The Brickell Project – Part 2

Heading south was beautiful, ocean to the left while to the right, high hills backed by massive snowy-topped mountains. Made a stop at Kekerengu where the café looks out over wild surf.   Safely inside, the cosy interior was warmed by a log fire and the high ceilings lined with rough wool-sack hessian. Delicious food with eye-watering prices ($21.50 for a hamburger?)  – something we struck several times at various watering holes – maybe it’s too long since I dined on Ponsonby Road. Further on was the seal colony and occasional glimpses of tottering, wobbly new-born lambs.

North of the South

Christchurch was a break and a look around as no Brickells are to be seen amidst the rubble. Presumably those that survived are safely stored and museum-waxed down. The first view of a scraped bare city site is not a surprise but it’s the repetition of site after site, scraped bare that gets you after a while.

Good to visit Cheryl Lucas and find her, on the other side of a pretty devastated Lyttleton, busy with restoration work already – new pediments, architraves and other architectural construction details. I was able to get there on a day when Haru flew back and forth to base for his Elam students. Next day we visited the new premises for National Gallery where some of Tony Bond’s pieces from his Taiwan installation perched precariously on their individual slippery slopes and saw some new sites used by the Christchurch Art Gallery.  They have found creative solutions to the problems of showing art in a town no longer hosting a viable grand culture venue and use old buildings, street hoardings and other unexpected spaces for displays.

South to Dunedin was an all-day affair under a threatening heavy and grey sky that  looked a bit like day-old porridge, but arriving out on the Otago  Peninsula to balmy light and a soft lowering of light reflecting off the water viewed from the High Road, past Larnach’s Castle and the Harbour Cone toward Portobello, lightened spirits. Over the next days this glowing impression was destroyed by deteriorating weather as we tried to capture three fine collections of ‘Brickellbrac’ in situ, which included garden settings. Marshall Siefert was highly amused enough to photograph us as Haru took images and I held the umbrella – not over him or me but over the camera!  Brett McDowell and David Craig’s casually assembled yet large collections lent more to contextual interior shots and close-ups thankfully as the heavens opened above and Dunedin’s steep streets turned to lively small rivers. Dropped in to Jim Cooper’s place  on the way to Aramoana to find him being very pleased  after unloading a new batch of work including what may be the best as yet un-named ‘dog’ he will ever make…..

We completed time in Dunedin with one piece from Otago Museum’s collection and left Dunedin to bucketing rain, fields that had been merely soggy a few days earlier by then were small lakes and those huge articulated  pantechnicons drowning us even further as they went rocketing past though many inches of surface water .  But I was more worried about those new lambs we saw on the way down! Do they get water wings along with the standing upright lessons I wondered? Stayed in Kaikoura at a scrappy motel that demanded in large letters on the wall that as this was a self-service establishment, washing and drying one’s dishes was expected! Wonder about the impression on our tourists what with the drabbest grey- beige décor seen anywhere including the once-white sheets and towels and crayfish dinners in town at $95-$120 each.

Next day we re-packed the car with great care in anticipation of a predicted rough Cook Strait crossing but fears for the gear proved groundless and it was mostly calm.  We got to Whanganui by night-fall ready for the following day’s meetings and quick visits to Ross M-A who was down with the ‘flu then Paul Maseyk, busy with house renovations and Peter Ireland‘s show at Rayner Brothers consisting copies/part copies and vignettes of famous paintings done by Sunday painters and naïf artists that Peter sourced in junk shops, fairs and festivals all over, set them up beside small images of the originals to make a marvellously enjoyable show. No put-down, just a celebration of the joy of art in all its forms from a small town. We saw Anne Shelton’s new work at McNamara Gallery tracing current images of places in London’s Soho where a cholera epidemic broke out on the mid-1800s and from which Dr Snow realised that the disease was spread by infected water and not a “miasma” in the air because of the presence of a public water cistern supplying all the outbreak sites. Snow realised the implications as he mapped the area which enclosed Carnaby Street, the back of Liberty’s and Berwick Street market behind the ‘Work-house’. His map is part of the exhibition installation.  Apart from the conceptual basis, the works themselves were quite beautiful.

After Whanganui, through yet more rain we travelled north to Palmerston North. There at the headquarters of Todd/Shell we had to wait a bit for work to complete for the day so that Haru  might photograph the wall mural Barry made in celebration of the oil industry in Taranaki. A fine piece in 2.5D as is some of his other best work.  Then finally – the last day – all day with the collection of John and Lynda Matthews, a large estate with works both outside and inside so we kept an eye upon the weather all the time for it changed constantly. Bright sunlight and resultant sharp shadows are too strong and harsh, rain and the camera is in danger. Overcast but bright enough is perfect and several times we had to gather gear and rapidly as possible move outside to catch one of the garden pieces that were snuggled into ferneries, protruding from rockeries or arrayed along walls in the case of the semi-relief erotic figurative works Barry drew from several cultures. Inside, apart from the biggest Great Dane dog I have ever seen, was also the largest railway work of Barry’s. This one was above head height and emitted bursts of steam at intervals that were hard to capture on film. All this against a background of spectacularly strong architecture and stunning sea views that were allowed in places, couldn’t be avoided in others  but as often carefully bypassed  because it was, after all, the work that was central.  Seven and a half hours to capture seven works was a pretty full-on day and we did our best, clearing bush debris a little but only enough to allow the form to be evident, not that much that the context was neutralised.  Had we done that we’d have needed to do something about the mosses and lichens growing on the pieces and that would have taken the works outside the artist’s intents. Many and varied were the problems, every piece presented their share, every one different from the last and by the end of the day there was energy only to get to the nearest motel and take a lie-down!

no explanation needed

Railway work – steam valve being attached

Now, on the way home it feels like the job is complete but actually it is less than half over as Barry’s Driving Creek at Coromandel and Auckland collections have yet to be covered.  Haru has to do these by himself though as I shall be away at the IAC Assembly in Santa Fe then the Australian Triennial in Adelaide and by the time I return the images will be already processed and submitted for the book. This is to be a substantial tome, as Brickell deserves for his considerable contribution to NZ ceramic practice.  Essays by academic David Craig and another by poet Greg O’Brien will give further substance to Barry’s considerable reputation – wherever we went we heard collectors’ and friends’ many and various anecdotes on Barry’s life and words!  The essays plus Haru’s new images along with the very necessary and invaluable historical images should make this a most useful and significant book. It’s not a coffee table number but one for reading and re-reading and is being designed so that text and image blend seamlessly. The exhibition will be extensive, taking up most of the ground floor of the Dowse Art Museum next April. It cannot be seen on that scale anywhere else so group visits by bus or car would be a good idea with a re-viewing of selected parts at Gus Fisher or maybe Otago Museum at a later date offering further opportunity to see the work of one of our most important and catalytic potters. Worth marking on the calendar.

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