HANDBUILT: Made in Clay
Janet Beckhouse, Graham Fletcher, Peter Hawkesby, Virginia Leonard, Julia Morison, Tanja Nola, Alex Pittendrigh, Denis O’Connor, Nichola Shanley, Richard Stratton, Isobel Thom, Jake Walker, Lauren Winstone
28 October – 26 November 2016
In order to be an artist working with ceramics today, you have to make a disclaimer about not knowing what you are doing technically speaking.
Betty Woodman, American ceramicist
The presiding figures ghosting over this selection in Handbuilt would not fall into this category. Ken Price, Ron Nagle, or even Lucio Fontana wouldn’t be bothered outlining “technique” – you would just take their virtuosity as given – I don’t think you’d hear them discussing “craft” anytime either. After all, painting has craft, photography has craft, writing has craft. Well, just about everything has craft. Ceramics in New Zealand has many established forums, and a rich studio-pottery tradition, but increasingly clay is appearing in contemporary art contexts and this is not going away, for the simple reason it also has an honourable tradition across the last 150 years from Paul Gauguin, to Jeff Koons, and Thomas Schütte. We are now very familiar with visual artists decorating pots – Theo Schoon stamping a Len Castle platter, Max Gimblett abstracting a Martin Popplewell bowl, a John Reynolds drawing on a dinner plate for example. But, Handbuilt is more about thumbprints, fistfuls, the cranky, the broken, the wonky.
This selection is more about the “theatre-of-clay” with the costumery of pottery taken away, or in Richard Stratton’s case made to perform some other role on some other stage. Isobel Thom’s Tea Ceremony might just be able to fulfil the task of fetish design, but for Peter Hawkesby the teapot is the ‘rope’ in trope. A life model subject taken on a dizzying wheelie–ride miles away from the provenance and decorum of Earl Grey or the challenge of making a ‘proper’ spout that pours well without dripping. These are the Beckettian stand-ins for tableware.
Denis O’Connor worked exclusively in ceramics from 1972 to 1984, culminating in a major project Songs of the Gulf exhibited at the Auckland Art Gallery and the Dowse Art Museum. He was awarded the Francis Hodgkins Fellowship at Otago University as a result of this body of work. He has held solo exhibitions of his sculpture at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery, Govett Brewster Art gallery and the City Gallery, Wellington. His work is richly represented in these, and many other public and private collections, including the Chartwell Collection; Auckland War Memorial Museum; Waikato Museum of Art and History; Te Papa Tongarewa, National Museum of New Zealand; The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth; The University of Auckland, and The University of Canterbury. O’Connor has published two monographs and is the subject of two feature-length documentary films. He has recently been awarded the Doreen Blumhardt residency in Gulong, NSW, Australia to work in porcelain. He is represented by Two Rooms, Auckland.