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Tag Archives: ceramics

Some Union Art Connections

Under the portico of Trades Hall is bronze base-relief of John Dias by William Leslie Bowles. I am more familiar with the sculptor for his several public sculptures around Melbourne, including the equestrian statue of General Monash  than the subject. The glass or ceramic eyes are a strange addition to the otherwise unremarkable portrait plaque.

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William Leslie Bowles, John Dias Memorial at Trades Hall

The effusive praise of the inscription on the plaque is unilluminating and almost vacuous: “John Dias – Born May 11 1861 – Died August 13 1924 – A man whose every endeavour was in the cause of the worker and to uplift humanity – a token of respect from those who knew him.” Yes, I can tell he is a man from his moustache and the fact that he has a memorial on the front of Trades Hall would strongly indicate the rest. The shield and motto Credo Sed Caveo (believe, but take heed) reveal that he was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

Further along the block is Steps Gallery is a large, square, well-lit, white walled room on the ground floor of 62 Lygon Street in Carlton South. Established in 1992 one side of the gallery opens onto Artee Cafe, with its glass roof. Unusually for a Melbourne gallery it is owned by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund. It is not a bad investment, the gallery is a rental exhibition space, two artists had rented it for an exhibition when I was there.

You wouldn’t immediately associate the meat worker’s union with artist ceramics but in the foyer of 62 Lygon Street is the Melbourne Meat Workers Union Ceramics Collection. Three large cabinets house a spectacular collection of around 30 high quality artist ceramics. They were collected by Wally Curran, the union secretary between 1983-1997.

There are many connections between Melbourne’s unions and art as this brief exploration has shown but many are also a bit ernest, worthy and boring, like these examples.

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January Exhibitions

As I set off to explore Melbourne’s art on Thursday I wonder how many art exhibitions would be open this early in the year. I knew that the major institutional art galleries would be open, but I had already seen Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the NGV and Manifesto at ACMI.

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Anthony Pryor, Landscape 3, 1982

I started at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane with Craft Victoria where there is Timber Memory, a survey exhibition of woodwork in Victoria from the 1970s to the present. It is a rather interesting group of exceptional woodworkers including a block of huon pine inlaid with ebony, granite and jarrah, Landscape 3 (1982) by the sculptor, Anthony Pryor. It is Pryor’s response to the minimalist cube.

At 45 Downstairs there were two exhibitions that were part of the Midsumma Festival, Meridian a group exhibition and Découpages d’hommes a solo exhibition of photographs of nude males by Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon). The compositions and backgrounds in Eureka’s photographs reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who had suddenly realised how similar many Renaissance and Baroque paintings are to pornography. I was stunned, assuming that everyone who has studied art has read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

The Midsumma Festival generally has a good visual arts section and I could have continued along Flinders Lane to the Melbourne City Library where there was another of the Midsumma Festival’s exhibition.

Arc One had a solo exhibition by Tracy Sarroff Barbecue Stalagmites, Balloon Drumstick, but Sarroff’s brand of weirdness and obsessive mark making left me in outerspace.

Further along Flinders Lane the Mailbox Art Space had yet another group exhibition: Cells. Using the individual glass fronted mailboxes as cells in a three-dimensional comic book. The exhibition text makes other references to cells but the artists involved are focused on comics.

Instead of continuing down Flinders Lane because of a lunch date I then turned north. I briefly stopped at No Vacancy gallery in the QV Centre where there was a trade exhibition of Okayama Sake  and Bizen Ware from Japan. Bizen Ware is a traditional type of Japanese pottery made in wood burning kilns.


The Victorian Craft Awards And why I didn’t vote in the People’s Choice.

I went to see Victorian Craft Awards with Melbourne writer and textile artist, Celeste Hawkins who writes the blog The Art and The Curious. The Victorian Craft Awards are part of Craft Cubed, a festival of the handmade. While we were in the city Celeste and I also looked at the exhibitions at Westspace, Karen Woodbury Gallery and Mailbox Art Space (the current exhibition Freaks of Nature is also part of Craft Cubed) but as I haven’t written about craft for a while I will stick to writing this post about the Victorian Craft Awards.

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

Sun-Woong Bang, Unexpected Linkage

The Victorian Craft Awards is a huge exhibition with over a hundred entries and spread across four venues all accessible from Flinders Lane: Craft Victoria, 45 Downstairs, the foyer of 1 Spring Street and the foyer Sofitel on Collins.

One of Craft Victoria’s attendants asked us if we found the luxury surrounds of the lobby of the Sofitel on Collins Street intimidating. Actually it was very comfortable and the exhibits didn’t look out of place as exhibitions in hotel lobbies often appear. Karen Terrens beautiful, intricate quilt, Sanderson’s Apprentice, matched the luxury of the Sofitel’s lobby.

Along with the judges awards there were also a People’s Choice Award. I’m not sure about popular choice awards for a number of reasons. It is not that I dislike the popular opinion or don’t think that it should be recognised. I have questions about the kind of judgement made in an unsystematic manner. What is it to judge something a popular choice? Is it what I would choose for myself, for someone else, for the world.

I haven’t given much thought about how to compare the practical and ornamental works. Nor have I though about how to compare the great variety of the crafts from in a wide range of materials used to creating jewellery, furniture and art.

Just because I like a work, get a laugh from it, does that mean that I want it to win the People’s Choice Award? Sun-Woong Bang’s Unexpected Linkage robot figure made of 3D printable polyamide, alcohol ink, acrylic paint and sterling silver is funny. Maybe that’s why it was the winner of the Jewellery Encouragement Award. Commenting on the ceramic work of Kenny Pittock’s All My Eggs in One Basket, Celeste tells me that he also has an amusing blog.

I suppose that I already have some biases as I’ve previously written about several of the entrants. In 2008 I reviewed Davern’s exhibitions at Craft Victoria and it was good to see her continuing this theme with three collaged broaches cut from biscuit tins in this exhibition. I mention seeing a Nicholas Bastin’s exhibition at Craft Victoria in a blog post about the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Culture Program in 2012.  I know the work of Sarah crowEST from exhibitions at Craft Victoria and her sculpture that was part of Plinth Projects at Edinburgh Gardens in 2013. I’ve often mentioned Julia Deville’s spectacular mix of taxidermy and jewellery in this blog and I reviewed one of her solo exhibitions last year. I visited Janet Beckhouse’s studio last year and in this exhibition she has a sweet ceramic figure of Ganesha reclining.  And I saw a sculpture by Takahiko Sugawara that I’d reviewed in an exhibition in April of this year.

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Personally it seems like work for me to narrow down a list of quality work to a single work and the chance to win a $100 voucher at the Craft Shop wasn’t an incentive. Given that you can ‘vote’ as often as you like, it seems more like a free lottery than a popular choice.


DAMP @ Neon Parc

Why break ceramic objects (vases, plates, statues, a bathroom sink)? Why paint them with acrylic paint with references to the whole of art history (ancient Greeks to modern masters, including Picasso’s Weeping Woman) and then glue them back together again with polymer adhesive (as best as possible, given that some pieces might go missing in the process)?

Why? I was just re-reading an essay by Arthur Danto on this very subject; “Fine art and functional objects” (Danto, Embodied Meanings, critical essays and aesthetic meditations, 1994). Danto looks at an ancient Greek krater from the sixth century BCE, by the potter Euxitheos, decorated with red-figure paintings by Euphronius and considers the way that the art is now seen, as it is on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as separate from the function. Danto points out that until the eighteenth century, “the distinction between painting and decoration was all bout nonexistent, and pictures were thought of as functional objects as well”. (p.300)

Danto concludes that the distinction between fine art and functionality is “historically contingent and constantly under negotiation.” (p.303) Clearly for this exhibition negotiations had broken down. In negotiating the functionality of the ceramic objects DAMP had broken them to remove their functionality. However, attempting to separate the art from its support is impossible.

Breaking the ceramics reduces their value to almost nothing, they are then transformed into art; a routine practiced by Japanese Buddhist monks, as well as, DAMP.

I walked two or three times around the “Harrison Collection” of painted ceramics by DAMP in the small single room of Neon Parc, chuckling to myself. There were plenty of details to keep looking. DAMP is a Melbourne-based art collective with a fluid membership that started in 1995.


Jericho to Jerusalem

There is always an exhibition of classical antiquities on the first floor of the Ian Potter Museum of Art and it forms a significant part of the museum’s character. The current exhibition, “Jericho to Jerusalem” is of Bronze and Iron Age pottery from excavations by Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978) in Jericho and Jerusalem. The artefacts are all from the Melbourne University’s Classics and Archaeology Department’s collection that is used for hands on teaching and research.

Biblical archaeology has a bad reputation connected with the religious mania of evangelical Christians and political justification of Zionism but the work of Kathleen Kenyon is not of that kind of archaeologist. Kenyon, one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th Century, is notable for refining archaeological techniques, in particular her stratigraphy of the Middle East. Her stratigraphy has subsequently been largely backed up by radiocarbon dating. You might have heard of Jericho and Jerusalem from the Bible but there are no Biblical references in this exhibition.

This is an exhibition of ordinary domestic pottery from the Bronze and Iron Age. There are no masterpieces, the antiquity of the exhibits are the main attraction. Although this is just plain pottery I was particularly taken by a small gypsum (alabaster) juglet from Bronze Age Jericho 2200-1750 BCE and three jar handles from Iron Age Jerusalem 100-586 BCE stamped with the maker’s flying eagle stamp on them. The maker’s eagle stamp is a trademark that any modern company would be proud to have as their logo.

The didactic panels accompanying the exhibits are clear, informative without being too technical or over burdening the visitor with excessive information. A reproduction of Kathleen Kenyon’s hand drawn stratigraphy from one of her Jericho trenches makes a great backdrop to one of the display cases.

The archaeological interest of the pottery is in shapes, surface treatments, attachments and evidence of use, for example the carbon burn marks on the lamps. The existence of ceramics indicates social aspects: established settlement, specialized skills and trade.

I normally don’t write about ceramics or ancient art so I was pleased that I went to the exhibition opening by my old friend and archaeologist, Geoff Irvin who gave me a great deal of background on Kenyon’s work and the archaeology of the Middle East.


Turning Ceramics Spiritual

“If you are coming to see me, I’m stuck in a land of nothingness (Never land)”

–       a translation of one piece of Persian calligraphy, from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri

Well, Melbourne is close to the Never Never.

I went to First Site Gallery to hear the artist talks and meet Mojgan Habibi, one of the artists. Mojgan Habibi is an Iranian-born, Melbourne-based artist working in ceramics and calligraphy doing her Masters in art at RMIT. The artist’s talk by Mojgan was more a conversation as there weren’t that many people; there was just myself, an Iranian calligraphy teacher, Amir-Navid Molaverdkhani and his two girls.

Mojgan Habibi, Spiritual Transformation, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist

I had seen Mojgan Habibi’s exhibition “Spiritual Transformation” at First Site Gallery last Saturday. It had made me smile, the many white ceramic spirals looked impossible to construct. They looked so fragile but also like spinning tops balanced or spiral galaxies in the middle of the gallery floor. I enjoyed the frozen movement and meditating on the spiritual message of the spiral, in a spiral of thought about the whirlwinds that took the Prophet Elijah to heaven, whirling dervishes and the universe. The spiral is a universal spiritual theme and a symbol of the universe.

For Mojgan the spiral also represents hope and change, hence the title of the exhibition – “Spiritual Transformation” and she sees a poetic alchemy and mysticism in their creation. “I think pottery making can be Karma Yoga or centeredness through action. The turning wheel, the rhythms of throwing with its steady flow of energy from hand to clay, the gestures of wedging, glazing and the transmutations of the fire, all of these involve selfless concentration, the letting go of everything except the work at hand.”

We talked about the spiral form in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and cosmology; one of the girls thought that they looked like whirling dervishes too and also like, ice cream.

Mojgan Habibi, Persian Calligraphy, 2012, photo courtesy of the artist.

“Spiritual Transformation” included a selection of calligraphy on ceramic tablets (the quote at the start is a translation of one of them) and so the conversation turned to calligraphy. We talked about the exhibition of Persian manuscripts, “Love and Devotion” at the State Library earlier this year. Mojgan showed off her calligraphy printed on her red t-shirt, in translation: “What passion, what passion, we are burning like the sun”. I like calligraphy I write about wildstyle graffiti even though often that I can’t read it any more than I can read Persian calligraphy; there is always the flow and placement of the letters. Later that day, while taking some photos in Hosier Lane for another blog post, I saw some tags with beautiful calligraphic qualities and felt it all come spiralling back.

(For more Mojgan Habibi’s ceramics see Art Thread Blog)


Pan Gallery’s Final Show

There are not many galleries in Melbourne that regularly exhibit ceramic art; Skepsi and Stephen McLaughlan galleries come to mind. Pan Gallery specializes in ceramic art and is located at Northcote Pottery Supplies Pty Ltd (in Brunswick not Northcote).

“Crosshatched”, the final show at Pan Gallery, is a group exhibition featuring the work of both emerging, established and traditional ceramic artists. Two traditional Indian potters, Manohar Lal and Dharmveer made the traditional Indian mudka, water pots. The mudka provide unity to the exhibition, an objective and a base for the artists to decorate using a variety of types of glazes and other techniques. Deborah Halpern, best known in Melbourne for her statue, the “Angel” on the bank of the Yarra River, has decorated two mudkas in the exhibition. Truly Southurst, a graduate of the ceramics program at LaTrobe University’s Bendigo campus, created a whimsical mix of Indian and Western illustration and decoration on her mudka. Jill Anderson painted a political satire of Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard doing back-flips at sea. The pots in the “Crosshatched” exhibition are being sold by silent auction to raise funds to build an energy efficient kiln in Kumhaar Gram, India.

Although Pan Gallery is located in one corner of a pottery supplies shop the quality of the installation is very strong; managing to create well curated gallery display in the space. The pots are displayed on a series of plinths while a slide show of the manufacture of the mudka was projected on one wall and a large pile of undecorated mudka pots are installed in the middle.

I’ve been intending to visit Pan Gallery since it opened 3 years ago and even though it is located close to me in Brunswick I have neglected to visit it. Now it is about to close to make way for more space for workshops and classes. I have slipped up in not writing about Pan Gallery sooner. Madeline Healey in the Moreland Leader (18/4/11) wrote an excellent article about the final show: “Brunswick East Pottery auction to help Indian artists”.  Craft Victoria’s blog also has a post about the final show.

Northcote Pottery Supplies Pty Ltd. has another gallery space at the front of the shop – “Small Pieces” which will remain open. “Small Pieces” stocks small ceramic works from a selection of artists.


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