Merilyn Wiseman.

October 25, 1941 – June 13, 2019.

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It’s with great personal sorrow that I record the passing of Merilyn Wiseman.

Merilyn was for many years, one of our most prominent makers in clay which she always called, ‘hands-on, hands-in stuff’. As a maker she was pretty well supreme, a perfectionist who could do almost anything with her beloved ‘stuff’ from small, immaculately thrown works through to large scale press-moulded pieces and a lot in between.

Following what she sometimes said was a ‘pretty priviledged childhood’ in Auckland’s eastern suburbs, she experienced a memorable journey. As a young woman, in 1960, at the end of an amazing few months travelling, with her twin sister and her younger sister under guidance and leadership of their redoubtable mother (known to family as ‘the Ayatollah’), through much of North Africa, the Near East and Europe, she undertook a period of study majoring in art teaching at Goldsmiths College in London. Those travels stayed with her for the rest of her life and she often referred to some of what she encountered from that rich period.  After Goldsmith’s, she embarked upon a work experience at a pottery in Ireland and seriously ‘caught the bug’ for working with clay. By this time she had more than adequate resources banked as a result of those travels around many of the best archaeological sites and museums of the countries they had visited and she returned to NZ to set out to be as good as she could be.

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Merilyn with her ‘Fletcher’ winner.

This was very good indeed as she was the most honoured and very possibly the most successful of all of her generation. She came to national prominence winning the Premier Award for the 1984 Fletcher Brownbuilt Pottery Award, and the judge of that year, American Don Reitz, referred to what attracted him to her piece by explaining that her decoration – slip trailed – touched the edge of the wood-fired dish rim and this was something also practised by Native American potters, ‘so that the spirit might escape’. She was, in 1988 a member of the only national symposium in clay ever undertaken in NZ, where the self-styled ‘Lucky 13’ lived and worked together for three weeks in Otago School of Art, with all found: accommodation in student quarters, food, transport and all the clay that could be heated toward being unofficially groomed for the Faenza event as country of focus – that eventually did not transpire due to funding, or lack thereof. I shared a workspace with Christine Thacker (as the two most junior members of the troop along with Philip Luxton), and Merilyn and Ann Verdcourt were also in the same large room. I recall being impressed with Merilyn’s ability to concentrate on her work when the rest of us were too easily, willingly distracted.  The experience was memorable, if less for the ‘new work’ expected than for the close working quarters shared with artists from all over NZ,  often known only by reputation. There developed a sense of collegiality that for most has never departed. We learned so very much on every front.

Shortly after this, Merilyn was the clay artist selected to represent NZ at an international ceramics symposium held in Australia where she observed much about the international scene and reported back with useful information. Following this there came a fertile time of experimenting, making, developing, firing and exhibiting at highest levels in NZ and off-shore.

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In Dunedin at Otago SofA.

In 2005 she won The Portage Award where the judge was Robert Bell – Decorative Arts and Design Senior Curator of the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, and who loved her Arctic Rim piece that flared gracefully to more than 1.1metres wide (and by then she was in her mid-60s!)  I was ‘Production Assistant ‘, that year, and so at the award ceremony positioned myself so I might see her face at Robert’s announcement. She was so genuinely surprised she almost dropped and I thought I’d have to pick her up from the floor! She made more work in that series  – lyrical dishes, elegant candlesticks, handsome lidded boxes and large moulded vessels on a scale, combed, slip trailed or finger modelled in her characteristic style, with sumptuously rich, colour charged, turquoise and green glazes. The clay responded in rhapsodic fashion to her stroking and persuasion of touch so that edges of dishes and attachments of feet displayed such distinctive flourishes that they could be by no one else, while she made slip trailing her very own.

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‘Arctic Rim’. Portage winner.

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Meri with the ‘Rim’ Series mould.

In 2007, she was the first ceramic artist to receive the prestigious Laureate Award and with the (then) $50,000 free-from-tags gift she was able to invest in converting a newly built double garage into a very functional studio that came at a propitious time when she had made the decision to be a solo, self-supporting artist.

After wood firing for many years then to a gas kiln and finally to electric with its computerised controls she turned, again with the use of moulds, to making decorative vessels of two and a half dimensions, most often in a simple pearly white glaze that offered a serene surface for her carefully applied textures. Always stylishly varied, these vessels demonstrated her continued ability to adjust the variables she sensed, based upon simple generative forms. Sometimes their stance was defiant with arms akimbo while others’ postures were quietly demure. Without doubt, Meri was always a vessels girl but her vessels, from the looser, wood and ash-flashed early work to the more recent, crisply linear late pieces, could be as expressive as sculpture when she chose.

But alongside the many dishes that carried her familiar rich palette and with pale green and soft blue later developments, I only ever knew one teapot and it was a cracker! Ovalled, soda’d copper blue and straight sided while tacitly elegant, like much of her work, it nevertheless demonstrated that she knew how to get a good pour and prevent a lid dropping out! I am unsure what happened to it – but hope it’s in a good collection somewhere.

We discussed at length, several times, the prospect of a survey show covering all her series and variations of work as I, and several others felt sure there should be ample interest. We even, once, got as far as loosely planning the show’s layout. Always, she had ideas and opinions. She eventually disagreed and thought there would be little support and decided that she would not, even with the temptation of a well-illustrated catalogue to record her achievements and work. It’s hard to understand why she was apprehensive of the prospect, for of the many members of this senior generation and their various survey shows that have graced a variety of venues, she, as possibly the most rewarded and awarded of all, surely deserved an opportunity for close engagement with her total body of work, more than most. It would have withstood any challenge with grace.

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She disliked and could be scornful of displays of ego, particularly where she sensed it evidenced in work. Over a number of years, we went together, often with others, to exhibitions and events and no one could match Meri in scorn, on the way home again, when she discerned that it manifested. She could rage, like no other, on what she considered missing opportunities presented in work and no carefully articulated counter-arguments could persuade her of merits when she saw none, or too few. Her opinions were always worth considering and it was very possible to agree that priorities could differ hugely no matter the acknowledged conjoined passions. But when she liked something, some work or some aspect of a work, she was generous and unstinting in her praise. Ever engaged, her standards were high.

There was always a warm welcome and a cuppa, if one dropped in, and sometimes a showing of perhaps part of a film she had watched and kept just to show something she thought wonderful (such as the opening shots of ‘The English Patient’ with its cave drawings, or a written passage to share, like part of ‘A Room of 0ne’s Own’), for her interests were manifold and discussion points various and intelligent. However no matter how receptive she was, we knew we had to be gone before 5pm, or if she was out she always left in good time, prior to five, because that was family calling time and that was always a priority. When her son, Paul, was playing cricket for NZ she kept the TV on inside while throwing in the shed with the radio turned to the match coverage. As soon as his name was mentioned she hopped off the wheel and went inside to watch him play and only returned once his innings was over.  When her Kate was due to give birth we knew she’d be in Christchurch. She held family close and most dear as her family also clearly held her, and our sympathy must extend to them in their loss.

She will be greatly missed by all.

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Any who would view her service,  Go to Dils Funeral Services, Oneroom and click on Merilyn Dawn Wiseman. Held on 21st June.

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and the other coast…

 

On my last day in the USA, I spent in Los Angeles with Bari Ziperstein – most recently our juror for the 2019 Portage Ceramic Awards. She had helpfully arranged some visits for us. We had three, in different parts of the city – about all that’s possible in such traffic. Following a visit to her studio,  we visited Brian Rochford in east LA and his spotlessly clean enormous studio space with many displayed completed vessels. Arrayed in sizes I could not be clear if I was viewing glaze/texture tests or if the mug-size bowls and small vessels (slip cast) were actually pieces for display/exhibition and sale. The two larger sizes were clearly destined for exhibition somewhere and it seemed there were a number of shows lined up at galleries around the world in various cities. That appeared to be his main interest – travelling to various places for exhibitions of his work and who could blame him? (He’s been making pots, he said, from age 14). Colour and texture are his principal concerns for the work while form and the foundational clay/ceramic, often made for him, serves as simply a support medium.  He certainly appeared to have reached maximum potential in both surface categories, which are also requisites for a few NYC white cube galleries, I spoke with, that are currently seeking ceramic artists.

 

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Bari’s studio in east LA. Clean, well-lit and efficiently laid out.

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New production work under development and below, Bari’s personal work in storage.IMG_0575 - Copy (2).JPG

Below, Bari and Brian Rochford in his studio…IMG_0579.JPG

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The cup shelves.

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Two cup close-ups.

Approx 12-13cm H. x 8-9cmDia.

 

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Brian Rochford and a piece still warm from the kiln.

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I asked how many kiln shelves get ruined in a month and he said he had that pretty well under control now! This work approx 24cmH.

Two final close-ups…

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Next we visited Stan Edmondson in Pasadena whose studio roamed in varying measure all around his large garden and into his large house (wherein was his almost 100 year old mother!) Many are the memories of Voulkos, Frimkess and Mason playing cards there with Stan’s father who also was an artist.  While Stan’s personal work concentrates, currently, on painting, his clay work is a lot about facilitating other artists, trained mainly outside ceramics, to achieve their vision in clay.  He has large kilns, a Soldner clay mixer,  a unique slab roller plus ample space and lots of experience as assistant for artists, such as the late John Mason, so I’m sure they receive the best of support. One recent client was our own Robert Rapson who was in LA for an exhibition with South Willard Gallery which has carried his work for some years.

Stan with one of his small kilns and that’s his slab roller at his feet!

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The trusty Soldner where clay bodies are made to order or individual requirement.

 

 

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A piece left behind by Peter Voulkos some years ago….

Currently some large scale figurative work is happening. This young artist,  preparing for a white cube gallery show, is working to a time-honoured technique – carving and modelling through slip painting on terra-cotta cylinders. These measure about two metres high.

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Again, surface seems to be the primary concern and supporting form kept simple and basic.

Our last call of the day was to Los Angeles’ far-to-the-south/west Long Beach College campus where Tony Marsh has taught for close to thirty years. Apparently each summer break, for many of those thirty years he has gathered the best talent he can muster for an intense workshop session where, ‘ having the person next to you making great work is a major spur!’ This was a philosophy that had certainly worked as it was warm and sunny, beaches were nearby and it was vacation time but inside the very spacious ceramics department were over a dozen artists drawn from many quarters all working away with great energy and enthusiasm. Everyone did not want their work imaged yet and others had not developed work to where it could be photographed, while others’  situations made it difficult to get a shot that might do it justice. However here are a few of the works in progress…IMG_0629.JPG

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Then I flew home! Some more about what was in between will come shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On…. a tale of two coasts

A recent journey to both coasts of the USA offered some insights into some of what’s happening there. Here are a couple of highlights of all that I viewed, with images where possible. First however a scene with no images as ‘not allowed’! I went to The Frick Museum – that turn-of-the-century NYC robber baron’s home in uptown 5th Avenue and now part of New York’s celebrated ‘Museum Mile’.

The Frick is a grand mansion with many large imposing rooms and elegant furniture scattered around as though a (well servanted) family still resided there. Lush carpets cover floors and ormolu vitrines line walls displaying, among other ceramics, Chinese porcelain from the original imports into Europe back in the 16thC and a piece by Bottger – credited with being the European alchemist who found the secrets to porcelain manufacture for Europe due to his imprisonment, until he discovered it, by the mad Augustus, in Dresden.  European sculpture, by such as Michaelangelo, Cellini and Bernini, is displayed in entranceways and along corridors. Prime among such fabulous and extraordinary riches is a range of old master paintings by such as Rembrandt, Hals, Goya, Gainsborough, Velasquez, Bruegel, Durer, Rubens, Van Eyck and Van Dyke, Turner, Titian and Tintoretto and on and on and on to the three incomparable Vermeers with their glorious side-lighting. This shrine to the power of wealth and the prevailing taste of the times is cause for much pondering of value systems while wandering among the contained treasures. Imagine, this used to be a family home!

I have visited previously but high on my list, this time, was the exhibition (installation?  intervention?) called, Elective Affinities,  by Edmund de Waal, of his contemporary works into the spaces there. Not the first contemporary artist to show amongst the constellation already acquired, nor the first in ceramic – De Waal has clearly been allowed to choose where his works might gather, accompanied by music of his choice (Bach to Britten, Philip Glass to Steve Reich). Somewhat dazzled by what was adorning the walls my first encounter was a surprise. In the middle of the huge West Gallery were two over-lapping, simple, dark vitrines upon a large oak table that made up one install in variously deep to mid-grey porcelain and stacked steel rectangles. Their lack of colour amongst the panoply of hue in surrounding works had at first disguised their presence but then it occurred that this was deliberate by De Waal. I found other works by being more aware of unlikely situations as well as the obvious placings – one even beneath a library desk. De Waal has added to his porcelain cylinders – from white to darkest grey in tone – glazed and unglazed, other media such as stacks of patinated steel slices and shards, plexiglass strips, marble, then aluminium and alabaster with applied gold leaf in places, positioned so that reflections cast a golden radiance onto furniture or porcelain.

De Waal is not the first ceramist to group his cylinders and bowls into still life arrangements. Probably, and arguably, earliest were Gwyn Hanssen Pigott pairing bowls in a FCCA entry in memory of dead friends and our own Ann Verdcourt in response to an invitation to complement still-life wall works at Manawatu Gallery,  both back in the late ’80s). Since then the trope has come and gone – after all what else can a vessel maker do when elevating works into an art context?  De Waal, however, has really turned the concept into something inestimable with his ability to command ever more precious situations for his works from British Dukedom’s country houses to the V+A’s bell tower to Gargosian gigantic vitrines in NYC, Basel and Hong Kong.

These installations, for me, were justified in taking themselves so very seriously. In such a locale how might it be otherwise – despite my gut feeling that Verdcourt would not have been able to resist a sly bit of sabotage, somewhere. There were also distinct contrasts in the finish on the clay cylinders – slight wobbles or asymmetry to rims here and there – and the precision that served cessation to the cut plexiglass or steel stack – that bothered me a tad initially but knowing how difficult can be the material, made it matter less. De Waal must be aware and can live with it after all. Further, there was the frustration attached to not being able to weigh elements of the works in the hands made ever more compound by their being behind glass. The fingers itch, for the information they could transmit. But cylinders, matte and glossy, leaning slices and open, stacked bowls can pull this viewer in as close as the carefully watching grey-suited minions will allow – not even a hint of breath on the glass is permissable.

To see the installations and their situations – although too far away to see clearly and in detail as we are used to, it’s possible online by going to The Frick Collection and entering Edmund de Waal. Or try https://youtu.be/9wbafe1M_k  which is the introductory video. Better, if heading NYC way go see it for yourself – allow several hours at least.

Next instalment to follow shortly.

 

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Just arrived….  A Chinese Ceramics Competition – short notice. However, if you have work you consider good and it fits the requirements for this competition and you have, or can get, good images of it (them) it might be worth entering as there is no entry fee. Just fill the forms and send the images. By end of this month.

The Blanc de Chine International Ceramic Award (ICAA)

Aim (of the ICAA) is to promote international communication within contemporary ceramic art and encourage integrated and innovative development of contemporary ceramics.

It is organised by Quanzhou Porcelain Road Art Development Centre – which could mean anything but total prize money comes to 165,000 Euros which is almost NZ$ 280,000 (but there will be tax off that – always is).   1x Premier prize of E50,000, 2x E30,000, 3xE10,000 and 5xE5,000.

The organising committee is large in full Asian and European fashion and comprises… As usual it comprises folk with impressive job titles and who sit near or around ceramic art but probably only Bai Ming is a ceramics practitioner. The rest bring what they can to the processes… probably are consulted very little but they will all be there for the Award event at the end.

Bai Ming – Dean of Ceramic Department at Tsinghua University, China

Claudia Casali – Faenza Museum Director, Italy

Catherine Chevillot – Director Musee Rodin, Paris

Christine Caol – Member Board of Directors, Musee Rodin, Paris

Christine Shimizu – Director Musee Cernusci, Asian arts, Paris

Geraldine Lenain- Dir. Chinese art and ceramics, Christies

Prof. Lu Pinchang – Dean of Sculpture, China Central Academy of Fine Arts

Romaine Sarfati  – Director Sevres Museum, France

Prof Wang Luxiang – Academy Arts and Design, Tsinghua University

Xu Jie – Curator, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA

Zhao Meng – Associate in research in Chinese Studies at Harvard Uni. USA

Some of these will be the selectors for the exhibition and the prizes.

Exhibiting Requirements:

Entry by multiple images of each work.

Work must be original and never exhibited nor published in any form previously.

The work must be 50%, or more, white porcelain – interdisciplinary work is encouraged.

Two entries – single pieces or sets are permitted.

Deviations from this will mean disqualification.

D/L is  30th April 2019. Late entries or late arrival of work also disqualified.

No entry fee

Entry – Online at www.blancdechineicaa or email icaa@blancdecineicaa.com

PROCESS

Jury will select a short list by vote on images submitted

Works transported and insured by organisers if selected.

Venue for selection still to be announced

Award ceremony and exhibition of finalists in either Nice or Paris, France, October 2019 and finalist exhibitors will be travelled and accommodated at expense of organisers.

Exhibition will comprise winning works along with short-listed works selected by Jury committee and the curator.

Prizes are acquisitional – they call it ‘donation’ and forms must be signed at outset that your work, in receipt of a major prize will be retained by the organisation.

So, if your work fits there criteria and you are confident about its originality etc and comfortable with the conditions applied, then why not give it a go. You have a week – go for it! I shall publish the winning works if I again get notice.

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Loewe Craft Prize Finalists

The Loewe Craft Prize today announced that they had selected 29 artists from an entry of over 2,500 submissions. The finalist’s works will now be shipped to Japan (as will the artists involved) for the final judging process and on 25 June the winner will be announced by the panel of eleven (it is European…) judges including architect Wang Shu, industrial designer Patricia Urquiola and Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson… The principal prize is 50,000 Euros,  there are also interesting residency opportunities…see my blog of September last year.

The Moon Jar, The life of..., Akiko Hirai. Photo LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize THE MOON JAR, THE LIFE OF…,  Ceramic. AKIKO HIRAI. PHOTO LOEWE FOUNDATION CRAFT PRIZE. One of this year’s entries.

The international cohort of finalists – revealed by LOEWE today – work in a broad spectrum of media, from metal to paper, and include everyone from fairly recent graduates to well-known names.

The LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize, now its third edition, champions artists who have ‘made fundamentally important contributions to the development of contemporary craft’ and ‘whose talent, vision and will to innovate promise[s] to set a new standard for the future’. The work of the shortlisted makers will go on show at Isamu Noguchi’s indoor stone garden ‘Heaven’ at the Sogetsu Foundation in Tokyo (26 June – 22 July 2019).

Mandala bowl, Giovanni Corvaja. Photo LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize MANDALA BOWL, Spun Gold. GIOVANNI CORVAJA. PHOTO LOEWE FOUNDATION CRAFT PRIZE. Another entry in this year’s Award exhibition.

Here is the list of finalists

Akiko Hirai (b. Japan, lives and works in United Kingdom)

Andrea Walsh (United Kingdom)

Annie Turner (United Kingdom)

Deloss Webber (United States)

Elke Sada (Germany)

Gentai Ishikuza (Japan)

Giampaolo Babetto (Italy)

Giovanni Corvaja (Italy)

Harry Morgan (United Kingdom)

Heeseung Koh (Korea)

Henar Iglesias (Spain)

Jim Partridge & Liz Walmsley (United Kingdom)

JingFeng Fang & Mi Dong (China)

John Eric Byers (United States)

Jokum Lind Jensen (b. Denmark, lives and works in Sweden)

Junko Mori (b. Japan, lives and works in United Kingdom)

Kazuhito Takadoi (b. Japan, lives and works in United Kingdom)

Koichi lo (Japan)

Kye-Yeon Son (b. Korea, lives and works in Canada)

Youngsoon Lee (Korea)

Masanori Nishikawa (Japan)

Mayu Nakata (Japan)

Michal Fargo (b. Israel, lives and works in Germany)

Minhee Kim (b. Korea, lives and works in United Kingdom)

Ruudt Peters (Netherlands)

Sachi Fujikake (Japan)

Shozo Michikawa (Japan)

Sophie Rowley (b. New Zealand, lives and works in Germany)

Tomonari Hashimoto (Japan)

So, of the finalists, 10 are Japanese,  4 Korean,  5 U.K., 2 each from Italyand China, one each from Israel, Netherlands,  Germany, Spain and Denmark plus one from New Zealand. However, a number are nationals of one country yet resident elsewhere. Who knows where they received training? Interesting to see a New Zealander included. Anyone know her and her work?

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John Mason 1928-2019

 John Mason, who died a week ago at 91,  made big things out of clay. Very big things. Abstract sculptures and walls that had to be fired inside a walk-in kiln. Artworks that required the strength of more than one man to move.

 

 Mason was one of the band who joined forces with Peter Voulkos and other adventurous artists – like Ron Nagle, Ken Price, Henry Takemoto and Paul Soldner et al – at the Otis Art Institute in the mid-1950s and helped to lead a revolution in clay.

Suddenly,  clay was hot — and cool. No longer restricted to utilitarian objects, clay could be pushed to its physical and expressive limits. Further, it didn’t have to be craft; it could be art. And that made clay irresistible to a variety of artists, mainly male, who resisted craft-based media but were drawn to the idea of breaking boundaries and ignoring rules. It was labelled Abstract Expressionist Ceramics (in a famous essay by Rose Slivka) and it modified the experience of some very old Japanese pottery tropes and Zen and gave it a new contemporary context to the sound of modern jazz. Ceramic tradition and Fine Art tradition were both involved in parallel ideas and sensibilities at the same time.

While Voulkos was leader, he mostly spent his time making his own work and expected his students to develop their own interests. Mason took on scale, in a grand way particularly for ceramics. He said. “I had a studio, and I had access to the materials and the equipment, it was like, here’s the challenge: Mix up a ton of clay and go to work. To make it happen, for me, was to make sculptural pieces and to make big walls. There were no prescriptions for any of this that I knew about. It was, do it and see if it works. And if it doesn’t work, change it and make it work.”

His critically acclaimed work, “Red X,” a red-glazed sculpture measured about a metre and a half square and was 40cm deep is often on display at its home, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in west LA.

John Mason's "Red X," 1966, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
John Mason’s “Red X,” 1966, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 
His works initially seem minimalist but when looking at his art the surfaces are jammed full of information. You can almost envision their passage through fire. He shifted to metal, brick and stone in mid-career but in later life returned to ceramic.
Mason taught for many years and was famous for his long pauses finally followed by thought-provoking remarks and includes artists such as Chris Burden and James Turrell among his sculpture students. More of his work can be seen in the sculpture garden at the Pasadena Art Museum, east LA.
His final exhibition was at Scripps College in Claremont just last year in 2018 at age 90.
John Mason's "Geometric Form, Dark," 1966, 59 inches by 43 inches by 25 inches.
John Mason’s “Geometric Form, Dark,” 1966, 150cm x 110cm x 65cm at The American Museum of Ceramic Art in LA.
Only Nagle, who was youngest of them all, remains of that group now. He is still exhibiting regularly, with new work via Mathew Marks Gallery.

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“Not a Retrospective” at The Suter

So said Steve Fullmer, formerly of California but for the past 40 or more years, from Tasman in Nelson Province. Steve bothers that if it’s called a retrospective, ‘that would mean my best work was behind me and people could smell death on me’. So it’s a survey.

I have not seen the show. Sadly, nor can I unless it travels this way. But I have seen the refreshingly modest and charming catalogue which informs me that his oeuvre is somewhat wider than I thought. Yes, the two vessels that won, in 1986, and jointly in 1987, the Fletcher Brownbuilt Premier Award, plus the first ‘Pilot’ pot which he sent up as his first entry for the show and that won a Merit Award in 1985 are there in the catalogue, as you’d expect. But in addition, there is a range of large scale discoid and vessel forms, stamped, scribed, sprayed and sponged on, which push his ideas, narratives and humour beyond what we are familiar with up this end of the country, where he has not exhibited for a very long time.

I still recall the effect that first ‘Pilot’ had. ‘The Fletcher’ in 1985 was still largely monopolised by NZ entries and Anglo-orientalism remained paramount within the national oeuvre despite a few venturing into the newly available colourants from Europe or displaying an awareness of the fresh international winds blowing through concept, form, function and firing temps. The subdued sobriety of reduced stoneware retained its dominance via market preferences and exhibiting opportunities. And suddenly, there was ‘Pilot’, glowing with neon insouciance – all day-glo oranges, yellows and pinks so very evocative of the American south-west desert landscapes. What was it? Well, there was a spout, and possibly a handle (of sorts – or was it a fin?) but that was all the familiarity on offer. It was clearly far too large to function as a pouring vessel. The rest was colorific planes adorned with stamps, scribed lines and piercings here and there. And all in this extraordinarily intense, almost iridescent, hue. Labels, for such work, were scant at the time. It was perhaps one of the first, we had seen here, of what Garth Clark labelled ‘the super-object’, although the dry low-fire glaze derived more from Funk. Both were American movements with ‘super-objects’ being newest – begun in the late 70s. We had not seen its like before. It was quite something.

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‘Pilot’ , 1986.  500x830x500mm. Not the prize one but very similar and produced in the same period as part of a series of ‘Pilots’.

When Steve followed up the next year by winning the Premier Award with ‘Sapodilla Canyon’ and the year after that by doing it again, with ‘Cutting a New Orbit’, in joint with Chester Nealie, he became established as one of our major players.

Already somewhat proficient on arrival in New Zealand in 1973 he began here by working as a production potter beside the redoubtable Dan Steenstra at Beach Artware. Steenstra was a Dutch-trained production thrower who had been imported by Crown Lynn. Steve followed this up with travel around and further production work in Australia (where he went while awaiting permanent NZ residence permission).  This achieved, he returned to NZ and soon moved to the Nelson area where, in 1976 he built his own wood-fired kiln in Mahana, firing with modest success. But those early years were something of a struggle.

The transitions in his work from wood-fired stoneware to a drop in temperature, a change in atmosphere and a highly personal approach to surface appear to have taken place on return visits to America over the three years from 1979 to ’81. He had returned there with the honed skills learned in production throwing in New Zealand and Australia. This experience served as foundation for that American visit because what he saw were his ‘roots’ and ‘North American and Native American pots …where the story-telling is so beautiful’ and while his skills allowed him to take chances, in America he ‘saw what really taking chances in design and art could look like. These were abstract paintings but in clay’. He came back ‘really excited and full of new ideas’.

If the catalogue, which is otherwise charming, is lacking it is in not offering more detail on what he observed over those three years and how his thinking altered. America is huge with a very lively ceramic culture that offers, for obvious reasons, far more diversity than might be found in Australia or here. His experiences there would make interesting reading. There is a Timeline at back, and attending workshops by firstly Yvonne Rust then Harry Davis here in NZ and later, in the USA, another workshop from Otto and Vivika Heino in Los Angeles could have been useful to some degree. Davis was a superb thrower, as was Vivika Heino, while Otto was a well-regarded glaze chemist.  A later journey to, and stay in, California (1981), records workshops by Paul Soldner, Kris Cox and Jack Troy while his return to Nelson included workshops again by a visiting Jack Troy and also Ray Rogers plus Australian Alan Peascod (in ’85) demonstrate that he was, for a long period, very open to investigating what might be learned, absorbed and transformed.

The innovations in thinking and technological approaches to his work that manifested in his first success, in 1985 at the Fletcher Awards, are still recognisably present as foundations although he has clearly encouraged variations as they surfaced and embellished them with his humour. He also cannot resist what might be called ‘animalia’ which might be human or piscine, bovine, canine or…  anything… or its hybrid really. They often have legs no matter the derivation, are going somewhere in his personal and inimitable style and all are designed to produce a smile, and do. Take a look at the following images and their dates.

The catalogue will be available from the Suter Gallery in Nelson and is absolutely worth getting. In it are Steve’s often delightful responses to a wide range of questions put to him by The Suter’s curator, Sarah McClintock. I’m told the show looks great – it’s still up but closing soon –  10 February. Clearly, worth the visit if you can.

For sure, there’s not a whiff of death. He’s still got a ways to go and in his words, ‘Just see what happens’. It’s not a retrospective but his first survey.

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In The Trench,  2018. 260x455x340mm. One of the most recent works in the show – wonderful use of pale slips over dark clay and some idiosyncratic mark making.

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Cities, 1990.  300x363x360mm. The text says, ‘Jesus said Buy Steve Fullmer art”

 

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Flaco, 1990s 360x410x400mm.

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Pupster, 2000. 150x550x170mm.

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Steven, come and clean up your room now, 2000.230x215x92mm

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