Glenn England reviews a diverse exhibition recently held in Victoria
It is always a treat to have the opportunity to see selected works from a significant collection of ceramics. Therefore it was even more moving to view this exhibition of early ceramics along with contemporary work from the nineteen selected artists.
The City of Whitehorse is custodial curator of the comprehensive Ceramics Victoria Collection for a 25-year loan. This, in conjunction with their own collection, numbers more than 300 ceramic items. Guest curator Sue McFarland delved into the joint collections to assemble a diverse range of ceramics mainly from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. She then invited the artists selected to exhibit a contemporary work representative of their current art practice. In her selection, Sue wanted to have pieces and artists whose work in the collection had not been on show for some time. She also wished to highlight the fact that many artists work in other mediums as well as or in place of ceramics.
Christopher Sanders, a recognised ceramic artist, writer and teacher now works as a photographer. Along with his two lidded jars from the late 1980s he has exhibited a series of photographic images of iconic Melbourne landmarks, including the famous Skipping Girl. Victoria Howlett has also moved away from ceramics. The fresh, painterly slip decoration on her Rectangular Slab Dish, 1983, is reflected in her painting, The Great South West Walk Buona, Vista XIVB, 2010. Chris Pittard trained as a painter. He has successfully combined both art forms as evidenced by his narrative ceramics displayed along with his painting, New Estate, 2011.
In looking at the works there was very much a change in fashion and style from the 1970s, through the 1980s and 1990s to today. The greater emphasis on function was evidenced by a group of works from the Myer Bicentennial Domestic Ware collection. This was put together by Ceramics Victoria in 1988 and comprises a group of works that are much more at home on the kitchen shelf or dresser than on a plinth or in a glass cabinet. The warm, eminently functional woodfired jug, 1988 by Robert Barron was displayed beside his magnificent Boat Form, 2002, with its encrusted surface: contrasting yet strangely in sympathy with each other.
I spent some time pondering the earlier works in light of the current work and although there was, in many cases, a marked progression in style, technique and intent, the essential elements in the work of each artist were still evident. A small platter of an urban landscape, 1981, by Sandra Black airbrushed in greens, blues and browns had similar shapes and lines in the impressed decorative elements to her Geometric Cream Vessel, 1998, Black, Pierced, Carved Porcelain Bowl, 2008 and her current work, Stack Vessels I and II, 2011. Similarities in scale, attention to finish and detail was evident in the five exhibited works.
Differences in scale were marked in the work of Graeme Wilkie. The monumental, anagama-fired Horns of Atlantis were a dramatic contrast to the gentle porcelain Teapot, 1998. With its soft fluid Chun glaze, this teapot had a presence holding its own against the strong, deeply textured horns reflecting the path of the flame.
Jill Symes still uses the same materials. Her soft edged Black’n White Oval Platter, 1988, in terracotta, with a fresh porcelain slip and black underglaze decoration has a distinct functionality, whilst Fragments of Landscape, 2009, with its fluid slip application, and her Monad series, 2010, are an exploration of landscape and evidence of her move to a more conceptual, installation based practice.
Glaze effects and glaze-on-glaze exploration have been used to great effect throughout this period. Kevin Boyd’s’ Jug, 1988, is a fine example of this. It highlights his mastery of glaze and surface effect. Today his surfaces are no less rich but are largely unglazed. He uses smoked raku with terra sigillata. Shell Encrusted Vessels, 2011, saggar-fired with marine materials, by Sue McFarland also showcased the serendipitous effects that can be obtained by different firing methods.
I viewed the exhibition along with a group of Diploma of Ceramics students. They enjoyed the historical base and were able to track the development of each artist through the years. The six works by Victor Greenaway were a timeline of his ceramic practice from the Flanged Narrow Necked Vessel, 1971, with its grey green calcium matt glaze to his Porcelain Bowls, 2011/2012. They appreciated the enduring aesthetic of Peter Rushforth, and the journey of Peter Pilven from his Lidded Jar, 1983, with onglaze brushwork to his woodfired Slab Vessel, 2011; and were especially captivated by his set of eleven Woodfired Bottles, 2001, with various celadon and shino glazes.
At the opening, Sue McFarland delivered an amusing and informative floor talk to a mixed audience, giving an insight into the artist, their work and why she had included them in the show.
This, I think, is the importance of collections: to provide a window to the immediate past. The City of Whitehorse and Ceramic Victoria Collections are just that. The pieces have been acquired from selected and solo exhibitions, sponsored awards and donation. They are representative of working potters/ceramic artists. Often the works have been selected because of their technical excellence, their innovation or their presence. The selection is usually purely subjective. Their value is that they are ‘of their time’.
The Whitehorse Art Collection and Ceramics Victoria continue to acquire work and The City of Whitehorse has made a strong commitment to the care and display of these collections. Senior Arts Officer Jacquie Nichols-Reeves and her team are extremely knowledgeable and professional in their approach. The flexibility of the Whitehorse Art Space allowed the works of each artist in Then and Now to occupy their own space so that groups of works could be viewed as a whole. They were beautifully displayed with a new treasure around each corner. The subtle yet vibrant work of Pippin Drysdale provided a dramatic entrance to the exhibition.
Represented in the exhibition were: Jane Annois, Robert Barron, Stephen Benwell, Sandra Black, Clare Blake, Terence Bogue (photography), Kevin Boyd, Pippin Drysdale, Glenn England, Victor Greenaway, Victoria Howlett, Kim Martin, Sue McFarland, Peter Pilven, Chris Pittard, Peter Rushforth, Chris Sanders, Jill Symes, Prue Venables and Graeme Wilkie.
Glenn England has been teaching ceramics for the past 24 years and has recently retired, moved to the hills where she has re-established her studio.