Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Portage Ceramics Awards 2010, & Titirangi Potters Exhibition

Lopdell House

Lopdell House in Titirangi, Auckland, is currently hosting two ceramic exhibitions, one is the 15th annual exhibition of the Titirangi Potters, and the other is The Portage Ceramics Awards. Both exhibitions opened this week. The first is an exhibition of a local group of potters that range from beginners to those of considerable experience, and the latter is an exhibition that has an international reputation, and carries a premier award of substantial size. I enjoyed both exhibitions for similar and for different reasons.

Titirangi Potters Exhibition
An exhibition of a local potters group or club is always going to be a smaller event than a national exhibition, but this is not a bad thing. I was pleased to see quite a number of wood fired pots at this exhibition.

Wood and soda fired pots by Lorraine Barnett

There were also a good number of "useful" pots that would grace any kitchen. Tea pots, mixing bowls, small bowls, and jugs.

Soda fired jug by Suzy Dunser

Humble objects that really are the back bone of the proud history of potting. It is always refreshing to see such things when they are well made, with handles that are comfortable to hold, and don't look like they will fall off, and lids that fit.

Raku fired mobile, "Hover" by Heather Bell.

There were also decorative works at this exhibition, and I rather liked a mobile by Heather Bell, called "Hover", that twisted and moved slightly and cast shadows on the wall. The work had an airy lightness and birdlike grace that I really enjoyed.

The Portage Ceramics Awards
National exhibitions where money is involved are probably always going to be controversial. Such exhibitions also attract "exhibition pieces", large, ambitious works that are there to make a "splash" or draw the eye of the judges.

"One Spring Day", by Sangsool Shim & Keumsun Lee

Some will say that this is "bad"..., that the work produced will be insincere and all bound up with ego, but I think that there are some positives. One is that, here is an occasion where a potter (or..more likely a ceramicist!!) can really push personal and technical boundaries.

"Occupational Hazard", by Rebecca Shawyer

In New Zealand there are precious few such occasions and opportunities. Without such challenges, maybe a potter would stagnate, and not realise their full potential. The reality of potting is that it is more likely to be a daily struggle to produce lots of small, and (hopefully) more saleable work, that might have some chance of paying some bills and keeping the potter going.

Premier Award Winner.... "A Secrets A Jar", by Kirsty Gardiner

This pot had an outside and an inside!

I enjoyed the Portage Exhibition. There was a feeling of theatre about it. The work was well displayed and lit, and that in itself was a delight to behold. Here was a place that ceramic art was valued and shown properly. There are so few galleries in New Zealand that will take pottery now, let alone display it as something to be proud of.

One figure of a group of 5 from "Meet The Family", by Georgina Caulton

Some potters/ceramic artists, or whatever... that took part, were obviously comfortable with producing work that was "art" first. The fact that clay came into its construction somewhere was secondary. It was contemporary art making. A wall piece, or a floor piece. One that fitted this definition was "Solar Storm", by Todd Douglas.

"Solar Storm", by Todd Douglas

This was a round wall piece. A light was built into this, and over it was a delicate construction of small clay elements. I really liked this work. I wish that it was battery or solar powered though, so as to avoid the electric cable that fed power to it, but maybe that was part of the design..., what would I know!

Peter Collis is probably very familiar to many people in New Zealand. His work is at galleries from one end of the country to another, and he has had a long career as a potter. Nearly every Peter Collis piece that I have seen has been the same shape, an ovoid form with an extended narrow neck. Most have been in one of two glazes, a strong red/orange, probably cadmium, or a white crackle finish. Collis had not varied his approach for this exhibition, but had made a collection of 23 of his white crackle glazed pots, which were displayed together.

"23 Ovoids", by Peter Collis

In the white space, under the gallery lighting, these did look serene and lovely. Another potter that had work in this exhibition was Duncan Shearer. Shearer had made wood fired Japanese style Apothecary jars... 18 of them, and had displayed them on two simple shelves that hung on the galley wall. The jars had lovely shell patterns, and surfaces that were richly coloured by the wood flames and ash. Whilst looking at Shearer's pots I did overhear one person say in a stage whisper ... "goodness, they have actually allowed real pots in this exhibition!"

One of the 18 jars from "Albarelli", by Duncan Shearer

Both Collis and Shearer had clearly felt the need on this occasion to display a quantity of their work, rather than one piece. For Shearer, this did in fact pay off, in that he did receive one of the awards. A collection of pots, became "sculpture", and "contemporary"... Would just one pot have been any less acceptable at this exhibition??

"Pottery is a Mug's Game", by Paul Maseyk

Anyway, I enjoyed the exhibition, with its blend of "out there" Art stuff (with a capital A), and the other work that was still based around something of fired clay that would hold water. I did not find myself upset by the new, and I did not venture into the well worn art verses craft debate. The Portage Art Awards give an opportunity to stretch and grow, and that is important.

The award was judged by Stephan Bowers from Adelaide in South Australia. Stephan gave an interesting talk about the Jam Factory, in Adelaide, of which he was a past director, and about his own work. Some of the projects that Stephan talked about were quite astonishing in their scale. It is a big world out there!

My time in Auckland is nearing an end. I have walked the streets looking for galleries, and only found a few. Lopdell House has a small craft gallery, and about the only other one that sell pots in the City is Masterworks of Ponsonby. I appreciated and enjoyed visiting both of these, but have been saddened to see how few outlets there are for potters here now, and how slim are the opportunities for the public to see good pots, well presented.

I had an interesting chat with Duncan Shearer at the Portage Awards. He does quite a bit of teaching of pottery to adults, and we did discuss a fundamental problem that is with us now in NZ, namely that most people under 40 do not have hand made pottery in their houses, and have probably never handled a pot that is made by a potter rather than manufactured on an assembly line. This means that there is little understanding of pottery. He said that it is almost essential to start a course of evening classes now with a session where he discusses what a hand made pot is, and the different aesthetic and practical values that are involved. Without that introduction, people try to emulate the mass produced pottery that they are familiar with, and are disappointed when what they make is different.

On a more personal note...

A big thank you to Lisa who I met at the front desk of Lopdell House Gallery when I made my first visit there. Lisa has been very kind to me on my visits to the Gallery. The first time that I visited, I was still fairly bewildered, deaf, and doddery as a result of the injury I suffered whilst flying up the country, and Lisa was very caring and put me at my ease. What a difference it makes when people are friendly!

Yellow Day at Lopdell House.
Richard (a potter), Henry (the statue), and Lisa
(who made me so welcome at the gallery).

Evidently Henry has his own Facebook page.

Thank you too to Suzy Dunser who very kindly got in touch with me not long after my unexpected arrival in Auckland. Evidently something of my circumstances had shown up on Google Alerts (I,ve no idea how all that works!), and she Emailed me to let me know some of the pottery events that were on in Auckland. It was a real pleasure to be able to meet her at the opening of the Titirangi Potters Exhibition and to say "thank you" in person. She was a charming person and makes lovely pots too (a grand combination!).

Titirangi Potters
Lopdell House
The Portage Ceramic Awards
Masterworks Gallery
Jam Factory
Stephen Bowers


Linda Starr said...

Well Peter, after visiting the British Contemporary Studio Ceramics exhibition in Charlotte this past week, who can say some ceramic work is bad. If I didn't learn anything else at the exhibition, it was that an artist must branch out and experiment to make strides in the ceramics world even at the risk of folks ignoring or not understanding the work. I was surprised to see so many ceramics artists in the exhibit that were later discovered after their demise, a shame. So I will come back tomorrow to read and study about those you have posted about here. thanks, hope you are doing well.

Peter said...

Hi there Linda,
Nice to hear from you. It has been really good being a able to see such a range of work.. and nice to realise that there are so many ways of working with clay. Exhibitions do show some of what is possible, and I hope to experiment further over the next few months with the things I make.

ang said...

Ha was stephen wearing his hat?? yep a new director at the jam now and Pru Venables heads up the ceramic dept replacing Robin Best..I look forward to meeting her... some very art directed pieces peter and what a cool gallery space too you look to be having a really nice time...

cookingwithgas said...

You are a lucky man who is being well looked after.
Great show- fun with out flying miles from home!

Peter said...

Hi Ang,

I thought of you when Stephen was talking about the Jam Factory. It sounds a fantastic sort of a place... and I wish we didn't have an cold and wet bit of water between the countries, as it would be great to spend some time there (Stephen was hatless, by-the-way!). The gallery is great, not too big or too small, and has a lot of involvement with the local community as well as hosting bigger events.

Hi Meredith,
People have made me so welcome and have made this time enjoyable in spite of the huge hiccup to plans. It has been useful getting more idea of what is going on regarding pottery in this part of New Zealand. I was very lucky that the Portage opened whilst I was up here.

Rebecca said...

Hi Peter,
Thankyou very much for putting a photo of my work on your blog.
It was an honour to be included in the Portage Awards this year and I really appreciated how kind people were in making me feel welcome and part of the ceramic community even though I am not a potter. Until now I believed my approach made me an outsider in Ceramic NZ and my medium made me an outsider in fine art NZ. After I saw so many people like yourself with an open-minded generous attitude that celebrates our differences I feel quite differently. Although I can't contribute to honouring the traditional and historical roots of our medium, from what I have seen I believe that area is in safe and extremely talented hands.
So what I can try to do is contribute to undermining the poor attitude the broader art world has to our medium. I will endeavour to do so, however like you pointed out it is the smaller less ambitious works that support us, so it may take me some time to do my part.
Finally I thought you might be interested to know that for me the fact I use clay does not come secondary to my desire to make Art. It can't because a lot of what happens is because it is clay. Three years ago I noticed my very early work had something I had lost- materiality. My initial inability to control things gave the clay a voice, now I attempt to allow room for that voice because I believe it takes me beyond myself and my own limitations.
Kind regards Rebecca Shawyer

Peter said...

Hi Rebecca,
Thank you so much for your comment, welcome to my blog. Firstly congratulations for your success at the Portage awards which was well deserved. Your work was a huge achievement, and my mind is still "boggling" as to how you managed to overcome the technical problems of making work on that scale. I did wonder if you felt an "outsider" in the ceramic community, or if you felt part of it, and I am glad that you have been made welcome. I am excited by the diversity that I saw at the exhibition, and think that it can only serve to challenge, stretch, and stimulate all who work with clay to keep on developing rather than sitting still. Anyway, thanks too for your observation about your use of clay, and that "a lot happens because it is clay", it is a point well made.
Best Wishes, Peter

Anonymous said...

Hello dear Peter,
My, you ARE having an adventure - even if it isn't quite the one you had planned! I was so sorry to 'ear you didn't get to the US, life throws some really curved balls sometimes...
I've been enjoying reading about your Auckland stay, and thank-you for conveying something of the Portage experience. Your blog is far more informative and enjoyable than anything I've been able to find elsewhere!
Have a safe journey home to Dunners, see you when you get back,

Peter said...

Hi Jo,
Lovely to hear from you. I took lots of photos of the Portage exhibition, and I can pop some on a CD for you when I get back. Really interesting work. Hope things are picking up now at the Co-op as hints of warmer weather start to come through.. (I'm really enjoying the extra warmth of Auckland at the moment). Glad you are enjoying the blog,

Peter xx

Arkansas Patti said...

I am so happy that you have so nicely managed to salvage your aborted trip with such interesting exhibitions.
Loved "Solar Storm" and totally agree that battery should trump wire.
So glad you are being well taken care of also and meeting such swell people.
Hope those ears are feeling much better.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Lovely post! Thanks for sharing the photos of the NZ potters' works. Amazing what one, a talented one, can do with clay. I did like the Secrets Jar, the inside better than the outside.

I'm so glad these exhibits were "on" while you were confined to Auckland and that you felt well enough to take them in, and then to write so beautifully about them.

Enjoy the rest of your stay and have a safe journey home; your wife, cats, studio and kilns await.

Hannah said...

Hey Peter, it is sad you didn't get where you were planning to go but the things you are seeing and experiencing are just as interesting and hopefully as enjoyable to you.
I brought back a lovely pot of Duncan Shearers when we were in NZ, that any many other lovelies if truth be told.
Any sign of Edith and Lynton?

jim said...

beautiful pots peter, i especially like that paul maseyk, of course, i would right? hope you're on the mend

Peter said...

Hi Patti, Pat, Hannah, and Jim,
Lovely to hear from you all. You have all been in my thoughts as I have been spending this time in Auckland.

Just got back from a lovely drive around the beautiful and fascinating country to the North of Auckland. It is steep, bush covered country, and it has been lovely being surrounded by tree ferns and Nikau palms, and I will miss some of that when I get home again. I am lots better now, and I am happy to be able to be able to start hearing birds singing again, and children when they are speaking to me.... I was missing high frequency sounds until quite recently.

Hannah, I am sorry, but I haven't made contact with your Auckland relatives after all... I've just run out of time
what with exhibitions to look at and so on. Big apologies... it would have been fun to have seen them, and good to have looked at some paintings too.

Hi Jim, I might put a detail photo of some of the pots at the Portage Exhibition on my blog soon, quite a number of them, including the pot by Paul Maseyk, were really lovely close up.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for you kind comments Peter it means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, thank you for your comments about my "Hover" work in the Titirangi Potters' Club show - having our show in Lopdell House's Upstairs Gallery at the same time as the Portage is downstairs brings people to see our members' work who wouldn't normally. And we get to meet people like you, from other parts of the country, with interesting blogs like this - I've enjoyed your photos (especially those luscious crystal glazes you told me about) and reading your comments about the dearth of pottery outlets in Auckland, and the country. Sad but true.

Heather Bell said...

Oops, I didn't mean to be anonymous, but I'm new to this and pressed the "go" button too soon - Heather.

Peter said...

Hi Rebecca and Heather, Nice to hear from you both. I just glanced back at this post to check and found your comments. Sorry not to reply before, but have been in transit. Now in Wellington with wind whoooshing around the backpackers where I am staying.

Lovely to meet you Heather, at the Titirangi Potters' Club opening. Thanks for your kind words too, glad you've enjoyed the photos.

MLù said...

Hi Peter and all,
sharing art, connecting people... this is what I say in English to all my friends, ceramists and enthusiasts potters. I live in Italy, Rome and work clay for passion, not for living... I'm also vicedirector of a new italina magazine "La ceramica in Italia e nel Mondo" and I have a blog, about Ceramic Passion : . Hope to see some of you by my side, I will follow your blog and hope to come soon and visit you. Arrivederci!Mluisa Acierno e.mail:

Peter said...

Hi Mluisa,
Thank you for your comment, and welcome to my site. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to you. Sincere Apologies!

I have just visited your site, and am really enjoying looking through it. I do not speak Italian, but I will make use of an online translation.

Good to hear from you and to see more of what is going on in your part of the world too.