Ceramic Arts & Perception — Ceramics Technical
Ceramics Art & Perception

TableWare For the Table and Beyond

Article by Stephen Bowers

THE EVERYDAY OBJECTS WE CHOOSE SAY SOMETHING about who we are. The choices we make about the pottery we live with reveals our aspirations and concerns. Drought, landscape, change and decay were aspects of ceramic art explored in TableWare, an exhibition of new work by Kirsten Coehlo, Philip Hart, Bronwyn Kemp and Bruce Nuske at Adelaide’s Jam Factory in South Australia.

Bronwyn Kemp

Memories of objects and landscape inform Coehlo’s and Kemp’s work. For Kirsten Coehlo, rusting industrial buildings and iron towers, as well as the chipped edges of enamelware are inspirational. The message being that both classical form and daily life are equally subject to change and decay.

Kirsten Coehlo

Growing up in Broken Hill, Bronwyn Kemp meditated on distant horizons and landscapes rendered vague and hazy by heat and light. Kemp draws on memory of these places to create evocative porcelain forms whose surface and glaze suggest the atmosphere and clouds, distant horizons and sweeping cartographic contours.

Philip Hart respects the tactile qualities of clay, allowing evidence of making to speak in his works. Hart also lets his work give utterance to other voices; like an ancient amanuensis, he transcribes text on to the surfaces of his functional bowls.His narrative is a self-conscious reflection on pop culture; didactic texts sit alongside images of skulls, houses and hearts.

Philip Hart

Bruce Nuske’s pitchers, dippers, jugs, bottles, beakers, bowls, cups and teapots are all connected to fluids. His concern is with water – in some cases the lack of it.Through skilled homage to fluids via vessels, Nuske reflects on the universal need for sustaining moisture. His Water Bowls are bleached, skeletal, pinched and drained – holding precious little moisture while his crisp jugs, pitchers and dippers freely dispense fluids.

Bruce Nuske

The exhibition TableWare, also included a display of ‘Standard Ware’ pots from the studio of Bernard Leach (1887 – 1979).This invited audiences to consider the impact and position of Leach, the 20th century’s major advocate for making utilitarian – so-called ‘ethical pots’ – over pots which only reference function. For Leach, aesthetics, truth and beauty, as expressed by the Japanese word shibui, were integral to his work as a maker of functional pottery.

Leach’s influence on craft and design in North America, Australia and the UK during the 1950s and 1960swas substantial.His establishment of a modern cooperative studio workshop offering handmade pottery to the general public was seen as a model for self sufficiency and creativity.

The presence of the Leach pots in this exhibition also celebrated the role of a particular collector of pots – the painter Gwen Leith Harris (1931 – 2006).Known for her subtly reductive landscapes, delicate interiors and composed portrait studies,Leith Harris was a lifelong user and collector of pots. The Leach standard ware in the exhibition came from her large collection, generously made available by her family. The exhibition included a selection of related paintings by Leith Harris and text panels told more of the story of the collector and the pots.

While Leach’s influence is substantial, 1970 onwards has seen a shift away from his views towards pottery forms and ideas reflecting a wider pool of influence and experiment. Concerned with culture, comment,memory, existence and identity, a new generation embraced diverse sources to create works reflective of the plurality, paradox and difference that condition so much of our perceptions of ceramics today.

Some works in Table Ware exhibition were sculptural, most obviously functional – all were conceptually rich.They invite a ‘second reading’, contemplation and sensory engagement. Touch them, use them and your hands tell you more. Pottery gives ready permission for use and tactile exploration, often missing from many other forms of visual art. These are pots for the table and beyond.

Stephen Bowers is the Managing Director of Jam Factory Contemporary Craft and Design. Table Ware was presented 26 January – 18 March 2007. Enquiries: margaret.hancock@jamfactory.com.au. For an incisive summary of Leach’s complex impact see Peter Timms in What’s Wrong with Contemporary Art, UNSW Press 2004.

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