And so to Adelaide..

Straight from the USA I transferred to a plane headed for Adelaide and the Subversive Clay Triennale there. As is usual this was good conference, particularly as this time there was usually only a choice of two events/talks to choose from. Sometimes there are three or even four which makes too many layers for most (this is not NCECA!). Here and there were workshops for half to one full day dealing with a range of subjects on a more intimate scale for particular audiences.  There were also the principal guest’s workshops held before the main event – in this case Masamichi Yoshikawa (Japan) and Akoi Takamori (Jpn/USA) It was great to speak with Kate Fitzharris who glowed from her days spent taking in Akio Takamori’s workshop. We shall watch with interest for what develops.

About 400+ attended this Oz gathering that is now firmly scheduled for every three years. The University seating arrangements were excellent for seeing but hearing was a bit of a problem unless down the front, as sound systems were not that efficient always – depending upon how many were in the room. There were about 35 exhibitions set up here and there around town and as usual only those within a distinct coo-ee of the university received much by way of visits as there was enough going on at the main venue with talks and exhibitions. It must be hard to go to all that trouble, and usually expense, to set up a show for an event like this and have few visit but that is the usual pattern no matter where the conference is in the world. Santa Fe this year – small town that it is, proved too hot to gallop around to see more than the handful directly accessible to the conference venue and Paris, two years ago, despite the ease of ‘Le Metro’ was also problematical once the conference began. I guess, if really determined to see everything possible the only answer is to get in to town a few days early and get around. But often, the locals can let you know what might, or definitely should not, be missed and you don’t meet them often, or have access to the conference map, until the event starts. Chickens and eggs… maybe stay on for a few days for an extra look-see. Anyway, the main event is the conference and its talk-fest. Conferences are welcome respite for many as an opportunity to listen to some research, talks on work or debates around issues and, of course, meet old friends and make new ones or meet artists whose work is only known of by image in 2D.

On the stage at Subversive Clay – Paul Scott in the chair for the day and line-up of speakers includes, Penny Byrne, Geoff Mincham, Anton Reijnders (Belgium) and Akio Takamori (Jpn/USA)

For me, the main exhibition, held usually the evening before the conference proper starts was a great opportunity to see ‘in the flesh’ not only a re-acquaintance with what Prue Venables is thinking about these days

Prue Venables ( everything gently ovalled)

Prue Venables

– still that clarity of edge so that the tension between the gentle distortions of form and the resultant change in profile is held poised. There was also chance to become more familiar with the accomplished work of Bruce Nuske and Kristen Coelho whose work was only known by image. Nuske’s scholarship in the history of applied arts is evident in his detailed surfaces and immaculate renderings while Coelho’s bleeding brown spots initially raise thoughts of tin-ware until the limpid beauty of the glaze reveals that all is ceramic.

Bruce Nuske

Bruce Nuske

Kirsten Coelho

Kirsten Coelho

It was a porcelain show – a medium of great contemporary interest in Australia – lots of it around and sometimes I was led to wonder why this particular expression needed to be made in porcelain – but most used its translucency and whiteness to full advantage and meaning. Later in the conference was the opening of a show by Stephen Benwell – moved from being painter of the figurative on vessels to making very fine free-standing figures in their own insouciant right, based on the classical male nude, followed by a great talk by him on his work as pastiche – “an unattractive word meaning copy of a copy – but an interesting idea”.

Stephen Benwell

Another featured artist was Penny Byrne – not a ‘maker’ in any traditional sense but one who uses her art restoration skills to alter ready-made figurines, often to make social commentary on the contemporary.

Penny Byrne, “Nip ‘n Tuck”

Exhibitions were many and varied e.g.  Hyperclay was provocative in unexpected ways, where what I think are currently all educators in ceramics demonstrated the new and very contemporary, (images 8521 and 8522) such as Ian Bird’s projections upon otherwise unmarked plates and platters – playing at the intersection of the digital and the hand-made producing endless variations on pattern and movement,

Stephen Bird

Stephen Bird

…or children’s pre-loved stuffed toys, over-scaled and looking more like they have been cast in lead,


… to large scale industrially-made ceramic animals and statuary – transformed to becoming close to what is happening to tiny figurines all over the place,


… through to Jackie Clayton’s  over-sized gleam of some industrial structure  displaying what looked like funerary ceramic floral arrangements under glass domes  entitled Rilke and the Autoclave.

Jackie Clayton

In conjunction with this exhibition, there was a Teachers Workshop for secondary school teachers called Clay at the Edges, focussing on how contemporary artists use clay in unconventional ways. Now wouldn’t that be useful? Some awareness of clay practices by high school teachers? So as to pass this on and contribute to grow the structures for ceramics at tertiary level?

Much interest arose from the announcement of the Alcorso Vitrify Award. This is a new and useful way of arranging a competition so that, unlike most competitions where the resultant, often frustrating, show usually consisting one-pot-shots, is avoided. This Award of $10,000 made by the Alcorso Foundation – a not for profit cultural organisation, is open nationally and non-acquistive. (go to The Award was first established last year – 2011.

The procedure is that proposals are invited and from these, four finalists are invited to develop a body of work for a group exhibition and finally the selection of one as grand prize-winner. This places some extra pressure and responsibility upon the judging panel as they are not only weighed with the final choice of a single artist’s group of works but prior to this have to know that the artists they selected as finalists are capable, in every way, of producing the work outlined in the submitted proposal.

Judges included: Noel Frankham formerly Director of Object in Sydney and currently Head of Art in Hobart University Schoool of Art; Prue Venables, internationally notable ceramic artist, former winner of the FCCA (1995) and currently Creative Director for ceramics at the Jam Factory, and Robert Reason, curator of Dec. Arts at the Art Gallery of S.A. (and former Kiwi)

Finalists were Ian Bird, Neville French, Tania Rollond and Julie Bartholomew. All with excellently conceived and rendered, although entirely dissimilar from one another, work. The winner was Neville French with a group of elemental porcelain vessels that distilled an essence of place via an expressive use of glaze and its relationship to form, space and light. His sources were the dry lakes region of Willandra – a  World Heritage Site of profound significance for its record of human cultural presence and geological evolution over 120,000 years. The work offered quietude and transcendence.

Neville French

Neviller French

Neville French

Neville French: Gently altered, wheel thrown pieces – producing a poetic sense of a vast topography that was recognised by the judging panel.

Here also is Tania Rollond’s project  for the competition.

Tania Rollond

I have to say though, that apart from Akio Takamori’s single, almost life-size figurative work I was most immediately drawn to the apparently simple exhibits by Masamichi Yoshikawa. I have seen his work previously and there are also some pieces in Auckland Museum as part of the Itoh collection donation, but the three pieces on show in Adelaide stopped me in my tracks so utterly beautiful was the confluence of celadon and porcelain.  Call me old-fashioned but it can still make my mouth water and fill me with lust.

Masamichi Yoshikawa, Platter – the casually un-precious sliced edge frames an immaculate, apparently woven centre.

Masamichi Yoshikawa, Long Platter – A high base producing a definitive shadow and supports a linear structure  drawing the eye toward the centre.

There was more, much more, as part of the conference. Excellent talks by off-shore guests such as Clare Twomey, (UK) on Skill: its Legacy and Future, Anton Reinjders (Blg) on Ceramics in the Expanded Field and Akio Takamori on his own work’s evolution and relationship to his cultural heritage, American gallerist, Leslie Ferrin on what she expects to do for her stable and changes currently apparent in the American market. There were also many interesting (and often closer to home) talks by Australian presenters too many to mention, but one fresh approach I enjoyed was that of Arun Sharma positing shifting perceptions  on the changing roles of men (Where did Oz mankind get to become so sensitive and new age after all those disreputable years …. ?)

It was a rich conference, multi-layered and with plenty on offer for all levels from those needing some intellectual stimulation to those seeking the visually reinvigorating through to those who still require to view somebody actually making stuff.  Try not to miss the next one. Canberra, 2015.


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