I am writing this in Picton having just come off the Interislander ferry. The crossing was a dream – low afternoon sun illuminating the curve of green hills in Tory Channel and the water close to glassy all the way. That, and a good lamb and kumara pie makes for happy travellers.
We are on one of our country-wide tours getting images for a book. This particular travel will include stops in Wellington, Dunedin, and Palmerston North. Later will come travel to Coromandel and around Auckland collections. This is for the book on Barry Brickell’s work that will accompany his major retrospective that will be mounted by The Dowse next April and be shown in more condensed form at the Gus Fisher Gallery later next year. Haru is of course taking the images while I am just gofer and gear carrier and possibly occasional pot-duster.
We started the Wellington collections with a full day at the Dowse – they have a considerable collection of Barry’s work from most decades but particularly those early years – James Mack, thankfully, took care of that. Along with some glazed unomi and other early pots there are a number of railway pieces including the bas-relief wall tiles that are some of his most personal work.
Next day was another full, and full-on, day at Simon Manchester’s. There were almost as many fine specimens but the real hazards were all the other pots that had to be moved to access those we wanted to image. It was good becoming re-acquainted with Simon’s hundreds of works. Like any collection it has its strengths that are personal to whoever makes those decisions in that auction environment and where the collector decides they will place emphasis, but some of the finest Castles alongside what could possibly be the greatest range of his work has to be here along with representation from most vessel-makers in our past history and some very new faces that have yet to claim a place.
Once started upon private and small public collections decisions must be made about whether to image a work with a neutral background and studio lighting which usually ensures that profile, surface texture and detail are clearly seen but scale can be difficult to discern without recourse to those small figures in the box beside the image. Getting the lighting just right ensures the pot looks fully three dimensional rather than an aesthetic cut-out. Another way is to image the work in situ which exhibits the work in its contemporary setting and this also gives scale while demonstrating where the work usually resides – which is also part of the story, and an important one for a retrospective of a lifetime’s work.
After two very full days with many works to be imaged, the next day was in complete contrast. We visited the home of eminent art dealer, Peter McLeavy where there was one large piece that presented challenges to photograph. In the end we set up a background rather than photograph it in situ which we are aiming for where possible in private collections, particularly the larger works. It was a somewhat unstable, top-heavy tri-pot that, had it rolled over could have injured the lively miniature spaniel dog or the several small grand-children running around. We had to shut them out of the kitchen and do what we could because there was a steady stream of visitors and nowhere with a hard floor on which to position the work. What was great was seeing much of McLeavy’s collection of art. A number of iconic NZ artists in paint and print as one might expect but also a fine assembly of classic American Photography – plus some from iconic Frenchman, Eugene Atget. Not a lot of contemporary ceramics but I spotted a couple of Paul Maseyk’s smallish bowls and a Richard Stratton teapot. Other ceramics came from some of our early women pioneers of the 30s/40s.
After this we went to Parliament where there are a cluster of Brickell’s Spiromorphs not altogether comfortable in their new position (Parliament’s refurbishment has meant artworks have had to be moved. Not all have yet found the right new home). While Haru was lighting the works and between sessions of shifting the pots, I had the privilege of a series of ventures to check out the Parliamentary collection with their manager. Malcolm Harrison’s large installation, which includes Richard Parker’s enormous Anchorstone, still occupies its old place while the Anchorstone becomes more bedecked with banners and ribbons from visiting delegations of every imaginable ethnicity and country.
Christine Boswijk’s glass-embedded cauldron also stays in its former position while there is a delightful Robert Rapson teapot, based upon the Beehive’s formation in a small exhibition in a vitrine. I usually prefer Rapson’s boats but this one works well and somehow conveys some of the dysfunctional and unco-ordinated aspects of that repeatedly bizarre place due to Rapson’s personal style of handling the medium. There are many more to be found around ‘head office’. If you are a small group you can arrange a tour of the collection or if alone there are regular scheduled tours.
The next day was the turn of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage where a two metre high work was housed in what amounted to a cupboard without a door along a narrow corridor. This Ministry has in recent times shifted offices and it would be fair to say that some art works could have been more comfortable in their former locations. This one had to be moved altogether but here there was full co-operation from the staff to find a site where an image could be made. In the end the CEO’s office proved best and as we were discussing moving the large and heavy work I wondered ‘how many public servants does it take to shift some brickelbrac…?’
Further along the corridor and facing the lift doors I reacquainted with Campbell Hegan and Caroll Shepherd’s very fine, terra-cotta, twine and wood, joint work from the early ‘90s and a show at the Crafts Council on The Terrace where pairs of artists, one from craft media with one from the fine end of things, worked toward a joint result.
It is a matter of concern to see surface marks and damage here and there on some of these works, particularly unglazed terra-cotta, and others have some irredeemable damage that needs consultation on and possible replacement of parts. It makes what can seem like pedantically over-enthusiastic rules around white gloves and so forth in public institutions like our galleries and museums, seem fully justified. It’s also concerning to see where artists have repaired works (such as fine firing cracks) before sale with something inappropriate and which has subsequently discoloured, resulting in a very obvious and unsightly restoration job. Homework, and lots of it or leave such fine cracks alone or just take a hammer to the piece and start again is the answer.
So, Wellington completed and headed to Dunedin for the next sessions. Weather permitting…