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.


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.



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….


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.


CLINCH VI , Caroline Earley


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!


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.


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.


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.


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…


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


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


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.


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.


Kirsty Gardiner


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)


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.


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.


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.


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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Book Review


Chester Nealie 

Edited by Damian Skinner, with contributions by – Grace Cochrane, Morag Fraser, Andrew Grigg, Lucy Hammonds, Peter Lange, Denis O’Connor, Gillian McCracken, Justine Olsen, Owen Rye and biographical notes from Jan Irvine-Nealie.

Ron Sang Publications, 2016.

This is a heavyweight thumper of a book that can never be a bed-time read. It’s a sit up straight in a well supported chair book with over 300 pages – high quality, glossy, large format, with nine essays, several dozens of illustrations – some biographical but mainly of pots all made by Nealie, four interviews by the editor with the subject, extensive biographical notes and curricula vitae. Then there are luxurious addenda such as inserts of richly coloured substantial card (in bush green, ochre yellow, iron red and clay grey) embossed with scallop shell pattern, marking each of the four sections (on Making, Firing, Exhibiting and Owning) and further clusters of inserts, again differing in scale, colour, texture and weight to the main text paper and to the section entree type, with Nealie’s drawings of pots – sketchy, linear and lightly water-coloured here and there, with notations on, perhaps, kiln position or the clay used or planned for, or a pot spotted somewhere, and there are end-papers of great heft illustrated with fossil imagery. And, of course, hard covers. It all adds up to extraordinary production values and makes it probably the most sumptuous book on a potter yet produced in this country. The only addenda not included are a dust cover or slip case and maybe watermarks.

Photography of the work is uniformly excellent in spite of it being carried out by a number of different photographers each with their own style. The methods vary from the clear-cut ‘floating in space’ approach that I enjoy least, to the well-grounded as a pot should, and must, be, set weightily upon a surface so that its heft can be assessed visually. All photographers, however, have successfully captured the haptic qualities and surface diversity so evident in Nealie’s work and toward which he clearly invests much consideration and energy, as evidenced by reading some of the essay texts, particularly the editor’s interviews. The range of surfaces is spectacular and illustrates what must approach an almost complete compendium of what is possible with a small, select bunch of carefully edited glazes, a wood-fired kiln and skilled, experienced, stacking and firing.

Other photography documents a variety of subjects such as various kilns, pottery studios, working situations, exhibitions, landscapes, domestic interiors, and social occasions. These too are, in the main, excellently reproduced, considering the means of capture could range from a Box Brownie and real film negatives through to a cell-phone, when the time-span is taken into consideration. They serve their purpose well. A few have not survived the enlargement to full double page and needed use on a smaller scale, as they are far from crisply in focus. There must be reasons that escaped me as to why that scale was necessary for the information those images presented. But considering that it is a large book with so many images, those exemplary production values are on continuum.

It took me a while to work my way through all nine essays, four interviews and the biographical pages, but I did it in the end.  As you’d expect, they are a mixed bag and value to readers will vary depending upon interests and so reactions will be individual.

I enjoyed best the comments along with the occasional revelation offered by some of his old friends or colleagues who wrote with respect, humour and honesty. Most are probably familiar with the extroverted public side of Chester that irrepressibly comes to the fore before an audience, but here we are sometimes offered some avenues into the private man, whose interests are broad and collecting habits diverse and who can bring all those concerns into play in his pots’ surfaces, or at least make analogies that imply cogent links. This is also something he talks of in detail in his interviews with the editor. These lengthy passages on his work and firing indicate his primary interest to be surface. His perceptions and judgements with their subsequent actions, from the form of, and addenda to, his pots to the choices of slip and glaze along with which wood to be utilised, and when, through to treatment of post-firing unsatisfactory patches (which never occurred to me before as I’d always imagined a liberal dab of asceticism in the wood-firing processes) signify that it is this final aesthetic to which his attentions are mainly directed. The results generously underline this focus as attested by the many remarkably handsome pots illustrated.

Other essays that substantially engaged this reader were those under the banner of ‘Owning’, and here I learned something of Australian collections and their foci together with some thought-provoking discourse around display and audience experience. I was further beguiled by one man’s journey from chimney pots and drainage pipes moving steadily through to acquiring contemporary work in clay. Both essays read sincerely and record candidly the writers’ personal responses to encounters with Nealie’s pots along with some of the considerations and situations around them.

They contrast with some other tracts that read as detached and uninvolved and more as records of events made consequential to information received rather than any first-hand association or personal involvement. A third party viewpoint can be useful particularly if it’s also analytical. But this is largely lacking. I’d have interest in some interpretation of some of Nealie’s major exhibitions. As example, in his principal venture into work outside the vessel, the text reports his disappointment with the, “very little reaction”, to his exhibits generated from the expedition to the Auckland Islands and shown in the subsequent travelling group exhibition, ‘Art in the Subantarctic’. The minimal response, “definitely put me off”, presumably his doing more in that vein. “It was strange. The work sort of became dead”. His recounts of his readings and research on, and various adventures in, the Auckland Islands are most engaging; some of it enthralling. Then he describes his subsequent work and process in detail. But a broader viewpoint on the exhibition is not there. Surely there were, at least, newspaper and art magazine reviews about the exhibition? This was a large scale, multi-artist, well-funded venture that was seen in major venues up and down the country. More was required to help understand that, “very little reaction”.

There has been a mountain of work and effort contributed to this publication. Record must be made of the stalwart task undertaken by Jan Irvine-Nealie who compiled the extensive biographical notes and lists and further researched in support of various texts, as acknowledged by the editor – a mammoth task clearly accomplished meticulously. Along with the book design and values it’s impressive and contains every fact you ever wanted to know about Chester Nealie. Record should also be made of the mutable team that supported production of this book which has been in preparation over a prolonged period. Funding issues, movement of key players, changing team members, retiring publishers, replacement designers and such complicating issues all have affected the length of time it has taken for this publication to come to fruition. Getting a book, particularly a large complex one as this is, into production is a multifarious mission and all who furnished time and effort can take tribute for a task well completed. It’s not easy to tell but it seems likely that it’s been the vision of Chester and Jan Nealie which has been the constant and driving factor for this lengthy process. But all who supported also deserve accolades for a job well done.

So, does this book tap into and crack the Nealie code? Not really. That’s not what this book is designed to do. It’s an encyclopaedic celebration of the career of a man who found making pots more engaging than teaching; who began during the absolute dominance of the Anglo-oriental ethos in NZ ceramics and then discovered that the Oriental, with its particular potential for exploration, to be the most appealing part of that for him. From this developed a fascination for wood-firing with its culture, particularly the Japanese anagama approaches and their historical, aesthetic and romantic appeal for someone with his individual blend of background elements and talents. The diverse surface effects that can enliven an intelligently restricted range of pot forms are considered, pursued and explored in great depth and with myriad variations, until his expertise, within this discrete spectrum of ceramic expression, surpasses most. And it’s been under development for more than fifty years with a number of great adventures on the way. The personal is largely unseen and insights remain indistinct. So, this is a commemoration, not an interpretation.

This large, well designed and handsome tome is available from the Chester Nealie Book Committee – suggest, if you love his pots or have interest in wood-firing that you be in contact with Trien at the ASP or contact Masterworks Gallery for your copy. Cost $95.00 per.

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odds and ends

I have notice from Mino, Japan with their information on entry into their 11th International Ceramics Competition next year. Selection is lengthy and a tad complicated but it starts soon. First, if interested, download the info form from www.icfmino.com and fill out to register. You’ll need images- of you (headshot) up to 1MB. Then, 3 images of the work up to 2MB. You’ll need a statement…either with registration or else accompanying the work at final stage if you get that far. This to be UP TO 100 characters only and will be rejected if over.

Deadline is January 10, 2017….so not long! They request that the work be not larger than 4 cu.m in volume and not greater than 4m. high. Ha!

Be aware that ALL shipping expenses are now the responsibility of the entrant. (They used to pay to get the work there to Japan but no longer) Be aware also that it is more expensive to get work from Japan than to send to Japan. Be aware also that should they deem that the work is not the same as the image submitted they will return the work, with no other notice, to you freight forward. First you’ll know is a knock on the door by a FedEx courier with your work tucked under his arm and a bill in his hand. Read Ivan Albrecht’s account of his experiences for the last one in Ceramics Art and Perception – check index to find.

On the plus side, you are eligible to win a Grand Prize of 10 million yen, or 1 million yen for the Gold Award or lesser amounts for each of the other 14 awards (all prizes are also subject to tax before you get it) and all award entries become the property of the competition organisers until 2019 (when presumably you can have it returned at your expense) while the two main awards are kept by the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu. There is no mention of payment for the works so presumably the Awards are considered acquisitional.

However, even if you just get accepted for the exhibition you will get an Honorable Mention certificate and be in the always splendiferous catalogue. (The Japanese often do this better than anyone else…)

They have reduced the number of judges from the former ten for each category (Design/Art) to seven for all categories. That alone is a vast improvement for an Asian competition as massive judging panels are de rigueur generally and this is probably budgetary as judges fees were very high but that was when the Japanese economy was robust… alas…

They state that no information is available to the panel during judging (name /country /CV etc). Which brings it into line with what happens in most of the world. It’s a standard that the Fletcher Challenge Awards set many years ago. We were the first to institute that and it always stood us in good stead and meant even new grads were prepared to go to the expense of entering. Judging is in the usual two stages (used to be actual work and in one stage, but that has had to be wiped due to pressure internationally and inconvenience of sending work so far on spec and returning it). Even in Japan in a traditional ceramics area the available voluntary help is just not so prevalent these days.

For those maybe travelling that far, the exhibition will open in 15th September 2017 through to October 22nd in Mino which is easily accessible via train from Tokyo.

Good Luck!

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