The Phantasmagoria that was the Festival of Ceramics 2017 has run its course. At last. Many are still recovering from this Auckland wide celebration of things ceramic. There was so much to see, from the “Wow!” to the “Well done!” to the “Good effort!” to the “Oh dear…”. But it sure kept us all busy for more than a month.
It has grown considerably in this, its third year in to quite a significant event and while some former contributors disappeared, there were ample new ones. Tailored for most, from serious collectors to practitioners and new aficionados to children, the aim seemed to be something for everyone. And there was. From studio visits to guided walks, clinics for collectors to discussions and talks by artists and practitioners in solo or panel formats, firing and throwing opportunities and the principal arena of exhibitions at public and private dealer galleries through to opportunistic sales of work. It was not possible to see all that was available but regardless, with events now drawn to a close, many are just ceramic-ied out! However most of the principal exhibitions will be still showing throughout the summer, or at least until late January.
Main event was probably the 17th Portage Awards held at Te Uru in Titirangi. This year, for the first time, the juror was home-based in the form of Emma Bugden, formerly Senior Curator at The Dowse and currently living in Whanganui where she is editing and anthologising early copies of NZ Potter magazine. Bugden brings much of value to jurying this show including early qualifications in ceramics from Northland Polytechnic under the remarkable Geoff Wilson who, according to Emma, exhorted his students to throw pots in any colour, as long as they were brown! A broad arts education subsequently honed that basis followed by ample experience in the wide world of art but always with a fond eye on what was happening in ceramics. I opine, that in this time of considerable expansion in what ceramics can be, as seen in galleries around the world, and also reflected here, such enhancements to an early focus, are surely more than useful.
The concerned reverberations at the disturbance to the long-held principal of an international juror with no prior knowledge of our ceramics that was rattling around in ceramic circles were surely put firmly to bed once Bugden’s choices were displayed. Her show was lively, colourful and engaging. Way more so than last year’s. At least in my view. And last year, while the juror was international, she knew NZ work pretty well and had been here several times previously. Going for an Australian juror is as unlikely to field an unfamiliar viewpoint as is one from here. Probably any Australian with enough background to be our juror will be well acquainted with our major national figures and informed on work from here. No, if we want that Fletcher anonymity we must extend the invitation further than across the Ditch. But possibly, that other unique custom we are noted for off-shore – our single juror – is sufficient? Multiple jurors is the standard in Europe and Asia at least. Or is the tradition, begun for the Fletcher Awards back in 1977, of a lone view from a distant shore and innocent of work from here so embedded that we reject any change? I’m interested in other’s views here. Letters to the Editor welcome.
Bugden met these issues head-on in her speeches and her catalogue statement by suggesting objectivity to be difficult whether the judge is drawn from locality or is the distanced international ‘coming in cold’. She added that anyone judging such a show exposes their own background and biases. So true. We all bring baggage to looking. However, while Bugden agreed that within the entrants were people she had worked with and that she held her own prejudices and preconceptions, she also found names and work unknown previously that gave her that jolt of recognition that can be almost physical to a knowing eye.
Bugden revealed, with her winning choices, that she had concerns for craftsmanship and interest in what is fresh and new as well as regard for the established. Not many could argue that list. Her choices of Premier Award and other awards follow…
Amanda Shanley : Colouring In Merit
A still life moment from the dinner table with dark green scribbles maintaining an ingenuous demeanour.
Cheryl Lucas : Milkstock. Merit.
A series of milk bearing vessels and thoughts of cows and their effects upon this land and its waters.
John Parker ; Uncut Penetration. Merit
Well practiced, virtuoso design elements of industrial derivation and uncharted intent.
Andrea du Chatenier : Untitled (Yellow Stack) Residency
A collapse of cylindrical linearity into a vividly chromatic, seemingly unstable pile made immutable by globs of implausible feldspathic fluidity.
Richard Stratton : Forced Turn Teapot Premier Award
A brutalist teapot mired in history by its colour and the eclecticism of its sources; its cylindrical origins dislocated and reassembled with an eye for where shadows can add intrigue and addenda offer playfulness.
It was a broad and beguiling show that contained repeats of themes we have viewed previously – some still maintaining the freshness generated when first seen; echoes of the highly textured gloopy glazed effects currently seen as ‘hot’ in the concrete canyons of New York; intriguing techniques that invited curiosity, some staggeringly accomplished work particularly from immigrant artists that can only bring fresh interest to a small scene and unorthodox approaches from artists trained in other disciplines.
There were other works that made my particular fires glow. Some of them took me a return to the show to fully appreciate….quiet excellence can take time.
Madeleine Child’s Pretty Boys – her ‘Splendids’ in glowing cadmium yellow, wall-perched on an assortment of kiln furniture and spoilers, rivalled du Chatenier’s collapsed stack in radiance and most else in the show for insouciance.
Philip Jarvis’s audacious plastic bags of clay. Difference. Not trying, not trying at all yet getting there anyway. With ease.
Jinho Jeong bringing an Asian technical dexterity and precision to wonder at and admire.
Judith by Jacquelyn Greenbank intrigued. Too small to be neck adornment it still carried the corporeal in the fleshy hue of the silk tassels and the fact that they seemed intent to clasp their bony hoops around a neck. Holofernes neck perhaps?
From Tony Bond’s slippery slopes with their distant resonances of the very first Portage Premier Award to new work from Kate Fitzharris and Paul Maseyk – a wood kiln indeed(!) there was lots to look at and think about.
The catalogue just gets better each year. Always the commissioned essay is a welcome addition to the few texts in the field and useful historically (look how many refer back in their own contribution) and excellent images, plus subtle upgrades in design. But now, finally, the artist’s statements are catching up fast – are they being edited by a bit? A lot? (Very probably in some cases…) Regularly a cause of complaint from me, from whence has this generalised boost to literacy suddenly appeared? Who would refuse such an upgrade if offered? And, take a look at the bios…once sturdy and worthy they now transfer an almost jocular air in places along with their increased concision. All welcome additions indeed. Well done Te Uru!
The show runs to February 11th.