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On this, that, and the other…

And greetings from Scandinavia….

I have been in Guldagargaard Ceramic Research Centre in southern Denmark, a town called Skaelskor, for a while, on a writing residency and catching up with some editing and curating tasks at the same time. Now that I am largely up to date I thought I’d write for those of you who have ticked that box on your Portage entry form, about what it’s like being there and what might be expected and what not.

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Skaelskor houses…. lot of yellow ochre used!

First of all is location. Skaelskor, which I have visited previously, is a train then a bus ride away from Copenhagen. They take a couple of hours or so but it’s easy and co-ordinated through a rural countryside much flatter than geologically young NZ. There are no hills to speak of but dark brown soil and crops of wheat, rye and oats so densely planted they seem solid blocks of gold and blue-green but step on and sink in and growth is knee and thigh-high. No cows, goats or sheep, which are housed in barns.

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Main street of Skaelskor…cobbles and few vehicles.

Skaelskor is small and situated on and around a tiny isthmus between a lake and a fjiord. A former fishing centre, it has three supermarkets and a variety of shops as might be expected (chemist, bakers, shoes, books, second-hand charity etc plus a bank, a town hall, a library (the most modern building) and a small museum (housed in a 14thC building) plus, inevitably in Denmark, an interior design store or two with bells and whistles for the domestic environment. There’s quite a well-established design consciousness present country-wide.

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The lake

Then in the centre of town is this large park, previously an orchard – the biggest in Denmark – that is now the Guldagergaard Ceramic Research Centre, housed in the former family home and with the stables converted to studio spaces. When there is an overflow at the house, or entire families arrive, then additional cottages, a b+b and the local hotel are also employed as accommodation. The town has embraced the ceramic label and now holds an annual festival and market there to which many ceramists from the country bring work; shop windows, banks and the former jail are among the spaces utilised for display and exhibition.

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Grimmerhaus – the National Ceramics Museum for Denmark. An hour’s drive from Skaelskor. They have collection galleries, curated new work exhibitions plus an historical show at any one time….

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Back view of the main house…. great for sunny lunches and a glass of red at evening time.

Visiting artists are a varied lot. From major art stars (Richard Shaw, Kim Dickey and Fred Olsen were there this summer not to mention our own Jim Cooper and Denmark’s Sten Lykke Madsen) to average and various makers through to recent grads who exchange free bedroom/studio space for 20 hours a week labour of various sorts from washing floors to stacking wood for kilns to assisting with firings to sorting books in the library.

Each visiting artist brings tools and buys clay and glaze ingredients there as required. There are many clays from Audrey Blackman porcelain to two black clays for different temperatures and much in between such as England’s famed T-Material – warp-free stoneware. There are many kilns from four bourry-box/wood-firing of different configurations plus an anagama and the beautiful Fred Olsen cross-draught number that is poetry to view (and everything from a dream, to hell, to fire – depending on who is talking!) There are also gas, raku and electric kilns of various sizes and temperature range and technicians to fire then for/with you.

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About to unload a kiln. Assistants from Hungary and Bahamas supervised by Hattie U.K. (firing technician)

As for glazes – all ingredients are there and so are many boards with recipes, and samples of that recipe in various different kilns, at various temperatures and even to various locations in the kiln. As best as might be possible, you can decide and know what you are most likely to obtain!

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Glaze test board

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more detail

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even more detail

Workspace is small and each studio holds four or five artists at a time. Upstairs in the stables is more display space and across the courtyard is the apple-packing shed/gallery that, as well as exhibitions, holds the large collection of work donated by former residents over the twenty years it’s been in existence as a ceramic centre. There are hundreds of pieces, that can be lifted from shelves and handled, made by artists with heavyweight reputations to members of the great unknown. It’s rare to be able to assess haptic qualities in collections and such access is a privilege for treasuring. So much information can go in via the hands and fingers.

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Part of the collection shelves in the Apple Packing Gallery

In the residential building are eight bedrooms upstairs, single and twin, and one with attached bathroom downstairs that is often occupied by Sten Lykke Madsen, long term salt glazing wood-firer of mythical creatures, now older and unable to manage the stairs, but something of a national treasure in Denmark. Downstairs is a capacious kitchen, dining area, sitting area and a large library with an open fire much utilised in winter. It’s a big, warm comfortable house that has recently been refurbished with furniture and fittings by IKEA. There is no room servicing, you are expected to sort your own stuff as well as take a turn in providing and cooking an evening meal for all there, and that might be between eight and twenty people. In turn you are, each evening, given a meal bought and prepared by someone else which might be a simple soup, bread and cheeses to a three course Gordon Ramsay special!

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Dinner for residents from (from L)Denmark, Hungary, Finland, Japan, England, Denmark (partly hidden) Korea, USA, USA and Denmark.

Your breakfast and lunch etc is your concern and towards this you get a shelf in the frig and the cupboard for your personal stuff. If you cannot live without Marmite – take your own for you will not find it at any of the three supermarkets. But you will find groceries and local fruit and veg at prices generally quite a bit cheaper than in NZ although meat is more expensive. It doesn’t always seem cheaper because of the number of Danish Kroner to our dollar but a little maths will tell you so. Further, there will be a few buying oops when something turns out to be not what was presumed and there are a couple of shelves of such mistakes for general use, after all few can read Danish – the Scandinavian tongue reads and sounds rather like trying to sing a song with a mouthful of boiled lollies!

What is costly is clay and firings. Denmark has little forest cover, unlike Norway which has lavish amounts, and wood is an expensive fuel. So firing your precious product into permanence is an exercise for consideration. Travel into Copenhagen, when a break from country life or nose to grindstone is called for, is again cheaper than would be found for similar distances in NZ, altogether a bit over $30 each way but if you want to eat well or go to some of the excellent museums around town, this again will be more expensive than you will find at home. Still, at home you cannot find much by the likes of Raphael or Rembrandt, Matisse or Picasso or view design from most of the masters of the 20th century.

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Mid-century seating and lighting in the Design Museum

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A Pot in the History Museum

So, do it but take a packed lunch and eat at one of the very pleasant squares to be found throughout the city or walk across a couple of canals to Christiania – Copenhagen’s ‘independent state’ within a former army estate and now a well treed hippy wilderness with vernacular ‘woodbutcher’s art’ housing not far from central city, or head for the famous Tivoli Gardens – the grand-daddy of all the world’s amusement parks and a blend of beer garden, Central Park and Disneyland just across the road from the main railway station.

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Tivoli Gardens

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Tivoli Gardens

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The hotel in Tivoli Gardens… white peacocks and all!

It’s all very much worth the trip as long as you remember that Guldagergaard is a ceramic research centre and you have a definite project to work through be it 3D printing or testing glazes in a wood fire kiln or working out some new idea for form…. there is plenty of help available. Without a project it can become an aimless sojourn in a foreign place and rather pointless. So, it needs a little thought around ticking that box. But it’s worth ticking!

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On this, that, and the other…

Good news from Europe in that the Guldagergaard International Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark is so impressed with the work done by Jim Cooper, who has been in residence there, that it’s included in an exhibition that has travelled to Milan, Italy for showing at the Officine Saffi Gallery – certainly one of Italy’s most prominent private galleries that includes ceramics. It’s a group show and includes other international artists, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen (Dk), Sergei Isupov (Russia), Sten Lykke Madsen (Dk), Stephen Bowers, (Aus), Kadri Parnaments (Estonia ), Mara Superior (USA) and Lileng Wong (Malaysia). The exhibition runs June 22nd to July 14th. All artists made to a theme of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Jim’s work will return to Denmark for permanent display in the extensive grounds at Guldagergaard.

There is also talk of a show of Jim’s work in London but as yet there are no details.

Auckland presently seems to be being entirely dug up everywhere one travels – and it’s best not to if it can be avoided. It’s not just residential building going on everywhere but many streets are having large tracts of bitumen excavated for laying lines, presumably internet connected and goes under rubric of CRL excavations. Some artefacts are being dug up…mainly shards including the inevitable Willow Pattern pieces, plus ceramic and glass containers for things like Worcerstershire sauce, beer or wated – often partially damaged. Some are intact including a grey, hand-thrown stoneware ginger beer bottle stamped with the name ‘Fowler’ and thought to be made in the 1840s by an Irish immigrant potter, Enoch Fowler, who arrived Auckland in 1836. Fowler would have been one of the many immigrant tradesmen trained, in the UK and Ireland, in industrial ceramics and who came here for work at a time when it proved difficult back ‘home’. A number of the early potteries making bricks and pipes employed throwers to extend their range of wares beyond field drainage and chimneys. Another of these immigrant throwers was William Speers who worked at Gardner Brothers in New Lynn in the 1920s and who taught Briar Gardner how to throw. The legacy is not long compared with what can be found in Asia, Middle East or Europe but it’s very typical of colonial times in countries like Africa and Australia and is interesting for all that.

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I brought back from this year’s NCECA some catalogues from the various artist’s and ceramist’s residency situations in the USA. Some are for a bunch of arts and/or crafts while others are ceramics only. In or near a national park there is very possibly a school of crafts waiting for you to enter, stay for a while and learn some new skills in your passionate pursuit. Some offer specific skills taught by a specialist in the field. Others allow you to simply go and work out what it is you want to do, to further develop your work. Some are former hippy colonies turned around, so that upkeep can be maintained. Some are grandly endowed, newly built places attached to some larger institution. Some have received contemporary architecture awards, others have been there for more than 100 years. Some are very famous, others you’ll never have heard of. I’ve finished this list with some similar places but not in USA… Enrolments already rolled out for this northern summer but you need time to get their newest information, prepare, save up and enrol for next year. I have left the brochures with the office at ASP, so go see if interested.

The residencies are listed below…. I have detailed the first on the list but many of the others in USA offer something along those lines. Some will take you in to a class simply by your paying the fee (fees are for tuition and more for accommodation…food extra) and agreeing that you are of the standard requested. Some offer a place to develop and exhibit own work rather than tuition and entry is by the proposal you submit and the background you bring. Some offer scholarships in various categories so that tuition, or possibly accommodation, is free. These are highly competitive.

Anderson Ranch… nestled among the Rocky Mountains of Colorado… extensive programme including ceramics, photography and new media, painting and drawing, printmaking, digital fabrication, woodturning, sculpture and critical dialogue! In ceramics you can join travelling workshops for a week in Mexico or Jamaica, or do courses on – figurative ceramic sculpture, mould-making, jars/lids and spouts, making and glazing, urban porcelain, the narrative vessel, wood/salt/soda firing, earthenware surface decoration, The Karatsu Tradition and more…

Then there are…

Arrowmont… Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Near Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Offers 27 different courses in clay alone….

Haystack Mountain…. Deer Isle, Maine

Mudflat Studio, Somerville, Massacheusetts

Office for the Arts, Harvard, Ceramics Program, Allston, Mass.

Penland School of Crafts, North Carolina.

Peters Valley… Delaware Water Gap National Park

Red Lodge Clay Center, Red Lodge, Montana.

Watershed center for the ceramic arts. Newcastle, Maine.

Archie Bray, Montana. Very competitive for entry.

Off-shore there is…

CRETA in Rome, Italy and

Guldagergaard Ceramic Research Centre, Skaelskor, Denmark

International Ceramics Studio, Keckskemet, Hungary.

Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan. Excellent facilities. Competitive entry by proposal and CV.

EKWC (European Ceramic Work Centre) Holland. This is the most challenging to get into as standards are very high for admission. Entry by proposal. It’s also by far the most expensive. They have been cross-pollinating artists from a variety of arenas for many years now. Great facilities.

There are even more than this when you look. However many of the rest are simply small businesses that offer a place to work and a place to sleep for which you pay a fee, but nothing more. Some have requirements as to work (in that you cannot simply use the place as a tourist centre) although many are located near good tourist areas (such as Nice in the south of France). There is an international Association of Artists Residencies which sends occasional news about these. The standards vary considerably, and research, so that you get what you seek, is necessary.

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GULGONG Ceramics Festival.

Will be April 15-21 next year. I will again be taking a group across for which I must apply for funding. Again there will be a joint project that allows for individual expressive involvement. I’d like to finalise the team so please, those who have had conversations with me earlier on this or have written about their interest in the event, please be in touch to confirm that interest is still there and I’ll try to sort a team from this. However, even if you have not been in touch and now have interest, please signal and, I’ll do my best. Emphasis will be on making a team that works together and who is prepared to muck in doing what’s necessary for a good outcome.

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Those who went last year will recall that one of the demonstrators was Norway’s Torbjorn Kvasbo who was working with extruded clay pipes. Well, one of the sculptures he made with these assembled pipes has just won the Grand Prize in the Korean International Ceramics Biennale and a massive amount of K/wons which translates to something around 60,000NZ$! Well done! He won the Faenza competition in about ’99 also and has just completed installing sculpture in another new ceramics museum in Central China quite apart from being about Europe’s most awarded teacher in ceramics..

Torbjorn has been here as Fletcher judge back in 1998 and took Master-classes at that time and I am in conversations with him to come again next year for a residency and further Masterclasses of a different nature.

Cross fingers he won’t be too busy!

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I am putting together a small show about early women, I think to be called, ‘Leading Ladies’, for Te Uru gallery at Portage time later this year. It seems we have had numerous retrospectives, surveys and suchlike on those late 20thC and after men, several of whom have been labelled ‘pioneer’, that Te Uru thought it high time the pioneer female studio potters from early 20thC should be featured. (Of course the industrially trained men, imported with skills intact, from Europe, were even earlier…) Some surprising facts and events and pots are turning up so watch this space!

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What I Did Last Summer

I relish staying in the city in summer and enjoy the unusual hush, the half empty roads, the easy parking and the lack of pressure on popular venues like swimming holes, water-side walks and parks – at least until ‘the return’ in late January. Places like I like are clearly not what visitors are here in the city for.

I also get to read books for pleasure instead of information. This year I’ve seen several that did both as well as some novels and stored-up articles from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Spectator and the Sunday Guardian sent, from here and there, by friends.  First were the following two anthologies around Craft. I ordered both via internet once I had a chance to glance through copies while off-shore last year. If they were here, I missed them. Too often I have ordered something looking promising and based upon an attenuated publisher’s blurb only to find it repetitive of something already possessed or off the issues I thought I was getting. These are both worth reading.

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Tanya Harrod, The Real Thing. pub.Hyphen Press, London

Tanya Harrod has to be Britain’s pre-eminent Craft/design historian and this is a selection of Harrod’s writing from mid-1980s to 2013 – mainly short essays with some longer pieces that were published in magazines and newspapers. The time span indicates a focus upon the post-modern (although, as a historian she introduces a variety of supplementary narratives that add riches, while subjects range from the theories of Richard Sennett to the fine art of cake icing and the ceramics of Pablo Picasso to Gwyn Hanssen Pigott. Titles of essays range from ‘How to get Money’ through, ‘Where to see Mingei in Japan’ to, ‘Why shouldn’t a pot be as beautiful as a painting?’.

Essays are grouped into three parts: reviews of exhibitions and events, reflections on themes and phenomena, or portraits of makers.

This book records the effects on communities, of change in art and craft over the time span and her scope is global, not simply the UK although most is centred there. It includes, as the cover demonstrates, the technological in the form of rapid prototyping (or 3D Printing if you like) and its consequences. The book’s mien can be serious, even distrusting in places as well as celebratory, but its deportment is, in the main, objective documentation with occasional, thoroughly enjoyable and witty personal commentary. Great for diving into at intervals.

 

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Alison Britton: Seeing Things, Collected Writing on Art, Craft and Design. Pub. Occasional Papers.

Alison Britton is that brave thing – a practicing maker prepared to write critically on others’ work. She is also, besides her exhibitions of ceramics of note, a selector of work and artists, a curator and, for 30+ years, a Senior Tutor and Research Co-ordinator at the Royal College of Art. In the early 1970s, she was one of the group of RCA graduates, (Glynis Barton, Jackie Poncelet, Carol McNicoll, Elizabeth Fritsch et al ) chosen by Victor Margrie (founder, Harrow ceramics course/Director UK Crafts Council) as harbingers for the bright future of ceramics at a time of great upheaval in practices when the hegemony and restorative intent of the Anglo-oriental was overturned.

In her texts she concentrates upon contemporary practice (although history can be incisively entwined when relevant) and across a range of arts, although ceramics is at core. She treats ceramics as a field for exploration that is both self-reflexive yet in dialogue with other areas of inquiry such as gender or cultural studies. So, post-modernism is her arena of discourse.

This is the first collection of her writing. She has chosen a range of her texts from essays to book reviews and interviews. Like Harrod’s book the time span is over the past 30 years and her more literary and lyrical approach makes interesting contrasts here and there with Harrod’s writing. Sometimes covering similar ground. Engaging stuff.

In book reviews she is pungent on Paul Greenhalgh’s,The Persistence of Craft, ending her text with, “ ‘The idea of orchestration is key’, Greenhalgh tells us in his conclusion; but orchestration is exactly what this book lacks. It is as if the conductor went home after an impressive overture, and the orchestra – which features some terrific soloists – played on as best they could.”   She is constructive on, Breaking the Mould: New Approaches to Ceramics writing that to catalogue innovation is important, but, “ in assembling a cluster of self-written submissions from artists and designers with new approaches, background knowledge and editorial, clarity is needed”. She repeats this, with more bite, and regret, at her conclusion with , “… valid ambitions – there are new things to be revealed and written about. Stronger editing with a real understanding of the contemporary clay scene and its recent past, and a better budget for commissioning essays, could have made this an important book.” Well said. A decent budget for commissioning texts (and one could add, research), is of far greater value than any self-penned script by the artist.

She writes with clarity on many artist’s work including, Lawson Oyekan, Philip Eglin, Richard Slee, Sara Radstone and others of contemporary note in ‘Use, Beauty, Ugliness and Irony’, an essay for the catalogue of The Raw and the Cooked, a show that roamed across contemporary expression in clay. The essay encompassed many historical allusions as well as mention of folk from William Morris to Claude Levi-Strauss.

In interviews she includes what she considers a strong example sent to her, among many, by a student from another college. Worth reading – good questions.

Another to dip into at intervals.

Then there is….

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Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery, pub. Penguin, 2014.

Sorry if you have already read this but I only came across it last year and had to wait for the holidays to start it. I don’t need to tell you that this is congenial reading. With great good humour he debunks distinctions between brows both high and low. His acute observations and effective anecdotes can chew into some closely held art issues yet still make the reader laugh out loud, smile, or at least nod ruefully in agreement.

He posits on art being an asset class and just big lumpen loads of cash sitting on walls, as opposed to art for art’s sake idealism and more in that vein without plumping for either polarity but then goes on to tell the truth in that when a commercial gallery is setting up a show and pricing the art, it doesn’t price by quality but by size. A big painting will cost more than a small painting and on that he continues that a red painting will always sell best, followed by white, blue, yellow, green and black. And then more on themes like dealers, boho-leftyism, the so-called avant-garde, Duchamp and Banksy, critics, collectors, and galleries, art schools and skips full of ugly objects trying to be art – “ a potpourri of broken dreams”. Yes, it’s a lot about him but there is little that’s held sacred and you read it and just know there is a river of mordant truth running beneath all the fun bits. If you haven’t read it – get it. Cheapo paperback version. Even cheaper (i.e. free) are the BBC podcasts of The Reith Lectures – a series of four, written and spoken by Perry and the BBC’s most popular in the series.

And finally, another anthology. This one is ours, in fact, it’s the last book from our own national, under-acknowledged, counter-culture genius, Barry Brickell of Driving Creek Railway and Pottery.

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A BARRY BRICKELL READER: selected ‘wrertings’, meditations, outbursts, decrees and diversions. 168pp. Published by Steele Roberts and edited and introduced by Gregory O’Brien, photographs by Haru Sameshima, afterword by David Craig. The team that brought you, In His Own Steam – the definitive story of Barry Brickell that accompanied the touring exhibition of that name, curated by Emma Bugden and David Craig.

 

This is an anthology of Barry’s writing. Much of it might well be labelled ‘poetry’, or possibly doggerel, even prose – of a sort, but he’d prefer ‘wrertings’, one of many words coined by that fertile brain to express his disdain, among other things, of art-speak, corporates and institutions, politicians, bankers and celebrities, bureaucracy, certain individuals, health supplements, ‘Zuit’, advertising, speculation, ‘consumeritis’, fashion, religion and Roads of National Importance.

This collection also records his veneration for engineering, the uses his hands might be put to, Colin McCahon, clay, anxiety-free old age, his Dad, classical music, virgin native forest, steaming clinker, useful pots, roast spuds with lashings of gravy, Maoridom, trains and railways and coal- fired kilns, National Radio, Helen Mason and good wine.

There is a sensitive introduction, by Greg O’Brien, on how this book came to be put together, a task begun in Barry’s last days, and a responsive conclusion from David Craig who also co-curated the extensive retrospective exhibition with Emma Bugden of The Dowse Art Museum from where it began its tour around the nation. Images are never-before-seen, fresh to this book – with a couple of ‘must be used’ exceptions. It’s a neat, beautifully designed and formatted publication, on uncoated paper stock, that captures the man, his wrertings and his irreverent, zestful love of life. It’s a rich vein that will not occur again. Some of it is very funny, some is poignant and some of it stings. This is the essence of the man and his self-replenishing symbiotic interdependence of railway, pottery, bird sanctuary and art gallery that is Driving Creek – his legacy to the nation. There should be a copy in every library.

Copies can be purchased from Rim Books, PO Box 68896, Auckland.

E: info@rimbooks.com  $30.

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Latest from the Big Apple

 

Arlene Shechet is currently one of the hottest names in ceramics in the USA. Shechet has recently completed two residencies at Meissen Porcelain (Europe’s first manufactory of porcelain in early 1700s) and this has resulted in a year-long exhibition at The Frick gallery in NYC where some sixteen of Shechet’s own work from the residencies is displayed in and around about one hundred pieces she selected from the Arnhold collection of Meissen – a promised gift to The Frick. I have not had the fortune to view the show but I’m told the dialogue between the two periods of work, which uses nature as dominant theme, is interesting but not as engaging as her recent show at Sikkema Jenkins gallery in Chelsea. There, without the restraints of working to a valuable collection of antique porcelain, the scale and colour could be given full flight. I’ve been sent images of work in the show so here you are, what’s hot in NYC right now.

Shechet also makes in wood and a number of the works utilise both media. Her works sit in a number of situations including floor and wall but when plinthed (if that’s a word) she makes the plinth as well and it is to be regarded as part of the work. A number of artists in USA now make whatever it’s set upon as a part of the work.

Sadly, I have no titles, nor do I have a catalogue but if the person who borrowed the book on Shechet from the ASP library some months ago would be considerate enough to return it, that would be greatly appreciated. I spotted it when it was ‘display only’, made a note to borrow as soon as…. only to find no trace of it, nor has it turned up since and it’s listed among the missing. Please, give it back. The ASP library, strong in how-to-do-it or multiple copies of Leach, Cardew and Susan Petersen books is trying to widen its purview. Give it a hand.

Meantime, here is some of Shechet’s show at Sikkema Jenkins.

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A Functional Ceramics Project and other things of that ilk

My dictionary tells me that an ilk is a type; a class; a sort, and derived from a somewhat obscure Scotticism indicating, “of the place of the same name”. There’s another meaning too; the one the architects, James Fenton and Steven Lloyd, gave which is a three letter code for ‘Isobel Lone Kauri’. This ILK is a socially responsive project in ceramics, by artist Isobel Thom, toward her new studio building in Lone Kauri Road in Karekare, and currently an exhibition at the Malcolm Smith Gallery, Uxbridge, in Howick.

The project comprises several groups of, mainly ceramic, work – architectural models apparently as potential for her bush-laced hillside section – as sort of working sketches developing embryonic ideas toward construction and from which the architects generated their drawings and plans.

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architectural models

Then there are functional domestic objects and tile models on a long table including X-shaped green and white, glossy glazed flooring tiles while walls display architectural drawings and photography about the site and its intended structure so the entire integrated project can be visualised.

The functional pieces are rarely what we routinely consider as part of the domiciliary but why not? Everything doesn’t need to fit in a dish-washer. And when you think a bit about it, pipes, vents, water heaters and hand-basins are decidedly domestic and commonly historically ceramic, although currently replaced by plastics.

Thom has made a rocket stove; an energy efficient unit for outdoor cooking and water heating with a side effect of charcoal production (…useful for later fuming ceramic works as well as its role as bio-char which is a useful soil amendment for vegetable growing…). There is a model of a sink that will occupy a corner space in the loo, a trial air vent for a curved wall along with a group of Thom’s tableware in her now familiar planar, geometric slab-built style, constructed in her tiny studio from a gritty stoneware clay and slip decorated.

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floor tiles, teapots, and cups

There are a ‘Stability Vase’ (?for earth-quaking times), cups and teapots, one with a charming tea-cosy of alpaca, homespun and knitted by the artist’s mother, Ellen, and plates with drawings of buildings Thom has admired and which served as instigation for her own home possibilities.

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plate

Thom’s long engagement with Cubism is in evidence and has been amplified by the restrictions imposed by a small working space so that hand-building is obligatory, making her style swiftly recognisable.

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vent

It’s the tiles that make the most arresting part of the exhibition. Overlapping, in classical tile formation, mounted upon laths and covering a large part of a gallery wall are more than a thousand tiles destined to clad part of the exterior walls of the building and curve underneath at the base. This curve is because approach will be from below as the building must sit high above the road on the steep section and so the turn of tiles will maximise aesthetic effect. There is a model of the curved wall base on the gallery table which demonstrates this and which served as prototype for problem-solving, but most are rolled from recycled clay, hand-pounded flat into a metal former designed by the artist, then slip-coated and fired en-masse in a large factory trolley kiln. This tiling project is a work in progress (about 800 more to go…) and Thom has already decided that the some tiles will be re-fired. While not seeking absolutely uniform surfaces she finds some of the flat finishes un- satisfying but intends to retain the tonal range achieved and keep working toward accord in this handmade environment she is assembling.

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tiled wall

It’s a brave project; one that some might regard as a risky embarkation. Those with long-term experience in ceramic process can probably summon up some potentially difficult issues but no one, surely, could do anything but honour and value these fruits of such a socially responsive engagement with contemporary discourses and the aspiration to an aesthetically harmonious and integrated vision for art and life that is this singular project.

The project is currently awaiting resource consent and plans are to start construction in March. Yes, I know it can be a long haul to Howick, but it’s holiday season, the roads are light and it’s absolutely worth the journey which, with the changes to the area, is an interesting one anyway. For those in town -go see it. It’s on until January 14th.

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The Portage

This year around the opening of the Portage competition exhibition there is a superabundance of other ceramic-related events. So many in fact, it ended up being called the Festival of Ceramics and included a number of facets not previously attempted alongside the exhibitions and artist’s talks at galleries and the main event itself (Portage), which are the usual. This year’s exhibition opening was accompanied by the conclusion of John Parker’s grand retrospective show and accompanying book, also at Te Uru, and we have several fresh white cube galleries joining in with shows of ceramics, a walking tour of the historical clay sites out west, a kiln firing by Nga Kaihanga Uku, slip casting demo, numerous open studio visits and a ‘collectors clinic’ for those who cannot resist the collectable allures of Crown Lynn wares and the annual ASP show had its opening dates adjusted to co-incide also. There’s probably even more I’m missing. Many of these events were already happening anyway and they have been collected together, under one label, for the eager ceramophile (albeit exhausted ceramophile). Some have been added in to enlarge or vary the event and now it’s at the point where the scale is overwhelming and it’s daunting to even start to get around. So, concentrating on the main event… (more to follow later)

The Portage was judged this year by Janet de Boos, probably well-known to most of you as former head of ceramics at Canberra and author of books on Glazes for Australian Potters. She has, over time, experienced generous cross-Tasman contact with New Zealand and its ceramics community formerly, via two-way travelers, and she was jurist for the Waiclay national event a few years ago. Janet spoke well at the opening event mentioning, as many have in the past, that absent was a good assortment of functional pots, with which she linked New Zealand’s long association. Further, she remarked upon the absence of anything risky or experimental where video representation of performance or time-based works are not unusual off-shore. However we did have some camera work included last year – which I think was the first time. Maybe that will grow. She remarked upon the ample presence, in entries, of what has been labelled , ‘sloppy clay’, a recent, mainly north American, movement that rejects, among other things, much adherence to the ‘craft’ aspect of clay practice plus an enthusiastic (sometimes over-vigorous) use of evidence of hand working. DeBoos links this with the West Coast Funk work from the 1960s and the current interest by artists with background in fine arts rather than ceramics who co-opt clay for its expressive potential displaying, to my eye, little or no interest in ceramics’ histories or traditions –some aspects of which could well, very often, strengthen the expression. However, West Coast Funk was absolutely an outgrowth of ceramic cultures and traditions but with an eye on the socio-political events of the day (plus that rarity for USA clay at the time – irony!) when one thinks about the work of initiators like Robert Arneson and Howard Kottler. With DeBoos I enjoy the best of this new style (sometimes because it challenges those long-held customs) but, like her, hold no regard for a simple re-iteration of what is currently hot off-shore (and there is a bit of that around). Anyway, she invited very little into this show despite there being names that are new.  She gave the Premier Award to a work entitled, “Clinch VI”, by Caroline Earley, American born and educated, former lecturer at Nelson Polytechnic and currently Assistant Professor at Boise State University in Indiana, USA. Caroline returns to NZ with her partner most summers and more, if possible, and has entered competitions or exhibited here and in Australia and undertaken residencies in ANU Canberra as well as in the USA. (One as prize from the Waiclay event of 2008).  The work is an apparently simple slip-cast, two-pronged double form with an apparently simple, featureless, milky white glaze coating. However, if you look carefully and think about it – the making would, since the two sections cannot be separated whole, be complicated and intricate. Conceptually it’s the work’s title that engages as much as does the making as a clinch is far more than any friendly hug and on a piece that carries intimations of the inchoately corporeal as this does, the work becomes slyly erogenous. Not a commonly found demeanor in Kiwi ceramics. It intrigued the judge enough to receive the top award.

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CLINCH VI , Caroline Earley

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CLINCH VI, Caroline Earley

Merit Awards were three. Jim Cooper made one of his assemblages of severally sourced, multiply pieced, vividly colourful works that exposes his interests in popular music, religious practices and cultural traditions deriving from Eastern philosophies. Modelled loosely, his work could initially be taken for a branch of the ‘sloppy clay’ fold except closer examination reveals a highly practiced hand that, despite loving the over-the-top, knows when there is enough and knows how to take risks while narrowly avoiding absolute disaster. Recently returned from his residency in Denmark at Guldagergaard, new work from Cooper may have absorbed something of his European sojourn and become even more eclectic. Any way, it could not contrast greater with this year’s winning work!

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Jim Cooper, Shrine from the temple of the good shepherds.

The second Merit went to Susannah Bridges with a series of what might be called light sculptures. Using porcelain impressed with textured fabrics Bridges added lighting inside what were basically simple cylinders that held added dynamism via bending and squeezing. When illuminated (absolutely necessary as a part of the work) the patterns of the various lace, embroideries and knitting were clearly illustrated to produce what in some ways became a contemporary version of a Victorian technique called lithophane. These were originally used to illustrate religious scenes or bucolic rural tableaux but always illuminated by added light behind the textured clay from either an electric bulb or a window. The judge remarked that for her, the remnants of pieces of the handmade or embellished fabric, crochet or knitting still attached to each work were what moved the work to its elevated reception. It was entitled, Stick to the Knitting.

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Susannah Bridges, Stick to the Knitting

The third Merit went to Emily Siddell and Mark Goody for their joint entry, Deconstructed Fables and consists of a multiply pieced chain, or over-scaled necklace as wall-hanging. A fine piece, their statement reads that ‘the work was inspired by a collection of Copeland and Spode dinnerware that was in Emily’s family since the late nineteenth century’. The Aesop’s Fables that are depicted upon the Staffordshire bone china production ware have been ‘deconstructed and re-assembled on porcelain beads much like a childhood memory can be fragmented’. The necklace represents, in its own way, family heirlooms that are often imbued with stories, memories and history. For this observer, one of the most engaging works in the show.

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Emily Siddell and Mark Goody, Deconstructed Fables

Greg Barron won the scholarship to Peter’s Valley next northern summer for his fine, wood-fired, ash embellished pitcher. While I am sure Greg will be a more than useful addition to the aspects of wood-fire culture at Peters Valley it will be great, some year, to see a winning artist who can take advantage of the other teachers available for access and broadening of vision as Peter’s Valley has more courses to offer than only from the wood-firing arena.

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Greg Barron

This year, for the first time, the judge included other works for special mention and they were awarded, without monetary reward, an “Honorable Mention” as she felt they deserved some elevation above the general inclusions. They were…

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Maak Bow for his modernist severely profiled, high design, monochromatic, classical bowls. Darth Vader as vessel?

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Susannah Bridges (yes, again) with a group of ovalled cast bowls in harmonious shades of brown.

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Mel Ford with a reduced version of her Canadian residency winning work of some years ago. Shore-gathered, abraded shards inserted into a clay matrix that revivifies the discarded into something contemporary.

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Madeleine Child with a group of birds and twigpots and again, about the best work statement of the show.

Kirsty Gardiner with another re-visit to former success – her winning work of some years ago only this time with a somewhat gothic ambiance and a confusing statement on the work.

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Kirsty Gardiner

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Chuck Joseph and what the judge saw as one of those grand European table centre-pieces (that litter so many German and French museums) and he interprets as deriving from naïve paintings and soft-paste collection items, only in Fauvist coloration. (Viola Frey made much fine work based upon junk shop finds. Great that a NZ artist derives inspiration from a similar source but gains manifestly different outcomes)

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Yi-Ming Lin offered a non-functional teapot set made from flower forms set on rocks. A curious, perhaps celebratory work with an even more curious statement.

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Janna van Hasselt with a group of thirty forms made from pouring porcelain slip to set on plaster and mounted upon mirror which adds a dimension not usually seen. Varied colour and pattern juxtaposed with repetition of scale, while simple, is visually effective.

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Paul Winspear with a large, stoneware bowl of a type seen many times but more convincing and successful than many because of the vibrancy of the colour of the interior.

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Helen Yau with work, which has received her attention for some years, linking silkworm codes with their cocoons and lace-like work to embrace both but the statement connects inadequately. (I thought the Gallery was re-jigging some of the challenging statements these days? But there are some real clunkers again this year).

Phew! Quite a list. Nice for the exhibitors of course, and a generous thought by the judge, but in a show of 52 works were an extra ten awards over the winning four really necessary? The minor awards were always a part of The Fletcher but that show contained some 200+ exhibits so the Commendations, as then called, with monetary reward, were significant. Here, the question hovers.

Mention of Portage cannot be made without reference to the catalogue, as always, a useful and well produced publication with statements by the judge and a return to the commissioned essay, a valuable  addition and useful record of issues not recorded often by other means. This essay is by Kim Paton, (fairly) new Director of Objectspace and right on the button as far as issues are concerned. Commenting on writing by Veiteberg, Greenhalgh and Clark, she cites potential loss of craft history and knowledge, via a lack of specifics of vocabulary and little critical discourse existing in our medium. This at a time when the field is currently expanding at its borders to embrace other disciplines (where critical discourses are the norm). She offers that Objectspace can support, in various ways, an expanded communication. Their new premises, to be at 13 Rose Road, Ponsonby will greatly enhance these opportunities. We must support their craft of facilitation with our craft of bringing work into existence and thus extend and enhance interpretation and communication around New Zealand ceramics. It’s important. We need attention to our histories and culture for it’s from these that much new work evolves, and therefore we need publications that address these issues via contemporary work practices. Objectspace can facilitate all this but it’s necessary to step through that open door. The alternative is being perhaps shuffled into some minor cul-de-sac where there is no communication except on a level of how to pull a handle or re-glaze a fired failed pot. Surely we are worth more than this so don’t sit and wait, support this major change for Objectspace for you are supporting yourselves by doing so.

Mention of the Portage cannot be complete without mention of their fine exhibition of John Parker’s work in the downstairs gallery. It’s an almost completely comprehensive display of his oeuvre over fifty years of practice. The only thing I noted absent were the very early, reduced stoneware domestic vessels that I have seen occasionally in private collections, but they do not fit this show anyway. This exhibition covers early, pre RCA work with the text-bearing ‘Nixon and Laird’ and ‘Love Potion’ bottles, the pastel hued glazed and agate bottles he made on return from London for a show at New Vision that stunned many of us ( there were no commercial colorants available here in the mid-late 70s!) along with samples from many other of his series – the evilly coloured and textured ‘hobby’ ceramics glazes, the marvelously pitted cratered glazes (I bought a large turquoise one for the Dowse collection), the departure to hand-building with the lattice bowls and the revelation of his self-deprecating humor with the ‘fake’ series (which I loved!) and the fun and importance of his Vortex Ware and much, much more. It’s all here and amazingly most exhibits are drawn from his own collection. It’s a pleasurable re-visit to an oeuvre that has maintained clear parameters yet shown infinite variation within those applied precincts of form and function. There is a beautifully produced book accompanying the exhibition that contains useful and informative essays by a variety of good writers, excellent design and images and modestly sized (in comparison with other recent publications), at 143 pages. This show is touring to other galleries – Te Papa is next. Don’t miss it!

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Lex Dawson

I just read that old friend to all, Lex Dawson, died a day or two ago. Many will know that he had suffered a number of debilitating health issues over recent years and these eroded his ability to keep up with pottery occasions. However the welcome was still warm if one ventured to his nearby home in Onehunga.

A long time potter, Lex was a member of both Twelve Potters and The Potters Arms retail co-operatives and a former Director of the Auckland Studio Potter’s Centre. He taught many at both the Centre and in his long-term role as teacher with Carrington Polytechnic (he was first pottery course leader there and brought in Andrew Van der Putten and me as initial teachers for wheel work and hand-building), then was Assistant to Sally Vincent’s regime there and later in various roles once Carrington became Unitec.

Lex was well known throughout pottery circles up and down New Zealand for his bluff, good-natured warmth of manner and always supportive way of being with those less proficient than he.

Lex liked his pottery casual and relaxed but superbly functional and received a Commendation in the Fletcher Awards. With Greer Twiss he selected the ASP annual show for Auckland Museum and served actively on the ASP committee for many years.

Sincere Sympathies to Jill, Jack and Beth.

The funeral to which all are invited is on Wednesday 30th at 11am at the Mangere Lawn Cemetery, and following Big Day Out any gathered there around the fire can join in for sausages and a remembrance toast to Lex at the conclusion at 4-30pm.

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