Te Hikoi Toi: Clay by the river

This work by HineWaiKerekere won the National Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award sponsored by the Rick Rudd Foundation.

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This work by HineWaiKerekere won the National Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award sponsored by the Rick Rudd Foundation.

In the river town of the historic pools of Whanganui. Decades whirl together like creative whirlpools, made visible in the diverse and rich heritage architecture, hiding a heart that can also be both conservative and provincial. This, you notice, a town whose mayor once had a TV Mastermind topic ‘The Life and Work of David Bowie’.

This architectural swimming pool is crowned with neoclassical glory on a hill that was once Pukenamu Pā: Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua – which is set to reopen with a major extension next spring. From there, you gaze at an array of distinctive municipal buildings, as if it were an organized collection. Heritage and the arts come together here in design.

Whanganui is known for its glass artists, but for me it is even more a place of ceramics. I imagine the clay in this brown water of the river settling, the eddies of the river accumulate on the potter’s wheel. Transport was once dominated here by boats (the subject of an ongoing Sarjeant exhibition) and so ships dominate artistic production: pots, plates, bowls, tumblers and cups. Adventurous structures – like these buildings – to hold things.

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On Pukenamu, there is a peace memorial designed by Ross Mitchell-Anyon, a local potter and former city councilor who saved many historic buildings. Six thousand handprints embedded in ceramic tiles form a giant spiral.

works by Ross Mitchell-Anyon at the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics.

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works by Ross Mitchell-Anyon at the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics.

Artists roll up their sleeves and invest in the city’s heritage. Just down the hill in an Edwardian stone Druid Hall is the WHMilbank Gallery. After 28 years at the helm of Sarjeant, Bill Millbank was dismissed by a completely different type of mayor for the gallery extension project. It continues to provide space for many artists.

Then, just across from Moutoa Gardens, ceramicist Rick Rudd takes care of a less conventional but no less interesting heritage: a distinctive office building from the 1960s with a first floor addition from 1979. It offers a house, a frame and – with windows all around – floods of light to more than 1000 pieces of contemporary and historical ceramics. The construction and the collection come together to demonstrate excellence and innovation in design, beyond fashion.

Rudd opened the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics in 2015 to show his own collection of works. He bends the limits of form and function with a sinuous line and a sharp wit. Rudd’s collection of other works, however, is such that he also showcases important works by some of our finest ceramicists and can present, animatedly in a modest room through beautiful objects, a history of ceramics from Aotearoa workshop.

works by Martin Poppelwell at the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics.

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works by Martin Poppelwell at the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics.

This effort was supercharged in 2019 by the remarkable collection legacy of the late Wellington collector, Simon Manchester. In a room currently on display are the works of four dynamic contemporary potters who enjoy playing acutely, happily with art and social history: Richard Stratton, Martin Poppelwell, Paul Maseyk and Andy Kingston. Next door is a veritable Aladdin cave from Manchester’s work, demonstrating his keen sense of new ideas: from Dane Mitchell to Wi Taepa. Elsewhere, Rudd has organized rooms dedicated to John Parker, Elizabeth Lissaman, Len Castle and Anneke Boren. Each artist surprises me with the daring and diversity of their practices over time.

There are lots of people here, but Rudd has a keen sense of understanding. And I love how these displays – with windows opening all over the river and city – counteract the closed minimalism of the white cube gallery. Currently, in a bank safe downstairs is a well-presented line of fancy but more utilitarian mugs, teapots and bowls from Mitchell-Anyon.

works by Rose Burke and Marama Mayrick for the Emerging Practitioner in Clay award.

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works by Rose Burke and Marama Mayrick for the Emerging Practitioner in Clay award.

Maori ceramics is one collector’s area that quartz could strengthen, making its strength all the more in the National Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award sponsored by the Rick Rudd Foundation. HineWaiKerekere winner’s work “Kererū i roto i te nikau” may seem cheesy given its subject matter, if not for the sophistication of the glaze, the daring mix of distinctive techniques and the use of varied clays. The work is at the same time of this whenua, raw and anchored, but adorned like a ceremonial chalice.

The 29 works presented speak of the diversity of new practices, with artists from various backgrounds: from the repetitive stacking in the towers of Rose Bourke, recently graduated from Elam, coarse and domed clay rings, embodying the human growth, to Angus Horne’s review of the 3D printed Maori-derived pattern. terracotta. And as a testament to the growing ceramic community in Whanganui, 2018 winner of this award Oliver Morse has since moved to Whanganui. His work presented here is all a figurative drawing resembling a spider on ships. They have a human frailty expressing an almost diaristic emotional response through touch.

Ceramics abound elsewhere. Across the city, pop art ceramists the Rayner Brothers show performers at 85 Glasgow Street. And from Quartz, you can quickly get to the river and the Wanganui Potters Society headquarters, as well as the nearby Light and Vessel Pottery Studios.

Julia Morison's Head[case] installation at the Sarjeant Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui gallery.

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Julia Morison’s Head[case] installation at the Sarjeant Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui gallery.

Around the corner, it’s the last weekend at the Sarjeant gallery of the remarkable traveling installation Julia Morison To manage[case]. A labyrinth of black shelves houses eerie alien fake heads; ceramic vessels for psychic leaks through appendages that range from sagging breasts and spinal cord to antennae and taps, suggesting occult trepanation rituals.

  • Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award 2021, Quartz Museum of Ceramic Art, until April 3, 2022. Headcase, Julia Morison, Sarjeant Gallery, until October 24.

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