Originals and Tippett’s cubes in the background.

John Parker, ‘Cone Penetration’ 1980.

John Parker, ‘Cone Penetration’ 1980.

Denis O’Connor, ‘Architectural Ceramic’ 1980

Denis O’Connor, ‘Architectural Ceramic’ 1980

Peter Hawkesby,’ Blunted devil cups’, 1998/9

Peter Hawkesby,’ Blunted devil cups’, 1998/9

Bronwynne Cornish, ‘Giant Spotted Ventifact’, date unknown.

Bronwynne Cornish, ‘Giant Spotted Ventifact’, date unknown.

The original exhibition has since acquired a level of canonisation as New Zealand’s first excursion by clay in to a white cube milieu. It was most probably the first group show by only ceramists in that context although some of the five had shown individually with Cohn previously, (which opened in 1978) and would afterward.  Other galleries that regularly or occasionally showed ceramics were Helen Hitchins (opened ’49) and Peter McLeavy in Wellington (’68), and New Vision (’57), Peter Webb (’57) and Barry Lett (’65) in Auckland. There were other makers working in clay in the late 1970s, who disregarded any adherence to the doctrines of the Anglo-oriental such as Leo King with his reductive and modernist work, Barbara Hockenhull with her organic handbags, Ted Dutch who screen-printed on then impressed computer parts into the clay and Rick Rudd and Howard Williams both recently in from England and exhibiting low-fired work; but all showed in a ceramic context. A number of others were experimenting with the ‘new’, commercially sourced, ceramic stains imported from Germany and England and their fresh what-you-see is what-you-get, long way from Leach, colour range. The times, they were already a-changin’. But the five at Cohn’s gallery proclaimed a new manifesto by which clay might enunciate a more complex field and by showing together made a presence in the fine arts world as was manifested in a small flurry of positive reviews in respected publications. No one called it that, but ceramic post modernism had arrived! Sadly the attention soon lapsed and ceramic expression was once again left to develop unassisted by any further scrutiny from fine arts for some years. About thirty.

This new iteration, called Five by Five, New Conversations with Clay is the result of an invitation by Te Uru Contemporary Gallery to one of the five, John Parker, to curate a new version in current terms. There has been interest in clay by fine arts over the past ten years off-shore and for a lesser length of time in New Zealand. This could be due to a reaction against the processed, slick, Jeff Koons/Damien Hirst movement for jobbing art out to production teams, or envisaging that the concept-driven had little elsewhere to go, or simply a renewed engagement with process and materiality. Or all of these and more. Time will tell, but with major contemporary artists such as Sterling Ruby, Huma Bhaba, Shio Kusaka and Rachel Harrison including it, not to mention Rebecca Warren and Grayson Perry making it a major part of their oeuvres, it clearly has allure. Clay was unprotected territory, as photography was in the early 1980s — something no one cared about, and thus available. Reportedly it is now almost as ubiquitous in New York and London galleries as sculpture and painting. Ceramics is now so prevalent that it’s become a gateway material for other processes, like weaving and embroidery.

So John Parker was charged with finding a new five. Not an easy task for anyone but particularly when the politics of the situation are recognised, as John would have. Show artists who have worked with clay and kept a foot in both camps? Look for new artists? From what sort of background? What about established ceramic artists who now find ready acceptance in public or fine art galleries? What about fine arts trained who also show with ceramists? What about fine arts trained who still are too wary, or concerned of their gallery’s reaction, to show in anything but a fine arts milieu? Should it be a return to vessels, our legacy, or sculptural approaches as the first show had been? All very interesting and John chose a mixture – those he feels have something to say about clay ‘now’. His choices were, Kate Fitzharris, Tessa Laird, Kate Newby, Suji Park and Louise Rive. All girls.

Of the original five Bronwynne Cornish is the one with the least concern for technique, holding few expectations on outcomes and accepting what evolves from the kiln with interest and pleasure. It’s a true gift; one that not many possess. Kate Newby seems her most likely successor with her collection of 25 stones. Roughly formed, casually glazed, even broken, they present the same unconcern for neatness and ‘finish’ as does Bronwynne’s work. Not Bronwynne’s experienced fingers though. Puzzling to ceramics practitioners, they more resemble glaze tests done on those odd bits of clay that end up at bench edge and studio floor to dry out there, given a quick swipe into the glaze bucket and fired. Many in ceramics would then have chucked some of those buckets of glaze as they had little to offer other than sealing a part of the ‘stone’ with a thin tight gloss. The title was good, ‘I feel like a truck on a wet highway’, how skiddingly true. It was very possible to imagine some of them skipping across a sheet of water.

Kate Newby, ‘I feel like a truck on a wet highway’.

Kate Newby, ‘I feel like a truck on a wet highway’.

I found the door furniture more engaging. Designed with replacing the knobs and handles on the gallery doors in mind the engaging work and plan was foiled by the fact that Te Uru doesn’t do handles, or even doors for that matter.

Kate Newby, ’Advil’.

Kate Newby, ’Advil’.

Most successful was ‘Big Huge Sky’, a line of freely squeezed, rolled and pierced columns of clay that most resembled a strange musical instrument hanging in a harmoniously colour co-ordinated sweep and ending at the natural light gallery windows with which Te Uru is blessed. The sound was engaging as one tentatively ran fingers along but few could enjoy as the ‘Please do not touch’ notice was, necessarily, prominently inhibiting.

Kate Newby, ‘Big Huge Sky’.

Kate Newby, ‘Big Huge Sky’.

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detail

detail

detail

Kate Fitzharris continued with the unfired work she first showed here at Objectspace, her now familiar small figures quietly watching from their domesticated and found surrounds, sheltered by blue vases and jugs that held cut hydrangeas which ranged from fresh to dry to dead and formed a fragile and transient still(ed) life.

Kate Fitzharris, unfired clay, found materials,  watercolour, pencil.

Kate Fitzharris, unfired clay, found materials, watercolour, pencil.

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Kate Fitzharris, unfired clay, found materials, watercolour, pencil.

Like Fitzharris, Louise Rive has been around the clay world for a while. So long in fact that one can forget that she trained in painting at Elam. With her figurative pieces in clay and acrylic painted surfaces Rive combines both journeys, as she explains, ‘as expressionist and exaggerated’ in manner. Rive showed the work that won the recent Portage Awards and other works similar in mien and scale.

Two figures.

Two figures.

detail, Mother and Child

detail, Mother and Child

Suji Park has also been making in clay for a few years. I first came across her small figures in Dunedin. Like Rive’s they were acrylic painted, but rather than expressionist and exaggerated, were fine, gentle and somehow Asian without anything obvious telling one this was so and carried a soft quality that was perhaps underpinned by skilled painting and delicate, unexpected coloration. Her newer work – the broken shattered pieces – that were her entry for the Dowse’s ‘Slip Cast’ was a puzzle as it negated, for me, much that went before. Still, some artists move on from the tried and true very regularly. The current forms are hanging, elongated vessels. In ceramic terms they are close to amphorae but Park has demonstrated, perhaps deliberately, that she eschews ceramics’ mores and possibly intended another fate for the forms. So be it for, as amphorae, the surfaces are uneven, lumpen and grainy and the thin, shiny, polyurethane coating exaggerates these qualities. The suspended forms taper downward and end in a deftly modelled head, some with open mouth as if in a scream. They are works that seem to be on their way to something else by way of a resolve of intent.

Suji Park, group of works, 2015.

Suji Park, group of works, 2015.

Suji Park, Two works 2015-06-03

Suji Park, Two works 2015-06-03

detail

detail

Tessa Laird is perhaps the most experienced of the recent adherents to a clay expression as she has been making books, and piles of books, and rainbows of books for some years. These recorded her reading towards a higher degree and thus used clay’s mimetic properties in a different way, and with a very apparent increasing skill set. Now she moves those book piles again and the gently, humorously annexed and titled stacks appear to sprout something of their contents and become aligned with Mexican folk ceramics – the sort that appear as Day-of-the-Dead forms – clunky, colourful, exuberantly modelled, adorned with small animals, figures, symbols and candles. They sit in an interesting intervening space amidst an odd mix of traditions and between skill-based and idea-based, art. This is where much of the contemporary craft art sits today. Just like Grayson Perry. Welcome to the club, Tessa.

Tessa Laird, Group.

Tessa Laird, Group.

 ‘Mumbo Jumbo’.

‘Mumbo Jumbo’.

’ Prisoner of Love’

’ Prisoner of Love’

detail

detail

So, has John Parker produced a new canon? Possibly not, but time will tell. As Peter Ireland has said, ‘Canon construction is far from being an innocent exercise’[1], and goes on to cite taste and fashion, artistic and academic reputations, auction house promotion and collector investment as potential influencers in scrutiny of what’s at stake and whose interests are being served by such a construct? However, what Parker has done is find a bunch of artists who ‘ explore the lateral uses of clay in this wider, multidisciplinary context’. He has found a clay artist with a conventional ceramic background who works with the medium unfired, so not even making it ceramic. Others with fine arts backgrounds with slipped then low-fired, or low fired and glazed or acrylic painted or polyurethane finished, work. This wouldn’t have been remotely possible a few years ago. I don’t see his cited lines drawn between technical expertise and ideas but a merge and adaptations between these extremes of what I read as a continuum. It’s a pic’n mix world these days and artists use whatever seems appropriate at the time and reserve the right to switch next week.

However viewed from the bigger world out (or up) there what we produce is a small sampling of what is available in clay expression in the broader global context. No one here is yet working with ready-mades and that is widely seen elsewhere – re-fired, sliced and cut, broken and rearranged, to make social points or political statements, altered surfaces, annulment of surfaces to reveal – what was earlier unthinkable. With our discovery of Crown Lynn as collectable, this seems to hold loaded potential and is a road not yet travelled. The figurative features more these days but not on the scale or with the expression one might see elsewhere. Scale itself is seldom ventured towards here, except with artists freshly returned from the USA, and few approach installations, interventions, appropriation and recycling, neither are there concerted attempts at performance or adding video as can often be observed off-shore. We remain largely vessel-based. The narrowness of expression here can be firmly laid at the door of education. Or lack of it. Without higher education, where not only what a knowledgeable, broadly educated teacher can instil but the ferment experienced in discussion over morning coffee in the student common-room or some rub-off from a completely other discipline in chance encounter all feed into the personal and resident artists embedded in our midst could bring in further widening of our horizons rather than the travelling guru opportunistic demo/workshop that seems to be more the norm. Perhaps the fact that there are currently 18 students taking ceramics at Elam, as a sort of introductory course, will produce something of that in time for some will surely stay with the sticky, seductive stuff at least as part of their practice, if fine art attitudes remain as they are for a sufficient length of time, this time. Other institutions are also offering ceramics as an option. May the next manifestation of 5×5 be with us in less than 35 more years and even more engaging.

[1] Readore: http://eyecontactsite.com/2015/05/campbells-kingdom#ixzz3c2r4wBvr

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What’s New….

Good news on Ross… who has walked a few steps unaided at the acute brain injury unit in Porirua, where he is rehabilitating a month after suffering head injuries in a 12m fall on April 21st.

His wife, Bobbi, said he is now conscious a lot more of the time after being in the rehab unit for a week and that staff were “thrilled” with his progress. He walked unaided for the first time on Tuesday, but the effort left him exhausted.   “We were trying to get him into this wheelchair contraption to move him, but he refused to get into it. He wanted to walk, so he just stood up. About four of us were around him, but he simply stepped off down the hall. He didn’t go too far, but it was a huge moment in his recovery.”

Bobbi said it was too early to say what the long-term prognosis for her husband was. She was due to meet specialists for an update on his condition. “But what the specialists are saying is that Ross is making the most amazing progress. It was a matter of his brain sort of re-joining itself. “He’s talking a lot more and coming up with complex sentences, even if they’re not yet making a lot of sense. But the point is he’s trying,” she said.

She said some words he had used were coming out “very clearly. One of them is ‘Chronicle’ and the others are ‘wastewater treatment’.”

At this stage, she said, her husband’s diet was still largely liquid. “I know he’d dearly love to get into a big steak, but he’s not ready for that just yet,” she said. “In light of the fall he had, the doctors say it’s a miracle he survived. Initially, they didn’t think he was going to make it.”

Bobbi said the support from family, friends and the community had been overwhelming.

Adapted from Wanganui Chronicle, thanks to Raewyn

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Two New Magazines…

Maybe one reflection in the increasing interest in ceramics across the art spectrum is the advent of new magazines on the subject of ceramics claiming some focus on the critical article. One from Australia and one from Romania. Both in English however.

We have not had new magazines in our field for a very long time. Rather we have had attrition with some good ones disappearing without trace. Some good ones are hanging in however, the best seems to me to be Studio Potter from USA. Expensive but lots and lots of reading.

I await my first copy of these two new ones and will report in full very soon afterwards.

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NEWS AND UPDATES

The Australian auction and on-line sale of donated studio ceramics towards the OXFAM Nepal Earthquake Appeal completed over the weekend and raised AUD$40,000. Fantastic achievement by Vipoo Srivilasa and his associates. It was a huge effort and Vipoo was sending half-hourly updates by the end of Sunday. He’lll be taking a wee nap now I expect. Thanks to all from here who responded.

However the energy goes on. Jane Sawyer in Melbourne (WCC and Director of Slow Clay) is co-ordinating a more specifically targeted appeal on behalf of the World Crafts Council – Australian Branch.

They are fundraising to send money directly to the particular pottery towns that have been badly damaged with the aim to help the potters rebuild their houses and studios and return to work making their beautiful wares. WCCA knows direct action can help enormously and so they have created a direct pathway for long term help for potters and have even identified the families most in need already. It is not inconceivable that this might make a big difference to the future continuation of these potters’ beautiful pottery heritage – with your help. In NZ we do not have a branch of the WCC any more so it behoves us to support Australia’s work in this area. Easy – bank to bank online. Please donate if you can:

Account title: World Crafts Council Australia Inc
Bank: Commonwealth Bank Australia
Branch: BSB 063-111
Account number: 1086-1862
Be sure to label your transfer with the word ‘Nepal.

Email at support@wccaustralia.org.au if you have any questions or if you would like to help out with organising future fund-raising activities. If you want to be updated about the Nepal situation or a future emergency affecting craftspersons, you can also send your details here.
http://wccaustralia.org.au

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Update on Ross Michell-Anyon from the Wanganui Chronicle newspaper… with thanks to Raewyn.

Bobbi Mitchell-Anyon is looking forward to seeing her husband – Wanganui artist Ross Mitchell-Anyon – return to his “gorgeous self” after his 12-metre fall on April 21.

Mrs Mitchell-Anyon has been at her husband’s bedside at Wellington Hospital for the past month and told the Chronicle that he would now be moved to the acquired brain injury rehabilitation centre in Porirua.

“Ross is now at the ’emergent conscious’ stage and he has been smiling at me today which always makes me feel good,” she said.

“The rehabilitation will be a long road and they will gradually start to stimulate him into full consciousness – the process is estimated to take about nine months but I am confident he will make a full recovery.

“It is a wonderful facility and they have great expertise and a very high success rate.”

“I am being very well cared for, too, and Ross’ two sons who live in Wellington have been fantastic – and so have the rest of the family.”

Mrs Mitchell-Anyon said she read newspapers and the cards people have sent to her husband.

“The support from people has been fantastic and so heartening to me. I really enjoy reading the messages to Ross and I look forward to the time when he can respond as well.”

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So, clearly this is going to be a long haul for Ross. Cards and notes to c/o 90 Mortimer Terrace, Brooklyn, Wellington.

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Reminder

This extra reminder came from Vipoo Srivilasa.  It’s a most worthy cause and there are some interesting works on offer in the auction and in the sale. He cannot cope with all that is offered as loading etc is taking all his time but it happens in a few days and we can all help by trying for the biggest audience possible for this worthy event. So please, get behind this and send to everyone possible so that all his great efforts and energy has a useful reward to help Nepal. Many thanks from me.

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I am organising a fund-raising project called Clay For NEPAL to raise funds for the Nepalese people affected. All proceeds will be donated to OXFAM Australia: Nepal Earthquake Relief Appeal.

The project has two parts, open and close at the same time.

1: An online AUCTION: submit your bids on unique ceramics art by well-known ceramicists from around the world.

2: A BUY NOW STORE, offering more affordable items for immediate purchase at a set price.

OPENS  Friday 15 May at 6am AEST
CLOSES  Sunday 17 May at 9pm AEST
visit www.ClayForNepal.com and follow the link

It is a great opportunity to acquire great works by renowned artists. See a list of artists who donated their work below.

I would also greatly appreciate it if you could help us promote the project and direct people to our website www.clayfornepal.com.

Thank you very much  for your support,

Vipoo

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