Author Archives: Moyra

Obituary: America’s Warren McKenzie

Here is an obit on McKenzie written by Sandy Simon of Trax Gallery in San Francisco. She was a student of his many years ago.

Warren’s way of life and work touched so many. He was not without ego, as so many attribute to him, but rather he was entrenched in his belief of keeping pots affordable. He made no excuses for the pots; they were made quickly and forms were often repeated. He wanted people to use them daily. Warren was “Mingei” to his core. The word, “Mingei” was coined by a Japanese maker and author, Soetsu Yanagi, in recognition of The Unknown Craftsman, (the title of his book) which were makers of pottery sold and used without pomp and circumstance.
Warren made himself available to people, he took the time to return letters, meet with strangers, share his stories. I was lucky to have had him for a teacher, as many were during his thirty seven years at the University of Minnesota. Aside from Warren, or Mac, as we called him, the bigger part included our remarkable classmates in the late sixties; Mark Pharis, , Michael Simon, Randy Johnston, Laurie Samuelson, George Beers, to name a few. We were all energized and transformed by Warren’s warmth, his genuineness, and his commitment to making pots. He sometimes had us students over for a meal – I will never forget the warmth in his kitchen generated by so many pots by so many potters that he eagerly shared with us.
Warren was wrong telling us we could make a living without teaching, without getting our degree – “just do it” was his mantra long before Nike had it. We tried, then secretly cursed him for telling us so, yet eventually we each found a way to make enough money to continue to live and work in his way.
Many years had passed before I opened TRAX in 1994 in Berkeley, CA. I asked Warren if he would agree to a show. He said yes and he came and did the first workshop I had in our old Voulkos warehouse on the RR tracks. I was amazed at the response. It was before cell phones; I had to hold a phone in each hand to answer calls about his work. I had to rent bleachers to accommodate all of the people who wanted to attend his workshop. The response had me spinning. Where had I been? When had my old teacher gotten so famous? I really didn’t know. I continued to host Warren and workshops and exhibitions of his for the next 20 years. He would never ask me to sell his work at his prices. I bought them outright and he’d say charge what you want. Randy Johnston advised me to sell them at market prices as others were buying them from TRAX strictly for resale – nothing made Warren madder than this. For this reason he had to close his home salesroom. He realized he couldn’t continue to dictate the prices for his pots. The market for his pots was out of his control. He refused to take his share of any profits but rather told me to use the money to support the gallery so younger, less known potters could exhibit at TRAX. This was what I did and it was through his generosity that TRAX continued.
He will be missed but his legacy will go on. TRAX will go on.

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Peter Hawkesby at Anna Miles

Get on your bike or Lime scooter, or your own feet if necessary and zap along to Anna Miles’ Gallery in Upper Queen Street. Do not pass go and do not collect 200. Just get there and view, in the large old vitrine, some of the finest vessels you are likely to see this year.

Peter Hawkesby has been in evidence recently as he has tried ‘riding the bike again’, as he puts it. Active many years ago, his work was pilloried by some, viewed incomprehensibly by many but admired and enjoyed by others possessed of a different eye and way of assessing worth in a lump of fired clay. Life intervened and Hawkesby had little to do with ceramics for many years. However, with time passed, the call to ride again along with fewer work demands has meant he is back on that bike. And going for it!

There was an initial show of his assemblages at Anna Miles. Consisting various components, some of which had lain awaiting notice for many years beneath a compost heap, while others were freshly minted and still evidencing effects from their recent passage through fire. They stood, leaned or lay supine in disparate postures narrating a variety of possibilities around the exhibition’s heading of  Scratch a Cenotaph. Distinctly votive in ambiance the works nevertheless successfully held any hovering reverence pretty much at bay; instead the elements rallied together for an insouciant muster underscored by Hawkesby’s signature big fat ticks – orange peeled, glossily dribbled and dripped or starkly desiccated of surface, contributing their own positivity to the confluence while signifying enjoyment in the process.

There was an intermediate appearance of his work when he exhibited further assemblages as guest artist for the ASP’s annual event at Pah Homestead (still on – go see),  but it is the current display, as part of  Anna Miles end-of-year group show, The Ocelot Dominion, where the next manifestation of his bike riding skills become evident.

His Blunted Devil Cups have a utilitarian objective although not in any conventional sense.  They offer a sober spontaneity that makes a virtue of their uncontrived blips, runs, blow-outs and piercings which sparsely interrupt an otherwise austere, ashen, soda’d surface more akin to a heaving reflective sea or soft stone than skin of an orange.  Mounted upon variously surfaced elements that inform around their passage through fire, the layered base forms suggest altars and underscore the symbolic and ritual roles of their labelling.  There are few indications of the exuberance so apparent in the earlier assemblages but a casually draped decorative strip cloaking a lip or a spiky addition on a rim, suggestive of a horn, reassure that the adornments of his title are still within grasp. Here be magic that can embellish and colour the rituals of living with a restrained elegance while linking with the very origins of fired clay.

There is also a splendid Edo-ish two-part vase, its sections secured with macaroni elbows at the juncture and surfaced with splotches of deep blue and slashes and scratches that catch and contain rivulets of soda, plus a hand-built teapot of similar ilk that expresses the surface of the clay in ways that relate to the immediacy of pre-industrial wares. These pieces are more than decorative and demonstrate that function can be both explicit and implied.

While at Anna Miles Gallery you will find a range of work by Richard Stratton – very different in their precision assemblies and adherence to historical methods long buried in out-of-date technical tomes and as he looks at ceramics’ inheritances he’s also reconfiguring how a vessel should, or can, simply be. In this case – referencing structuralist architecture.

Both these artist’s work revel in some of the rich potential of their chosen medium; in its subtleties and malleability in riposte to spontaneity or its responses to lengthy, painstaking and well-researched process and subversive cognition. Both are worth spending time with and that’s possible until the gallery closes on December 22nd.

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The vitrine with Devil Cups.

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Blunted Devil Cup II

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Blunted Devil Cup I

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Blunted Devil Cup

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Reverse side

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Vase approx 31cmH.

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Rick’s Emergent Award and Things to come…

This morning the winner of the Quartz Museum’s inaugural Emergent Practitioner in Clay Award was announced by our Prime Minister, in her role as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, in a gracious short speech. Jacinda looked as delighted as I feel sure that the winner of the $10,000 must be. His name is Oliver Morse, he’s from Wellington and the winning work is entitled House of Dee and here are images of its front and back, I am unsure which is which and it really doesn’t matter, but it seems, from its presentation, to distinctly have front and back. It’s a tad hard to tell but I assume the pot is round. Jacinda displayed it with the large aperture to the front so maybe she understood how it should be.winner #2_MG_6279 medium res-1 (2).jpg

The Award was judged by the Trustees for the Rick Rudd Foundation, Collector Tom Seaman and artists Paul Rayner and Rick Rudd. No technical details are given but its size can be judged by watching Jacinda hold it and it’s somewhere about 30cm high maybe a bit more. Go to…  https://youtu.be/uch  It looks hand built of terracotta clay with a white slip as background for the hand scribed and painted figurative surface illustrations. More importantly, the judges’ statement mentions that “the work could only have been made in the 21st Century….” And that’s dead right. Much of the new work seen in international sites is either loosely handbuilt and artfully, extravagantly textured with vibrant colour that takes it past the natural base often cited as source. Drips and blobs, lumpen and fissured, slumped and perforated surfaces and all in glorious technicolour. The other principal avenue is the figurative – modelled or drawn and painted, in toto or simply parts. Works present narratives or play with organised religion, sexuality or gender; they are often sourced in the feminine or the domestic but further viewing can reveal something deeper and darker. Always however, the hand-built, and often loosely so, is paramount and demonstrable skill often eschewed – even if often there.

Go to some of the online sites for art or ceramics and find their lists of the ‘new artists in clay’ and these two genres will be much in evidence. Or open any one of about five or six new print publications on the ‘new expression in ceramics’ and there are many, many more. And with few repeats of names. So this really is quite a movement happening. Possibly the strongest for a very long time.

Oliver Morse’s exhibit taps into this figurative genre. According to the press release, he has a history in painting and theatre and the work is autobiographical. That’s hard to see from the images but we’ll look forward to seeing more from this artist who has been but two years in this interesting avenue, one with a long history, from ancient Egyptians, Persians and Greeks to the Peruvian Moche and Mexican Aztecs to Majolica and Delft of European origins. It’s the stuff by which cultures and civilisations are known.  Morse’s painting is charmingly loose as it floats around the vessel, which the judges stated, “… is simply canvas…the drawing confident, lively and sketchy, in keeping with the vessel itself.” As can be observed from the other side, he has not left the interior unembellished either. There is a dark figure, horned, painted inside. Is “Dee’s house” where the devil lurks one wonders? There is no artist’s statement to offer some clues but the lightly clothed figures around the outside surface might suggest some contemporary bacchanale? A wild night in Wellington?

Speculation aside, the Trust intends to offer this Award triannually and focus particularly upon early career artists. The criteria, about the word ‘emergent’, which apparently confused some of the 65 entrants this year, will be clarified then. There are some 37 works selected by the judges that will be on exhibition at Quartz until March next year. This includes Morse’s winning work so you can see what moved the judging committee. Meanwhile he has a most useful $10,000 to invest in his work and career. We’ll look forward to seeing what his win brings to his oeuvre in the future.

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Images, courtesy Quartz Museum, by Richard Wooton.

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Obituary: Janice Tchalenko 1942-2018

This is an edited version of  Tanya Harrod’s The Guardian obit for her friend, Janice Tchalenko who will be known and remembered by many of our senior practitioners.  She bridged the gap between art and industry.

Janice Tchalenko, has died aged 76. She was an admired ceramicist, designer and artist who collaborated on textiles and ceramics with Designers Guild and Next Interiors, and created a series of satirical ceramic sculptures with Roger Law of Spitting Image.

Setting out in the 1960s and 70s she made fashionable domestic wares, “brown pots”, informed by the work of Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach, working, she ironically noted, as “a peasant potter in Peckham”. But in 1981 she revolutionised the field, shocking many studio potter colleagues, by evolving glazes of great richness and depth of colour to adorn reduction-fired stoneware; painting, sponging and slip-trailing complex semi-abstract decorative schema on bold simplified shapes; using piscatorial and amphibian casts as handles and knobs; and taking inspiration from the ceramics of the Middle East, from the capricious mannerist Bernard Palissy, and from European rococo earthenware and porcelain and 19th century art pottery.

A series of large thrown bowls, flared jugs with flowing handles and press moulded dishes followed – magnificent objects, much admired and much imitated, elsewhere and here in NZ. But her work was, in tune with her socialist politics, aimed to reach a wider audience. From 1983 in collaboration with Steven Course at the Dartington Training Workshop, renamed Dart Pottery in 1984, she designed tableware ranges. These  – Poppy, Black Rose and Leopard, were an instant success, winning both the Manchester Prize for Art in Production and the BBC Radio 4 Enterprise Award in 1988. Production at Dart, initially hand-thrown, became more mechanised as demand soared. Decoration, however, was always hand-painted using techniques evolved by Tchalenko.

Tchalenko was born in Rugby, Warwickshire. After attending Manor Park primary school, Janice won a place at Barr’s Hill, a girls’ grammar school. Further education was discouraged by her family and at 16 she became an accounts clerk in the same GPO building as her father and brother. Aged 17 she took the clerical officer exams for the Foreign Office and moved to London where she dealt with embassy accounts.

In 1964, she married John Tchalenko, a geologist, and later a researcher and filmmaker, who had moved into a flat in her building. Because he was of Russian descent, Janice was deemed a security risk and lost her Foreign Office job.

She decided to become a potter, learning to throw at Putney School of Art, working as potter’s assistant and as an art therapist at the Priory hospital. From 1969 to 1971 she took the vocational pottery course at Harrow School of Art, a highly practical training that taught production throwing, kiln and wheel building and glaze and clay technology.

She became an outstanding thrower and was recruited by Colin Pearson to teach the skill at Camberwell School of Art (1972-87). There she encountered the ceramic artist Glenys Barton, thus meeting a whole generation of outstanding female graduates from the Royal College of Art – Alison Britton, Jill CrowleyCarol McNicoll and Jacqui Poncelet. They partly inspired her to turn to freer forms and vivid colours as did her travels with John in Russia and Iran.

Tchalenko went on to teach at the Royal College of Art (1981-96), being elected a fellow of the College in 1987.

Roger Law, who had long admired and collected her work, became an unexpected collaborator in 1993. With the Spitting Image workshop, Law and Tchalenko created startling ceramic sculptures of each of the Seven Deadly Sins, in two versions, shown at and bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum, and also purchased by the British Council. In 1996, at the Richard Dennis Gallery, Law and Tchalenko showed Modern Antiques, Toby Jug-like caricatures of famous potters from Palissy to Leach, and editions of vases and bowls writhing with lizards and fish.

There were further collaborations – with the furniture designer Jane Dillon, the sculptor Richard Wentworth, with Nick Mosse’s workshops in Ireland and with the ceramic designer Sue Pryke – Tchalenko’s house in Therapia Road, Peckham, was a nexus for artistic interchange. In the 1990s Tchalenko became an ambassador for British ceramics, curating exhibitions for the British Council and holding workshops all over the world. In 1992 she had a retrospective exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield. Crossing boundaries characterised Tchalenko’s career.

Seniority brought fresh friendships and further experimentation, including a turn to porcelain, printmaking and a series of large painterly ceramic panels. Her final exhibitions were in France in autumn 2017. She was included in the remarkable L’Expérience de la Couleur at the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres in Paris alongside  work from Josef AlbersSonia Delaunay and Yves Klein. While at Hélène Aziza’s gallery, 19 rue Paul Fort, Paris, she showed among friends – Elisabeth Fritsch, Britton, McNicoll and Poncelet. Her work is in many public collections including the V&A, the Ashmolean Museum, the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Los Angeles County Museum and the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres.

Tchalenko is survived by John and their son, Luke, and two grandchildren, Thea and Kira, and by her twin brother, David.

For images of the work that made her world-famous go to http://www.janictchalenko.com/archive/#/1980-2000/ Also on the site is work made prior (from her brown pot era and later work made as a mature artist.

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The Leading Ladies.

Leading Ladies is a historical ceramics exhibition currently at Te Uru in Titirangi. The Gallery invited me to curate a show of early women potters, in part as counterpoint to the generous numbers of male potter surveys and retrospectives prevalent in recent times. Fair enough, mid-century ceramics was very much a period of male dominance with the Anglo-oriental here, and everywhere it had a presence, also for Abstract Expressionist clay in the USA and the Sodeisha movement in Japan – all very male, all very mid-century. (Could have been something in the water perhaps?) However, as we called a chapter title in Cone Ten Down – ‘In the Beginning was Earthenware’. Indeed, prior to the Anglo-oriental era the earliest studio ceramics in this country were made by women. Although, there were some immigrant, industrially trained men who came to start, or work in, our infant clay industries, as early as the mid-1800s.

The pioneer women in the early 20thC had no books such as A Potters Book as guide but required to find out for themselves – often the hard way.  They dug and prepared their own clay and built their own kilns, firing initially with wood or coal and slowly learned and shared what they knew. Some went off-shore to learn more, others we know not how they acquired information. That there were a number is without doubt and there is a scattering of records in old pamphlets, newspapers and art catalogues telling us of their presence although we don’t always know their work.

My own search for suitable works for Te Uru’s exhibition was necessarily confined to private collectors in the Auckland area. There was little budget for distant research and while there are some great pieces in public collections most major galleries require six months notice for borrowing collection works and it’s really necessary to actually see and handle potential works for maximum information. You can guess how something was made from an image, but its heft can give definitive information.

While there was some activity in decorating cast forms produced, often by industry, in the early 20th C. I was concerned to source only hand made ceramics. I set about visiting the private collectors I knew such as our own John Parker who was a great supporter of both Briar Gardner and Olive Jones – the two Auckland based early potters. I knew other collectors and checked several out for their holdings and apart from Gardner and Jones saw works by Elizabeth Lissaman and Elizabeth Matheson as named potters. There are other works from perhaps around the early 1900s in some collections that have no provenance and dates and makers are unknown. Then I came across some new clay works that I had not seen before. But these had a name. They were by Minnie Frances White who had some reputation as a painter and a member of the Phoenix Group of post-Elam artists led by John Weeks. It transpired that she too made wheel thrown and decorated pieces, but also slab-built works in an Art Deco influenced style with abstract linear decoration in strong diagonals on sometimes dynamic planes. White’s work in clay was not known to me previously and this is the first NZ-made, contemporary, Deco-styled work I have seen. I assume that her Deco characteristics in richly coloured slips on those strongly planar forms could have derived from her extensive art schools training plus the on-going contact with practicing artists in Phoenix Group who were abreast of current trends like Art Deco which followed and is, in some ways, an extension of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles.

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Minnie F White.

Anyway, hers were not the only fresh and interesting finds in the project. Elizabeth Lissaman’s fine 3D modelling of frogs and waterlilies on and around a dish, fitted perfectly with her slip and glaze painted decorations. She was, so it seemed most interested in applying her characteristic decorative designs to a range of forms that stayed modestly scaled and cleanly surfaced so as to better display her designs. She was, of all five women, clearly the one most interested in surface.

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Elizabeth Lissaman.

The other Elizabeth, Ms Matheson, not at all, as even with quite extensive searching I could find but one piece with sgraffito fish by way of surface embellishment. The remainder were quietly coated with single hues of glossy glaze and reliance upon clarity of function for their presence.

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Elizabeth Matheson.

Briar Gardner made, by far, the tallest works and viewing the film of her working, which accompanied the exhibition, her energy levels were impressive, especially considering she would have been in her fifties when the film was made. Whether shovelling coal or taking down the wicket, vigour was very much in evidence.

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Briar Gardner.

As for Olive Jones, without question she possessed the greatest range of skills. And so she should considering she had by far the longest and most wide-ranging training in ceramics. The show’s only cast works were hers, in finely modelled Maori canoe prows or female Grecian-mode figures – forming bookends, and they show how considerable was her expertise for she made every stage. There were two partially reduced, thrown, copper red vases that had been fired in saggars. Apparently their mixed red, green and black surfaces made them amongst her most sought-after work. Most impressive was the ‘Islamic lustre’ (so called because the potters of the Middle East famously used the technique with great finesse although it was around before the advent of Islam). Induced while the kiln is cooling or through a third firing it is sometimes known as ‘true lustre’ because it’s brought about via heavy reduction rather than bought in a tiny expensive bottle. Jones made a simple spherical vase glazed in ‘true’ copper lustre and despite being quite small, its surface positively glowed a soft melon pinkish-red colour.

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Olive Jones.

All was displayed, at eye level, on and in specially-made wall shelves and boxes. Putting such small works on a plinth or table-top seemed inappropriate as they were quite humble domestic pieces and not intended for a white cube display, as art. Never their intention. And they’d be lost on a table-top. The wall shelves, so I learned, are a very English (working class) mid 20th C. thing and mostly used for the display of household chattels, often ceramics. So that seemed very appropriate for their presentation. It was easy to view them – even advantageous for such unpretentious things; there was plenty to observe close-up.

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Olive Jones installation in process of being installed in her boxes. The tape is to clarify the scale of a pot yet to be placed. The two copper red vases are here as is the small copper lustre and the modelled figurative bookends.

To round off the display I added two portrait busts, by the Rayner Brothers of Whanganui. They played homage to these pioneers by modelling Elizabeth Lissaman and Briar Gardner. As they are possibly the first two, that’s fitting. Wish though that the Rayners had also done busts of Matheson and Jones but as these four were not necessarily the only pioneers we have, it would be difficult, I guess, to know when to stop…

The show opened a week or so prior to the Portage and comes to the end of its run on  January 28th  after being, apparently, quite popular viewing throughout the summer. Certainly I have received a number of emails and notes from people with lots of positive feedback and even been sent images of a couple of works asking if I can verify that these (imaged) pieces, in family keeping, have been made by some of these pioneer potters (they were indeed.) So maybe there will be some new additions to the auction rooms very soon.

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Springboarding from this project, there will be a Wikipedia Editathon on behalf of these pioneer potters of ours and followed ‘with a focus on female artists working with ceramics with the aim of improving the balance of artists represented online’. This will be hosted at Te Uru on…

SUNDAY 21st January (NEXT SUNDAY!) from 12 midday to 4pm

to be led by Courtney Johnston, Director of The Dowse Art Museum.

Courtney is experienced with Wikipedia projects having already overseen a project that created or enhanced more than 100 entries related to craft and craft arts to Wikipaedia already, so has considerable expertise in the area.

So, if you have a pet artist in our field you think deserves to be featured in Wikipedia, or would simply like to learn how this can be achieved for future reference, come along! Bring your laptop and any relevant research material. Or just your laptop as Te Uru will have research material on site anyway. Please go to Te Uru’s site for further information.  Absolutely worth doing! Great idea! See you there!

 

 

 

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The Festival and the Portage

 

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. Shanley

 

Cheryl Lucas : Milkstock.   Merit.

A series of milk bearing vessels and thoughts of cows and their effects upon this land and its waters. Lucas

 

John Parker ; Uncut PenetrationMerit

Well practiced, virtuoso design elements of industrial derivation and uncharted intent. Parker

 

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. du Chatenier (2)

 

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.Stratton

 

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. Child

Philip Jarvis’s audacious plastic bags of clay. Difference. Not trying, not trying at all yet getting there anyway. With ease. Jarvis

Jinho Jeong bringing an Asian technical dexterity and precision to wonder at and admire. Jeong (2)

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? Greenbank

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. Maseyk

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.

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Betty Woodman 1930-2018

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Woodman in studio, early 2000s

The great Betty Woodman died a couple of days ago at age 87. Part of the Pattern and Decoration movement which was a reaction to the prevailing abstraction – and particularly the abstraction manifested in the work of Voulkos and his followers- Woodman, while not overtly a feminist artist, joined a coterie of mainly female artists who celebrated ready-made patterning and design elements as part of their work and dropped temperatures from reduced stoneware to oxidised earthenware. She said,  “It was a macho scene, a man’s world. Being a woman it was not easy to achieve recognition”. However, Woodman received notice early, particularly for her Pillow Pitchers – two closed off cylinders joined end to end and placed horizontally as basis  and in the manner of T’ang pouring vessels, then added a central neck and spout that could be decidedly Islamic and surface decoration derived from Persian ceramics and other eclectic sources. These hybrid pots were some of the first that combined various elements of ceramic history in single works. They were something entirely new at the time and they underscored her career. She did not stop there however, she continued to extend her parameters and her sources in painting and ceramic history while looking at various countries’ distinctive additions and styles and utilising these in new ways to produce something fresh. Japan, Mexico, Korea and particularly Italy were subjects for her distinctive gaze and she held shows in major museums and public galleries all over the world.

She is the only living woman to have received a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and also the only one (male or female) to have done this as a ceramic artist. (Rie and Coper had a sizeable show of work there early in the ‘90s but that was posthumous). Of that show the, could be acidic, critic for New Yorker, Peter Scheldahl, in a rapturous review called Woodman, “…beyond original, all the way to sui generis”.

We were very aware of her work here in NZ and twice I was instructed to be in contact with her to come as Juror for the Fletcher Challenge Awards. However they (she and husband George – a painter who died last year) had homes and studios in Colorado, New York and Tuscany and they split their year between those places.  After the second long telephone call we agreed I should not bother her any more as she would rather spend May in Tuscany than in New Zealand!

I saw large scale shows of her work in Geneva where the subject was the decorative arts of Japan, and in Faenza where she was guest artist for the Biennale and riffing off their impressive and vast collection of majolica. Both times it was a surprise once there and both times the work stopped me in my tracks. Relaxed, almost careless in their acceptance of cracks and twists in slab backgrounds they were exuberant, colourful and sumptuously rich in detail of applied painting alongside surprising and elegant ways to display work partly affixed to a wall or as a feature in a large rectangular painted composition. Her use of majolica techniques was vivacious and lush with every flowing brush-ful necessary to the whole. Twisting, snaking, expresive handles, positive upon negative, 2D upon 3D, trays of squishily Baroque elaboration, ceramic pots with ceramic shadows upon ceramic shelves, ceramic flowers in ceramic vases, exploded drawings of pots of flowers and always the pillow pitchers and their variations upon some national trope and their quotations around necks, handles and pouring devices…   I recall being struck by the absolute confidence of every aspect from assemblage of vessel and slabs to surface embellishment. It is great work, constantly developed and re-figured over some sixty + years.  Endlessly inventive while being endlessly self-referential. There was a film showing her at work in her NY studio at Wellington City Gallery some years ago, that I watched several times, (see image above) but I forget in relation to what it was on.  She was absolutely a one-off and a great artist in any genre.

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Pillow Pitcher

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2D/3D

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2D and 3D

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Wall mural

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2D 2.5D and 3D

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Japanese imagery

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Wall mural

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