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RYOJI KOIE 1938 – 2020

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We must record the recent death of the great Japanese artist Ryoji Koie who was born in Tokoname, a traditional pottery area and who lived there much of his life, yet his reputation was widely known throughout the ceramics world.

Noted as a ceaseless experimenter he was thoroughly conversant with every precept in the traditional Japanese book of ceramic rules and pushed every one of them as far as was possible and often thoroughly debilitated them. His was an exuberant personality and he lived his life to the full resulting in a reputation as something of a ‘wild man’. But those who knew him claimed it was simply an impatient lust for life that meant there was much he chose not to be concerned with. He attracted many followers and his extended household and studio seemed always able to accommodate yet another. It was not only Japan but from many countries came his followers and he welcomed all. He did not teach but simply made and they learned and taught others and many today make Koie-like works unintentionally. His spirit remains in numerous works in many countries.

He originally learned his ceramics at high school then in 1962 entered the Tokoname Ceramic Art Institute and the following year won the principal award at the Asahi Ceramic Art Exhibition. He thought at the time that it was strange. “I did not expect it to be so easy“, yet he was already starting to become disillusioned with the way the Japanese ceramic world was structured and thus began his rebellious path.  He set up his first studio and proceeded to make work in several genres from tableware in many styles – white works, hikidashi-guro(black), sometsuke (overglazed porcelain), yakishime and oribe through to trail-blazing sculptural expression like the singular series made, at different times, in tribute to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl and 9/11 where partial decomposition and disintegration was an element of the planned outcome from the firing part of the process. He deliberately did not court skill saying that what was more important was what else was present in the work. “The highly skilled I am sorry for – there is no meaning in just creating something. Those with only skill don’t convey feelings in their work.” His work could be provocative, boisterous and intense yet always with a sense of freedom and humanity, from his large installations to small sake cups.

One acknowledged huge influence was the revolutionary, 1950s Sodeisha artists in Kyoto, in particular Yagi and Yamada. Yet he also said “Everything is my teacher” and wrote that his influences included: “My mother, Yami’s death and my father. My grandparents’ stories of their travels. The Tomimoto family and music. Fishermen and sea, wind, sun. A slope, the shadow of an overpass. Pottery fragments, the remains of fires, spirits. I can’t write the names of drinking establishments – there is perhaps much one cannot write that has been a teacher or anti-teacher. Shitara’s water and cold wind. Various people. My first wife, Yoshiko.

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The Koie style made its major debut in 1968, at his first exhibition of that year, RETURN TO EARTH. Koie had been scheduled to show at an outdoor exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Nagoya, but the event had to be cancelled due to political interference. Koie, beside himself with anger, showed up at the exhibition site anyway, and created a work there, alone. For this work, he took the powder of pulverized sanitation equipment (toilet bowls and basins) and formed a series of  mounds, then placed on top of each an impression of his face, moulded by means of a mask, which was seen to gradually decompose, from mound to mound, until finally consumed in the final mounds.

This series shocked the art world but many came to see Koie as a great artist who questioned existing beliefs and one who made tremendous discoveries within the stuffy, tradition-bound Japanese ceramic art world of the time. His main questions back then were, “Who am I? What is living? What is dying?” And he answered “It’s how we live.”

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He travelled to many countries exhibiting, giving demonstrations and talking about life and work – for him the two were inextricably mixed and his outgoing personality left an indelible impression wherever he went. His visit, as a guest artist to the first Gulgong Festival back in the 1990s was unforgettable for those who were there and they recall events with a wide smile. He returned to Tokonome to build a 20 metre long anagama kiln deliberately designed to fire very unevenly.

He won honours at the prestigious Vallauris Ceramics exhibition in 1972 and in 1980 was invited into the then influential International Academy of Ceramics. In 1992 he became Professor of the Aichi Prefecture University of Fine Arts and in 1993 he was gifted the esteemed, Japan Ceramic Society Award.  His work can be found in major museums and galleries around the world from the Smithsonian in Washington to the V+A in London, the Metropolitan in NYC and the Museum of Victoria in Melbourne as well as every significant museum in Japan and Korea.

So when you observe and enjoy work that appears robust and spontaneous, or distorted as though still spinning, or with broken-bread textures and consciously gestural applications of lips, handles and lugs, or gritty, undomesticated surfaces and forms that have moved beyond utility, then think about one of the originators and certainly a master, Ryoji Koie.

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The Mingei Film Archive.

This is absolutely worth visiting even if our own Covid drama is (hopefully) largely over. Particularly if you are teaching, it is a most useful resource.  We have to remember that much of the rest of the world still has lockdown to some degree. Marty Gross, of the Mingei Film Archive, is conscious of this and in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Leach Pottery in Saint Ives, Cornwall he making available the film, “Working at the Leach Pottery, 1970” for viewing over the next 30 days.

This is how it was in 1970 but it would be not a lot different to how it was back in the late 50s/early 60s when Mirek Smisek, Peter Stichbury and Len Castle visited and worked there. Stichbury and Castle did not love their time there but Smisek enjoyed it and relished his good fortune at being there. Stichbury and Castle both left as soon as was possible, Stichbury to join Cardew in Abuja, (Nigeria) and Castle spent his time visiting museum collections of old pots wherever they could be found before returning to NZ. The last student there was reportedly Jeff Oestreich (USA) who was an apprentice there for two years until 1971. He would have been there when this film was made. Jeff first came to NZ in 1991 as recipient of a double Award of Merit from Ron Nagle as that year’s judge of the Fletcher Awards. Jeff liked it here and returned several times including a Residence at Unitec in 1995 and his visit to Napier on one of those visits left a permanent deco influence upon his work ever since. He has maintained contact via hosting NZ potters at his workshops in Minnesota- particularly for the famous St Croix River Pottery Traill event. His work can still be found in galleries and auctions here. The Leach Pottery has had a lasting influence upon New Zealand tableware production via artists like Oestreich and our own 50s pioneers and this evidences to this day.

Here are the co-ordinates for viewing….

 
 
 
 
The Mingei Archive for the Best Films on Japanese Arts and Culture

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More Antidotes

Lockdown itch is still an issue. If your workshop is out in the back yard or somewhere equally handy and clay supplies are plentiful you’re probably carrying much on as usual. But for those who have studio space in some other location but want to stay with what we love so dearly – here are a few bits of entertainment that occupy mind and spirit if not the hands…

On screen is a great 10 part series called Blown Away. It’s another one of those competitive things where a lump of useful money is dangling at the end in response to participants jumping through hoops of various sorts. This one isn’t on clay but stay with me. It’s Canadian in origin and the format is the usual theme of a set of tasks or target and elimination of a participant each episode.  Whether it’s cooking a mouthwatering dish, making domestic ware in clay or travelling from A to B by the most filmic route possible, its entertainment value lies in the personality of those fronting and judging and how engaging he, she or they can make things look and sound and also what comes through from the competitors by way of expressive commentary and character. Such factors often play a role in who eventually wins, or at least, if the competitor is good at it they often get to stay in for a longer time. This is TV after all. This programme around glass from an arts viewpoint meets these criteria better than most. It’s the level of articulation around the projects’ aims and objectives and the ability of the competitors to verbalise what and why they are doing that lifts this programme well above anything similar. These are not beginner artists and those judging and commenting as guest interlocutors are fluent, lucid and effective communicators and it comes as no surprise to find most are teaching at tertiary level. The production values are very high with the magic translucence of glass allowed to be at centre stage with ample great shots of fiery furnaces, sweaty brows, steam swirling and molten glass twisting on the end of a punty to add drama. NETFLIX

Then there is The Great Pottery Throwdown and Keith Brymer-Jones has returned for a third season. Replacing  the other potter is ceramic designer Sue Pryke and again the competition sets a series of challenges thus eliminating one of the competitive twelve ‘home potters’ in each episode. Interestingly, Brymer-Jones will recreate the programme format with a daily competition at the next Gulgong Ceramics Festival where he has been a regular guest for the past two events. See it on your screens in BBC FOUR.

Brymer-Jones is now a co-host, with two others, on another BBC programme. The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts is about seeing what it might be like as a craftsperson back in the late 1800s where things were a shirt, collar and tie for men and whalebone corsets for women  They inhabit an Arts and Crafts house in Wales and re-make period crafted items – maybe Brymer-Jones has to copy something from the Martin Brothers or something Bloomsbury.  BBC TWO

Also on the BBC is Handmade where the making of craft objects is carefully followed and focus is on process. It has been described as ‘mesmerising’. BBC FOUR

Then on BBC again, this time Channel Five is (reality programme) The Wonderful World of Crafts where amateur enthusiasts attempt to turn a fascinating hobby into a business with the aid of an established crafter. Might be useful. 

Finally , one of the world’s greatest repositories of objects, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has a six-part series showing behind the scenes activities of staff from curators to apprentice restorers – exhibiting the care and love they lavish upon their objects.

If viewing is off the ticket because your hands are busy then podcasts are the answer to more of the riveting stuff on Covid 19. Next time you are making as many egg cups as will fill all those tiny spaces in the kiln plug in your phone and try for podcasts, Material Matters, The Modern Maker, or maybe The Minimalists or,  one I have been listening to for many years, 99% Invisible which started back in 2013, I think, with six or ten minutes and now offers at least once a week (as part of the American Radiotopia network) 30 to 40 minutes or so on a wide-ranging list of subject material under the umbrellas of Architecture and Design. Hosted by Roman Mars these narratives have been my bedtime stories for many years now and while clay rarely enters the scene the variety of engaging topics can cover anything from ‘Wipe Out’ – a very current issue tracing the history of toilet paper, to a philosophical rave with Frank Gehry to a rationale around Isamu Noguchi’s multi-media sculpture that he called ‘Play Mountain’. Always great listening.

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An Antidote to Lockdown!

As we are all unable to carry out normal (whatever that may mean) duties during this time, here is a wonderful film of what it was like producing  pots – many of them, in Mashiko Village, Japan, back in 1937. You see not only individual skills but the collective efforts with clay refining and firing necessary for all the potteries in the village to survive. Particularly you see the pivotal parts played by women and the damn hard work involved!

Originally schedule to be shown at Gulgong, this film is now made available courtesy of Marty Gross, Producer and Director of The Mingei Film Archive who, over the past 35+ years has collected films documenting the origins and manifestations of the Mingei (Folk Craft) Movement in Japan and Korea (among other things).  Marty’s collection includes early independent films and significant unseen footage. These are restored, digitised and enhanced with new commentaries so that their precious content might be remembered and appreciated today.

For more information I suggest you can go to the Archive website which will demonstrate not only the range of films Marty has collected and restored (including Bernard Leach’s visit to New Zealand in 1962 and films made by Bernard Leach himself while re-visiting Japan in 1934) but you can view ‘before and after’ imagery that illustrates the superb differences made by the restoration processes.  It has been an enormous, painstaking and still on-going project for the Archive but one that has support  by many major organisations such as: Japan’s National Film Archive, the Folk Crafts Museum and the Japan Foundation, the Leach Pottery, the Crafts Studies Centre in the UK, the Korea Film Archive, the Korean Ceramic Association plus the Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art of Korea to name but some.

It is worth looking through online.  Google:  Mingei Archive Marty Gross productions, or go to  http://mingeifilm.martygrossfilms.com/

The film on Mashiko, that takes a little over half an hour will be available for 30 days.

       https://vimeo.com/377634011

Sales and downloads of the films are not possible at this time but to request a list of all films in the Mingei Film Archive, please contact: films@martygrossfilms.com

Thanks are due to… Furuya@mingeikan.or.jp chitose.sato@qpr-tokyo.com marty@martygrossfilms.com peter@martygrossfilms.com pmundinger@bell.net

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LEACH POTTERY is 100 years old!

The inaugural exhibition of the Leach 100 centenary celebrations, ‘Leach Studio Potters: 100 Years On’ celebrates the rich creative talents of the potters who produce the iconic Leach Standard Ware.

Various celebrations will, it seems, continue all this year. So, if in Cornwall, go see…

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Robert Rapson

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January 27th 2020.  Robert died this morning, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was in Te Omanga Hospice in Lower Hutt where he had been for a while, happy to be there and family were present including a sister from Vancouver in Canada.

I first met Robert when, in 1997, as the newly appointed Curator for The Dowse Art Museum I spent my first weekend in Wellington wandering around downtown trying to orient myself. Along a wide dusty street there, in a furniture shop window, I spotted a cluster of ceramic ships, large and small, loosely modelled in earthenware and slip painted with a clear glossy glaze on top. I had never seen anything quite like them as they sailed wildly across a maroon carpet around some oak chairs, a coffee table and a sideboard seemingly extracted from the 1940s. Surprised, intrigued and wanting some close-ups I tried the door but the shop was closed.

Monday morning I reported my titillating find to some of the Dowse staff who were not at all riveted and told me the maker had to be Robert Rapson and “simply everyone has one of his ships in their collection”. I learned he had never exhibited at any gallery in  Wellington and simply sold through that furniture and framing shop, who were friends of his. I had to accept, in my Auckland ignorance that this was how he wanted things. Later, once I got to know him a little he told me that he had always wanted to be an artist from childhood but was deterred by an adult’s remark that there was “no money in it” so he did a B.A. at Victoria instead and became a civil servant. He learned to make in clay as a sort of therapy when he was a client at Vincent’s – a Wellington public arts facility. He told me then he was clinically depressed sometimes and also had Asperger’s syndrome which kicked in in the 80s after Rogernomics scythed through his workplace and his job disappeared along with the rest of the Government Department he worked in.

His health issues came and went over the intervening years but his enjoyment working with clay never wavered. And it was ships that were his enduring passion – not just any old ship but huge ocean-going steamers of the mid-20th Century were central. Luxury vessels taking lengthy, romantic and expensive cruises such as the great Cunard liner the Queen Mary or the Italian Angelino Lauro – on which he made his first sea journey at age 20. You could name any such vessel and you’d find he had files containing details such as where built, how fuelled, passengers carried, numbers of decks, cabins, lifeboats and funnels.  I once told him the name of the ship by which my family emigrated to Australia from England. On my return to Auckland the next day I found an envelope with copies of that ship’s details, an image, records of its history as a troop carrier in WWII and the later numbers of immigrants it carried and where they boarded, and finally its demise on a Bangladeshi wrecker’s foreshore. He had further files on our NZ coastal shipping – the smaller vessels – steamers, tugs, and ferries that chugged up and down the coast with goods, animals, and passengers of every sort. He was fascinated with almost anything that floated, particularly if it sailed NZ waters in some capacity as his father had been a wharf worker. He spent much time executing commissions for clients who had memories of particular ships and while made in his loose, spontaneous, yet direct and expressive style were nevertheless, always very precise in detail – physically and formally but also usually recorded beneath the work in tiny script. IMG_1367.JPG

‘RMS ORIANA visits Auckland and Wellington‘.   Portage Awards 2006. Photo: Howard Williams.

He invested into broadening his subject matter by producing cars and airplanes sometimes, as well as making additional pieces to embellish the environments around his ships – whales and sharks, mermaids, buoys, small yachts, windsurfers or lighthouses and edges of landscapes as well as recognisable icons which might point to where this particular ship was sailing under or around such as distinctive bridges, Opera Houses or white cliffs.

He had many successes for his work over his more than 40 years of practice. He was invited to be resident artist at Otago School of Art Ceramics Department in Dunedin  and he won the Molly Morpeth Canaday prize in Whakatane when it was (possibly last) designated for ceramics. When Robert won a second prize at the Norsewear Art Awards in Hawkes Bay, Premier Award winner, Jim Cooper said, ” It’s not about polish or sophistication, it’s felt, it’s got heart and I think that’s bloody spiritual. That’s what I like about Robert’s work.”  Most notably he won the Premier Award in the Portage Ceramics Awards when Canadian, Amy Gogarty, writer, painter and historian, was judge. She commented on the “quality of his painted surface”.  She observed that he, “combines efficient drawing, delicious scumbles and keenly observed detail with beautifully modelled plastic form. He reconfigures vivid childhood memories with imagination and wit, creating a vivid tableau that invites engagement” She continued that  his work ‘taps into collective fantasies of far-off places and celebratory events” …  and that “he deserves my highest recognition and respect.’ 

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‘Himalaya serves the World, 1949 – early ’70s’    Premier Award in Portage Awards  2013. Photo by Sean Shadbolt.

Robert celebrated this $15,000 win by taking a three month round the world trip and on return was rewarded with yet another prize, the Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award which recognises the ‘outstanding achievement and contribution of an artist with a disability, sensory impairment or lived experience of mental illness’. For this, he received a trophy that he had made himself as he had carried out the commission for the award for the previous four years. He was included in an exhibition of ‘Outsider’s Art’ that was shown in New York. His work sold out and he received fifteen commissions for new (ship) works. Another ‘Outsider Art from NZ” exhibition took place in Paris and this too sold successfully for him. His work popped up in surprising places. I was with a couple of Australian friends in Los Angeles and as we walked along Third Street following a visit to LACMA, we spotted some very large pots in a small shop window. The ‘small shop’ turned out to be a very hip ceramics gallery called South Willard. On entering I strolled up the long narrow space and was stopped in my tracks by a display shelf of oddly familiar ships and had an animated exchange with the owner when I asked him how on earth he had Robert Rapson’s ceramics there. On another visit to Los Angeles last year I met a ceramist (Stan) who had helped Robert on a residency there making work for another show at the same gallery (see July 5th post in this blog). So just a year or so ago Robert was in the USA, working. His illness appears to have been not too protracted.

He was happiest working around people. He remarked one time that on inheriting his mother’s former house he tried to “go it alone and failed miserably”. He joined Mix – a creative space that provides artistic opportunities for people with lived experience of mental illness, and the Hutt Art Society, and enjoyed having people around while working on his ships.  “I have a community – somewhere to go and social contact. It’s much more interesting and helps my head.” He lived alone (with his cats) but was far from solitary and was a friend to many.  He will be missed.

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‘Rocket Gas Service Station and Centre’,  Portage Award exhibition, 2015. Photo, Haru Sameshima.

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‘Cars’.   Collection R. Fahey.   Photo: Sam Hartnet.

P.S. A Gathering to Celebrate the Life and Art iof Robert Rapson will take place at Hutt Art Society 9-11 Myrtle St, Lower Hutt next Wednesday Feb 5 from 10-30am.

If attending, please  send notification to Katherinewgtnsmyth@gmail.com so that space, chairs, food, etc can be catered for….

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The Australian Bushfires

 

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The ceramic community has not been spared and a number of rurally based potters have lost a lot or even everything. To help a re-start, Owen Rye is collecting equipment and tools that are no longer required and he will distribute. He will be at Clay Gulgong in April this year and so will the NZ contingent – this time Richard Stratton, Andrea du Chatenier and me – all with various tasks to perform while there. I would be happy to take across tools and anything else you might no longer need- providing I can carry it and will pass anything donated on to Owen. Andrea and Richard will be carrying their works for exhibition over there so probably would have trouble with extra weight but they do not need me to carry things for them this time so if you’d like to contribute, please be in touch so we can sort out how I can collect.

If you’d like to donate money please send to Wildlife Victoria Bushfire Appeal or www.WIVES.org.au (NSW animals) or Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery.   But practical tools for potters please get them to me. moyraelliott@gmailcom

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In Objectspace

Go to Objectspace where there are two interesting shows recently opened. In the main gallery is an exhibition by Julia Morrison, sent up from Christchurch Art Gallery. Morrison is from a fine arts background but has reportedly been working with clay for some eleven years. And it shows. The exhibition has a theoretical underpinning of signs and symbols based within somewhat esoteric knowledge systems such as the Jewish Kaballah, and other recondite frames of reference. I started to look up some of this but decided life is too short as the only thing I know about the Kaballah is that it was very popular with some Hollywood movie stars about a dozen years ago and was signified by wearing a particular bracelet. Unless you have the time to research, it’s maybe best just to experience the show.

This manifests as a series of open ‘rooms’ bounded by long shelves that hold many dozens of heads, abstracted from anything bodily.  There is a  palette largely restricted to shades of grey and brown – all very sombre. Single flashes of colour draw the eye swiftly.  But it’s the repetition and variation that overwhelms all. It’s a marvellous lesson in pushing a single, simple form into so many variations, themes, adaptations, revisions, modifications and transfigurations as it’s pretty well possible to envision. It demonstrates how, given time, the imagination can continue to develop another angle on a given motif. Morrison has considered various aspects of the head, without and within and allowed other thoughts to bring forth something else – eyes, teeth, hair… While gestures made by heads as communication are also here. It is worth spending time with just to experience the different feelings this show creates in the viewing – wonder to revulsion, (does she know there’s a NYC singing group called roomful of teeth?) laughter to nausea.  Why it’s in a gallery that exists for the exhibition of Craft, Design and Architecture and not ACAG is another topic. Ponder that but …. Go see.

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While there do not miss the very fine survey, in the small gallery, of jewellery by…

ELENA GEE. Curated by Elle Louis there were talks at the opening event by Elle, Jeweller Lisa Walker and myself as an old friend of Elena’s.  I have been asked by several to put my talk on this blog despite the subject not being ceramic. Here it is. Some images of her original and very fine jewellery follow.

I don’t recall exactly how or when I met Elena but it would be some time in the early to mid-eighties when we were both members of a craft community that was largely dominated by its male members and had been that way for some 20 or so years. This applied to her craft, that of jewellery, and my own – the ceramic tribal association.

Elena came from a family who were all makers and constructors of various sorts. From an early age she made dolls and multi-piece marionettes, then, following school, worked in a trade jewellers for a year or so while also selling her personal jewellery through the Bribiesca pottery stall in iconic Browns Mill. She was fired from that trade jewellery job for being too slow – signpost of things to come. In her early 20s, she left for Australia and stayed there for over ten years.

In Australia, Elena expected to need another job but soon found she could successfully support herself with her jewellery sales, again via a local potters shop. Her jewellery was noticed and she began to exhibit, initially tentatively, then regularly. She returned to NZ for flying visits to family and also to attend occasional short courses in jewellery making. By the time she returned to New Zealand permanently in ‘81 she was an established member of their craft community, her work had been taken into a number of major Australian institutional collections and included in touring shows. She had earned a considerable reputation for her inventive approaches to jewellery as body adornment.

Soon after her return, she was invited to join Fingers, by then very well established as a premier outlet for artist’s jewellery. She was cautious though, as regular rent contributions are part of the membership and she was unsure of her ability to meet her obligations but did so in 1988 after showing with them from 84.

Elena looked around for a group of women artists as she had enjoyed in Australia. She found our Women Artists Association and she and Beth Sarjeant enjoined me to go with them to the meetings in what was then Artstation at the end of Ponsonby Road. We were all ‘Westies’, Elena in Henderson, Beth in Green Bay and me up in Waiatarua and we were all of the ‘lesser arts’ – jewellery, printmaking and ceramics but the welcome and acceptance were as fulsome as for any painter or sculptor of fame and substance.

For me, it was a very new experience. At the Women Artists I heard great ideas and support for exhibitions of women’s work of the broadest genres and listened to debate around subjects I had no awareness of previously…  and I recall, lively discussions around how five years should be maximum tenure for an Elam job, which, in those days, was high on the desirable list. Or why curators seemed to all be male–and who in turn chose male artists for some juicy off-shore exhibitions and residencies and more importantly – what might be done about this situation? Members ranged from working artists such as Claudia Pond Eyley, Carole Shepherd and Christine Hellyar to academics and leaders such as Pricilla Pitts, Merilyn Tweedie and Juliet Batten. I found them a formidable lot and felt my way cautiously, as ceramics of the time was pretty accepting of the dominant male patterning that prevailed. However, one thing I do vividly recall is Elena’s fearlessness in addressing such subjects. It was clear there was an intellect there very equal to any of the others. She spoke quietly and economically but her points were cogent and relevant,  and she was listened to with respect. I learned much and gained pride and confidence in what we craftworkers might be able to achieve within a wider world of art.

Her own achievements were considerable. It was she who tackled Auckland Museums then curator of Applied Arts, Brian Muir, and suggested that as they collected ceramics they should also collect jewellery. She acquainted him with Fingers of which he knew not a lot and he forthwith visited and began to collect artist jewellery from the region.  Two pieces of Elena’s were among the early works taken in and since then a further 16 works of hers have been added to that collection – mostly in the 80s and 90s as well as added to other public collections in other cities. Further, she was generous, my own career was increasingly taking me offshore for various events and Elena, most kindly, offered that I could borrow pieces of hers to wear at official functions. I never did but remain grateful for the offer.

It was Elena who was chosen to be the inaugural guest curator for the Dowse Art Museum’s biannual series of invitational survey shows around the current state of NZ artist jewellery. Hers was called ‘Open Heart’ and she chose first artists whose work she considered good rather than fit things to a curatorial premise. She was included in the next two Dowse instigated, touring, Biennales.  And she was one of the featured artists in the internationally touring NZ jewellery exhibition, ‘Bone, Stone and Shell’ of 1988/9. This, Foreign Affairs supported show, went to Australia, and some major centres in Asia like Singapore and Tokyo. Other major shows included the Crafts Council of NZ’s swansong touring show Mau Mahara where very few contemporary artists were included and there was also the Dowse’s curated No Mans Land featuring many of NZs leading women artists who operated in 3D over a range of media… She showed in Shmuckzene in Munich and finally her work made the cover of the American Jewellery magazine, Ornament. These are but few of her considerable achievements.

But all the while, the slowness for which she was fired from that post-school employment back in the 60s gathered strength. Her energy levels, for a long time deteriorating, became more severely debilitated, and in 1990 she was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalitis,  M.E.,  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or to put into Kiwi vernacular – Tapanui Flu after the south island town where it had some prevalence. Its cause and cure are still beyond reach.

Never one to give up easily, Elena continued to make jewellery and found ever simpler answers to the craftsperson’s ongoing encounter with challenges of making. She left incorporated materials in more natural states, interfering with elements as little as possible. She found surprising solutions to presenting her work in containers such as car engine parts – often elegantly topped with sliding perspex lids. She took more to casting some parts of her work so that completion was closer. Despite the apparent straightforwardness of manufacture, her pieces retained her own subjective language that transcended obvious connections between place and the corporeal.

She quite enjoyed the unpretentious simplicity of what she was making and continued working and exhibiting, as able, for another decade or so but by 2004 she was forced to say that she was now retired. Her energies too exhausted.

We are fortunate to have well-chosen representations of her work in some eight public and numerous private collections in Australia and New Zealand, a handful of good articles on her work in journals and catalogues and now, hopefully,  an over-arching catalogue resulting from this survey that Elle has carried out,  and I, personally, have some great memories of good conversations, inspirational home cooking and an important body of work. Don’t miss it.

 

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On a couple of competitions…

The Korean International Ceramic Biennale competition  (Kicb) will open soon.  It will run Sept 27 to Nov 24…just one month. This is the world’s biggest competition in every sense. There were over 10,000 entries by 1599 artists from 82 countries. There seem to be two levels of exhibitors (the website is complex and as can sometimes be the case with such things – difficult to navigate for everything you’d like to know) However… it’s better than it has ever been before.

Selected for the online exhibition are 300 artists from 41 nations. Selected for the competition exhibition on site are 42 artists (chosen from the 300).  Winner of the over US$50,000 prize will be announced at the opening later this month. By far the largest number of exhibitors are Korean (52) and Australia did well with 8 exhibitors. NZ has no artists in the line-up at either level. Not surprising as we have no Masters Level tertiary education in ceramics. All the represented countries do have. It looked like Japan and USA were runners up in numbers (but I got tired of counting!). There were, as is common in Asia, many on the jury – in this case eight.

It is possible to view all works included in the show by heading to the website (kicb.co.kr) and navigate around from there.  They are being inclusive and you can do a “People’s Choice” vote) 3 times by clicking the hearts under each image. Further images are accessible by clicking artist’s names, but nowhere could I find anything about scale – and some works appeared very large while others seemed small and a number was impossible to tell. Names of the selected ‘invitational artists’ (that is the finalists for the top prize I guess) are listed. They include some well-known names such as, Aneta Regel, Tip Toland, Michael Flynn, Bruce Taylor, Ken Eastman, Nao Matsunaga, Maria Geszler Garzuly and Walter McConnell but most are new, at least to me. There are also names familiar from former FCCA exhibitions here and recent and next year’s Gulgong event in Australia.

As well as the competition exhibition, there are mentoring opportunities, residencies, artists exchange programmes, a symposium and opportunities for the invited artists to participate in numerous other events (Spend some time with the website and be amazed)

There used to be, as well as the competition, an invitational curated exhibition (which, when I was an invited speaker in ’05 for the symposium – that lasted 5 days), was a way better exhibition, in my view, than the competition as the curators could for artists from all over the world who never entered competitions as well as very famous names, and up until that time I thought it the best show I had ever seen, anywhere. Now the invitation is extended exclusively to the previous winning artist (Torbjorn Kvasbo of Norway won in 2017) and another – Neil Brownsword from UK with a large project involving other artists. Both have opportunity to talk to their work to the opening invitees gathered from across the world. The opening ceremony is always spectacular, even when I was there, and now is, I am told, more so. It lasts all day and includes dancers, drumming, and performances of many different types.

This event has also made connections with  other similar events around the world to facilitate, among other things, exchanges of artists and residencies. These events include the British Ceramic Biennial (which will open later this month), Sundaymorning at EKWC (Netherlands), Yingge Ceramics Museum (Taiwan) , Clayarch Gimhae Museum (Japan) and Guldagergaard (Denmark).  Do take a look if you have any interest in the international.

On a slightly smaller scale I was very recently sole juror for the Northland Craft Trust ceramics competition held at The Quarry in Whangarei.  It was a most pleasant weekend and a lively competition with 64 entries. While many were from Northland there were works entered from as far away as Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington and Napier, not to mention Hamilton and Auckland.  More are encouraged to have a go for the $1000 prizemoney. There are also a Runner-up prize and a People’s choice. I await with interest for the end of exhibition time to find what the viewers think most enjoyable. In conversation with some of the organisers of this event we agreed that the winning work should be a personal choice and the work I’d most like to take home with me. Here is what I had to say at prizegiving time…

We have a spectrum of what is currently practiced in NZ under the name of ceramics here in the show. Early influences here in NZ have been mainly British and we have been a nation of vessel-makers. That is in evidence here although the functional vessel is little represented while decorative vessels are abundant. That’s often common to many competitions. What is surprising is that there is an unusually high number of the figurative – be it animal, human or object and this has not been a NZ tradition and it’s good to see this arena being traversed. Figuration is the oldest area of ceramics –  the votive piece made to marry with offerings and many early cultures have, on excavation, offered up the votive piece- usually referencing fertility in some way; a goddess figures symbolising safe childbirth as was made in what is now Slovenia, or the early Japanese bell-shaped works sited at the corners of rice fields soliciting help from the gods for a good harvest, and so on – the figurative connects us to the earliest uses of ceramics – links between clay and magic. These are the two principal divisions with sub-groups within them. Some make reference to commercial uses of clay – perhaps the narrative or written words with a message on the surface of a platter. Others utilise clay’s mimetic qualities where it can imitate other materials or other things. There are many ways of referencing our long and rich histories, and we should celebrate them for ceramics is often self-referential in that way and it’s something I personally enjoy recognising. We need to celebrate our own! Ceramics can be powerful vehicles for meaning through their encounters with so many contexts and points of reference.

What do I look for in a pot? First and foremost – good form whether a vessel or a figure – proportion must be ‘right’ which is hard to prescribe but easy to recognise , or not, when there. I look for good confident clay handling and finishing – it’s often the first ton through the fingers that is the worst! I seek not immaculate completion but prefer just enough for excellent functionality – I don’t much like to see clay ‘fiddled with’ to perfection of ‘finish’, it’s a hand-made work, not factory produced. Just the same I look for appropriate completion, particularly underneath. Don’t just take a slice of clay, cut it into four and plonk the mini blocks on the base to form feet – make something that tells me you are using a malleable material to elevate your piece. Then, surface needs to be appropriate whether glazed or not. Weight also – and in keeping with the function.

So, what do I choose? This vase is the piece I’d most like to take home. It’s heavy, vases should be or the weight of the flowers can tip them over. It’s not a teapot that should be light for its size because it will be filled with hot liquid and handled. It’s a good height for many a bunch of flowers and will hold them well. It was wire cut from a solid clay block, and not fiddled with, the surface left fresh, then later hollowed once the outside had firmed. The form is dynamic – its method of making is evident. It’s different on every facet and the glaze sits perfectly while being a great colour for a vase – green – what could be more appropriate? The glaze carries an interesting history – T’ang Chinese in style and colour it also has T’ang inserts – those ancient potters would scrape out small hollows in the surface and place medallions of the same glaze in different colours – which often ran during firing. It’s happened here. T’ang is one of the most celebrated of Chinese wares. Those glazes were about 95% red lead but this was made with modern materials but is just as beautiful. While the surface was redolent of a period over a thousand years old, the form it sits upon is very current. Then the clincher for me was underneath the pot – when still a little soft it was set down on a bed of ferns which have left their mark. Its a link to the place the piece was made. If you think about it – there’s a lot going on on this apparently simple piece. When the staff are not looking, lift it (carefully) and look at the most beautiful base on this pot. Every surface has received consideration. I’d be pleased to take it home. It receives the principal prize. (Richard Parker)

My second prize goes to this work – a pot really designed to stand alone. It does not need flowers as there is much happening on this surface. We have wood ash effects upon the bare clay left at the opening at the top gifting a vibrant orange, while most of the exterior carries this copper bearing glaze offering this subtle matte surface, stunningly beautiful and gorgeously modulated all around the pot, changing with every viewpoint….violet, grey, turquoise, blush pinks and wine reds in areas – truly a fantastic glaze finish for a well scaled pot – I have had my hands deep down into its depths – it’s also very well made indeed. It receives the second prize of the subscription to Art News. (Greg Barron).

Here are images from a few works in the show – with apologies for lack of names (lost my list!) and more for the quality of images…. lighting difficult and just the phone camera!

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Greg Barron

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Richard Parker

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Simon Manchester (1958-2019)

We of the clay community should note the passing of the well-known ceramics collector, Simon Manchester.  Often a larger than life figure, Simon made some impact upon the scene from when he first became interested in collecting in the late ’80s and continued to do so as an animated presence who would give his opinion readily and whose passionate views on who he felt was important as an artist carried weight for many. He ‘adopted’ various ceramists and supported them and their work by not only buying it on primary or secondary markets but aided their work gaining credence via his knowledge of how the secondary market worked for contemporary artists. He made a number of those artists into personal friends. His collection was a fluid thing as he bought and sold constantly working to improve the quality of his holdings, knowing at the same time that the secondary market affected values for the primary and that those he supported gained from his activities. Something he loved explaining. He was a businessman who gained wealth via commercial property and once acquired he turned his attention to art and while he began with antique tourism posters once he began to learn about ceramics he took it up with great relish and over the latter years his collection generally held about 2000 works. This fluctuated with occasions such as earthquakes and adjusted property values and there was a time when he had to sell a large number but, always positive, he soon recovered and began adding again. 

One of his great friends, potter Paul Maseyk writes, “Simon literally exploded through the front door of a studio/shop I maintained and began talking, gesticulating, fizzing
and saying I’ll take that, that and that – all at once. I had never seen anything like it (or him) nor will again. After this initial introduction, we steadily grew to become great friends largely through our mutual symbiotic relationship of maker/collector.
He was a lot of different things to a lot of people. I found he could be a polarising figure as is often the case with passionate people. However, with me, Simon was always such a generous, interested, gentlemanly figure. He supported me by buying my work and promoting me to anyone he thought could give me some help with my career. He would
lend works of mine he owned to any institution who asked.” … “Of course being a larger than life character and always interested in living life to the full Simon had dabbled in his fair share of stimulants – shall we call them. He was always open and frank with me about any of his past and I grew to learn a hell of a lot about him and his life. I found this side of his life fascinating too. Like everything he did – his work, his collecting, his voracious appetite for knowledge, his other varied interests, he indulged in “living his life” to maximum effect.” … “For many people like me Simon will leave a huge hole. There will never be anyone like him again .”

Another friend, Rick Rudd, said in eulogy at the memorial service, “Simon’s collection was not just for his own enjoyment. He wanted to share it. There can have been few major curated historical ceramic exhibitions organised by museums that have not included works borrowed from him. … When I set up a museum in Whanganui, he offered to lend a group of works. I didn’t have to ask. He wanted to be a part of what I was doing. … Simon has given so much  to New Zealand’s ceramic community and environment; as a patron to living potters, by respecting and attempting to raise the desirability and values of works on the secondary market, his involvement with the Blumhardt Foundation and of course, by building a collection of national significance.”

Simon Manchester has left that collection in the care of Rick Rudd and his Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics in Whanganui. In Rick’s words, “…the collection will quietly educate and be enjoyed by as many people as possible. My fellow Trustees and I intend to create a space where his contribution can be contemplated, remembered and celebrated.”

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