One of the important and contemporary practices in ceramic art is the growing interest in woodfiring for the beauty of the effects and the individual expression that can be achieved. Australia is an ideal country for such a practice with its plentiful supply of wood of different varieties, its raw materials, open spaces and, above all, the pioneering character of its people who are prepared to work hard and experiment with the technology. This growing interest has led to regular specialised conferences (the first in Gippsland in 1986) where like-minded potters can gather, discuss new ideas, learn from each other and view advances made in their field through exhibitions, lectures, discussions and demonstrations.
Neil Hoffmann, of Deloraine, Tasmania, is organising the next event, called ‘Woodfire Tasmania 2011’, and he has lined up an impressive array of national and international guest speakers to lead workshops, demonstrate their skills and lecture to those attending. One of the most well known names in woodfiring to have accepted an invitation is Jack Troy of the US. Jack attended one of the early wood-fire conferences in Australia and has become recognised for his generosity in sharing his extensive knowledge of the genre. He is also a known writer with several books and many articles on the subject to his credit. His work exemplifies ‘fine ash’ techniques where the blush of ash dusted on the surface of (mostly shino) glazes enhances the contours of his elegant forms. Another invited international star of wood-firing fame is Torbjørn Kvasbø from Norway, who also uses glazes in conjunction with firing with wood. Making massive forms of substantial strength and heft, Kvasbø’s sculptures are enigmatic and provoking and his demonstrations show an innovative use of ceramic techniques.
Two other US wood-fire specialists who will be at Woodfire Tasmania 2011 are Donna Gilliss and Daniel Murphy. Having trained in Japan, Donna Gilliss now works there. Her work has the elegance and colour we have come to expect from the best of Bizen traditions. Hard edges and strict lines reflect her calm intellectual approach. Daniel Murphy on the other hand, who trained under John Neely in Logan, Utah, makes vessels that are robust, full of air and seem to lift off the table, even though they are sometimes nearly half a metre high and wide. Both artists rely on the fire for surface effects.
Working in Indonesia, Hillary Kane specialises in slab-built works. Her training in the US, France, Portugal, Africa and many other countries has given her a broad knowledge and a restlessness to learn more. She will be a welcome participant at Woodfire Tasmania 2011.
The acceptance from noted Japanese master potter, Shiro Otani, of Shigaraki, Japan, is a major coup. Otani has won many major awards for his work and, over the years as a practising artist, has developed a reputation for extracting the optimum from his materials and his kilns. As a young potter he was never given the best spots in communal firings, but he turned these areas of supposedly lesser interest into a prime area for his pots, using flashing and minimal ash to advantage. Now, as a mature potter, he is sought after to exhibit, lecture and teach about his work.
Woodfire Tasmania 2011 will offer lectures, demonstrations, exhibitions and contact with these international guests. By 28 April, 2011, I believe there will be an exodus from around Australia heading towards Deloraine. It sounds too good to miss. For further information on these artists and the program, exhibitions and pre-conference workshops, go to www.woodfiretasmania.com.au
Janet Mansfield, Gulgong, October 2010