Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Summer School 2012 interview series: Rick Rudd

Kyla Mackenzie interviews award winning studio potter Rick Rudd in the lead-up to his Summer School class Hand Built Pottary in January 2012. Click here for a full description of Rick’s class & enrolment details.

KM: You trained in England and have, since arriving here in 1973, exhibited extensively here and overseas and have featured in many publications.  

Given your extensive experience as a pottery tutor,  having taught since 1981 – what do you look forward to with the upcoming course at Corban Estate Art Centre?

RR: I really enjoy the concentration necessary of shorter courses, the level of focus required, the adrenalin...  I want the students to milk me for as much information as possible...In fact, I'll know I haven't done a good job if I'm not drained at the end of the course!

KM: What do you enjoy most about teaching others? 

RR: It is very satisfying engaging with different personalities and adapting to different needs at each course.  Are they novice or  experienced?  It doesn't matter.  The challenge of each situation keeps tutoring fresh for me as each atmosphere is new and I therefore demonstrate in a different way.

KM: Do you gain perspective on your own work while teaching?

RR: While I like working on my own, you always gain ideas during workshops – they can really spark things off for me.  

KM: Over the course of 5 days, you'll be teaching students your techniques of pinching and coiling.  What will the students gain from these methods?

RR: Any shape is possible with this process – you can have very rounded forms to the very angular; they can look 'thrown' or look 'slab built'. A great advantage is that the forms don't have structural weaknesses – and that the method allows large scale objects to be made – building up from the bottom.  

KM: I understand that as a young student, you discovered your facility with clay despite being enrolled on a textiles course?

RR: I discovered I don't think in 2D during my Textiles course...After 2 or 3 months I went downstairs to the pottery class one evening and worked with clay for the first time.  I finally twigged.  'Clay was the Way'.  Therefore, while I had hated life drawing, I later loved making torsos out of clay.

Later when working with clay, I resorted to doing 'working' drawings after the objects were done – which was probably obvious to the tutors!

KM: Were there other moments or experiences that helped you along the way?

RR: I developed an appreciation for the Oriental aesthetic.  However, it took two trips in 1995 and 1997 to Japan for the penny to really drop. I marvelled at the pottery tradition in Japan and Japanese aesthetic, ...their talents and importance.  

In fact I have a large collection of Japanese drinking vessels  - I loaned them to Objectspace recently – 100 works collected over several years.  

KM: Were there individual practitioners who inspired you along the way?

RR: There were two strands of influence for me – the Modernist was one - Lucie Rie, a Viennese potter who left Nazi Germany to live in London, and Hans Coper who she mentored and then worked alongside, were my gods.  Function informed the shapes, but the resulting object was very much an aesthetic object.  The sculpture of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was also very formative.  I went down to London to a wonderful Henry Moore exhibition when I was still living in England. 

The other strand was represented by the domesticware of important British studio potter Bernard Leach who launched an Anglo/Japanese tradition with Japanese potter Hamada.  

Rustic simplicity was key.  

KM: And now?  

RR: I've been around so long, it's now a matter of my own work influencing me.  I go back and forwards – returning to ideas and re-developing forms in different directions.  

KM: Does function play much of a role as opposed to aesthetic considerations in your work?

RR: The teapot, for example, is an easy entry point for people.  They know what a teapot is.  A teapot of mine doesn't pour and well, it's impossible to get a teabag in... For me, it's all about form.  

KM: Your works that I saw recently are suggestively figurative, lively and playful – what are some of your visual stimuli?

RR: People see all sorts of things in my work.  It's just a form but that's ok.  People even see mountains... I never put titles on my pieces.  The shapes, line and form are suggestive of anthroporphism at times.

KM: What are your thoughts on pottery today? 

RR: There are fewer full-time potters.  Many of the existing potters went off and got 'real jobs' when cheap imports came in in the 1980s.  The 70's was the heyday – anyone could make pottery and sell it.  Now there is a discerning public and that's good.  It's healthy not to have an oversupply and more important to get quality.  

Now you get more part-time potters – who I would not call hobbyists – they are often just as professional as the full-time potters.  

KM: Why do you prefer to be called a studio potter rather than ceramicist?

RR: In the 1980s, you could go and do 'hobby ceramics' – and someone else would fire your pieces.  It was somewhat 'by numbers'.  To me, 'ceramicist', still smacks of that scenario.

The 'studio potter' makes one-off pieces so I use that description.  

KM: What are your thoughts on the status of New Zealand pottery/ceramics?  

RR: I think we punch above our weight, given our population size.  These days influence and ideas can go round the world in 5 seconds with the internet.  We're not so isolated any more.  
It never worries me when people copy or take ideas from my work.  Everyone's got to start somewhere in order to move onto something else...

Summer School 2012 interview series: Beck Wheeler

“I think art and play should be the same thing.”

CEAC staff member Kyla Mackenzie interviews Beck Wheeler in the lead-up to her Mixed Media Summer School class in January 2012. Click here for a full description of Beck’s class & enrolment details.

KM: Beck, in 2008 you were named one of Australia’s Top Ten Creative’s by Design Quarterly, you exhibit internationally (Japan, UK, USA, Australia, Spain and New Zealand) and now back in West Auckland, New Zealand, you are offering an exciting workshop at our 2012 Summer School:  

Did you ever dream you could have a career using your imagination and immense sense of play?

BW: I always wanted to be an artist, but when I was younger I didn't know how to become an artist. I thought it might be something that just magically happened. 

I got stuck in art school for awhile. I found art school quite conservative, instead of inspired I felt very confined. At art school if you weren't doing minimalist text based paintings or conceptual installation you failed. 

It took me a few years away from art school before I started to embrace my creativity again. I looked at the things I collected and the things I loved for inspiration. I learnt to paint in every medium available, I learnt ceramics, textiles and a variety of sculptural techniques. I allowed myself to play and make mistakes. And then 10 years later I realised I was making a living full time as an artist. 

KM: Your course offers the student the creative environment in which to create visual narratives using paint and found objects:  how will you guide the class to mine their personal memories for this purpose?

BW: Our minds are a great big filing cabinet filled with our memories and experiences. Maybe you want to do an artwork about a childhood memory, or maybe you want to do an artwork about your morning walk to the dairy.

I think art is about being honest with yourself. What excites you about art/life, might not excite someone else. There are no right and wrong answers, its very personal. 

Everyone has things they have collected, things they love, colours they are drawn to. 
I think the key to keeping creativity alive is to identify the things that excite you. Then not to judge these things as being either good, bad or ugly.

KM: What should they bring?

BW: You will need to bring in the materials on the materials list, which includes acrylic paint and brushes. Additional materials to bring in will be discussed on the first day of the course. This might be reference material, family photos, paper for collage, or objects that you want to work with. We will be working predominately with acrylic paint, however we will discuss how to work in mixed media. A limited amount of inks and watercolours will be available to experiment with. If you have your own watercolours or inks you are welcome to bring them in.

KM: What are some of the sorts of found objects you yourself have found evocative in your own works?  

BW: I am drawn to domestic objects. I use old kitchen utensils, broken childrens toys and all sorts of random odds and ends. I work mainly in wood and plastic.

KM: You provide some understanding of colour theory in the workshop – what are some of the emotional resonances and perceptual effects that you find particularly compelling?

BW: In my own work I try to use the brightest colours I can find. I will use one bright colour and then I will find or make its opposite (relating to the colour wheel). I am inspired by how you can create harmony in an artwork through the use of opposing/complementary colours. Even when you are using a very colourful palette you can still create harmony and balance.

Colour also has the ability to communicate without words. I love how passionate people get about a colour, or a palette of colours.  If you want to see how passionately geeky you can get about colour palettes then head to This website is where people can go to upload their favourite colour combinations it has 1,815,625 different colour combos uploaded so far.

KM: What textures and colours from your own childhood memory have informed your own work?  

BW: I was bought up in the late 1970's and a lot of my childhood books and toys were in citrus greens and oranges with splashes of hot pink and muted shades of blues and browns. I am  definitely drawn instinctively to using a similar colour palette in my work.

The textures and patterns I use developed as I experience different cultures and environments. I use a lot of textures from the bush since moving to Piha, but when I was living in the city I tended to use more geometric forms.
KM: Childhood or references to are often delightfully universal in much of your own work:  do you think we should actively embrace ‘the child’ within?  

BW: I think childhood themes are popular because they remind us of a time when it was okay to play. In play there is no right or wrong. But as we grow older we start to analyse everything in terms of being right/wrong good/bad and we lose the freedom of play. 

I think art should embrace play. I think art and play should be the same thing.

KM: How important is play, fun and beauty for our mental health?

BW: I think play and fun are very important to our mental state.

KM: Who are some of the artists who have inspired your art and philosophy along the way?  

BW: Edward Gorey, Jon Pylypchuk, Quentin Blake, Chris Ware, Winsor McCay, Shaun Tan, William Morris, Richard Kearney, Bosch, Brian Boyd

KM: What do you look forward to most about your upcoming Summer School workshop?

BW: Sharing knowledge: I am passionate about art materials and using traditional painting techniques in a contemporary way.

Empowering creativity: I think everybody is creative, but we just get trained out of it as we grow older. I think it is important to get the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tabatha Forbes

I don’t know your name (but I’ll call you…)

The series title: I don’t know your name (but I’ll call you...) refers to the early processes of naming / identification and the need to categorise and label in order to perceive the value / place of the specimen (flora or fauna).   The weeds or unintentional plants of this place, are given placement and value in their documentation, painted and preserved on the original fruit crates, which like many of the plants here no longer have any human use.  

Prior to this series, I have actively sought to identify plant species using botanical and local / Maori names.  In this series despite the inclusion of some obvious species (.i.e. dandelion) the names have been removed as if the plant is being newly claimed / discovered.   The result is an expression of our confused understanding ; a last minute attempt to appreciate and consider, to place, value and in a sense, take a fresh responsibility for.

Each plant is renamed to include forbesii, based on a typical c18th dedication to the botanist/naturalist who originally ‘discovered’ the plant.  In this case I have walked around the site to collect my plants, renaming and reclaiming them for the purpose of my work.

Their representation is faded; a constructed history reminiscent of the original function of the boxes and the original status of the ‘exotic’ introduced plant long since fallen from grace and demoted to ‘weed’.

More obviously, the collection of weeds and crates refers directly to how we perceive waste, and what constitutes as value.  

Written by Tabatha Forbes for I don't know your name (but I'll call you...) on show at the Corban Estate Arts Centre until the 4th of December.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Summer School 2012 interview series: Anna Browne

CEAC staff member Kyla Mackenzie interviews Anna Browne in the lead-up to her Summer School class Material Effects in January 2012. Click here for a full description of Anna’s class & enrolment details.

 Anna Browne

KM: In what way have some of your own works paid some sort of homage to your own family history and or domestic arts in that history?

AB: My own work does not directly comment on domestic arts in a post-modern, self conscious sense. Instead I see my work as a continuation of the crafting skills family members have/had. I have vivid memories of my maternal grandparents using wool (knitting and rug making). My mother taught me to sew and crochet. Craft techniques interest me as a mode of physically producing art work.

KM: When did you first get inspired by the concept of re-purposing/recycling/up-cycling secondhand or vintage fabric?

AB: Two things inspired me: My love of textiles and necessity (lack of money!). At secondary school a friend and I used to remake or modify clothes bought from the Sallies. At the time there were a lot of beautiful dresses from the 50's and 60's in the second hand shops. I also remember making a beanbag out of old school jerseys. I'm keen to make that sort of thing in the Summer School Class. 

Remnant Wool Cushion

Woven Blanket

KM: What do you think the trend towards re-using existing materials says about society today?  

AB: Hopefully it means a growing awareness of the finite nature of resources on Earth. Re-using materials is something humans have always done - a majority of societies in the world still do. In the west our prodigal use of 'consumable' items is predicated on cheap labour and commodities. A consequence of being removed from the production of goods is our ignorance of the toil and resources that go into making them. 

KM: Is the intersection between ‘craft’ and ‘art’ an interesting one to navigate, for you?

AB: I don't see art and craft as two poles on some sort of a spectrum - perhaps they once were? They are intertwined, particularly at the moment with the current popularity for 'craft-based' artwork. Just because something has an assigned function doesn't mean it's without 'art-content', and vice versa. Many pieces of art are carefully crafted. 
Looking at this issue in a political way (high-brow art vs. low-brow craft) is not an issue for me personally.

Jersey Pouffe

KM: What are your thoughts on the feminine history associated with 'home-craft'?

AB: It's easy to forget how limited the choices were for many women, even forty years ago. Home-crafting wasn't just about thrift, but an important way for women to express themselves, to personalise house-hold items and clothes etc. Home-crafts can also have broader significance. I'm very interested in the history of quilt making; the stories they tell, the evolution of the patterns and the social roles they played. The quilts from Gee's Bend, or Durham Quilts are wonderful examples of this.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Living the Arts: The Fabulous Five Go Teach

The typical working week; longing for Friday and dreading Monday, was never an option for five creative, resourceful women; Claire Inwood, Kelly King, Anna Browne, Kaz Bos and Pamela Wolfe.  A bread-maker (caterer and doll-maker), traditional weaver, textiles artist, jeweller and painter, their lives, livelihoods and interests, are combined.

All the women practice skills traditionally associated with the ‘feminine arts’.  How may these arts be reviewed afresh?  It is up to the individual.  At Corban Estate Art Centre’s Livingthe Arts, from Sat 5 – Sun 6 November, participants will be inspired and empowered by the skills and philosophy these tutors have to share.  A collective enterprise, Living the Arts, is an opportunity to relax in a creative and companionable atmosphere; a welcome break from the routine and pace of the week.

 Claire Inwood

Claire Inwood, a caterer, bread-maker and doll- maker, combines passion and industry.  For her, enjoyment and beauty should be intrinsic to life. She had an epiphany years ago when gazing at a collection of Native American artefacts, when it occurred to her that everything they used was intended to be beautiful irrespective of function.  Food should also be visually appealing, she feels. Furthermore, the enjoyment to be had from making, giving and receiving tried and true traditional recipes like Italian ciabatta, is something she looks forward to sharing. A popular caterer, she has successfully combined activities that bring her and others pleasure, and her The Art of Breadmaking is sure to do the same.

For many, cell-phone and internet are the life blood of working life.  For Kelly King, however, her life as a weaving instructor extraordinaire is so absorbing her cell-phone often lies forlorn at home.  Her abilities and dedication to the art of Maori weaving is such that she featured in the important exhibition The Eternal Thread (2003) which honoured the tradition and its innovations over time. King’s work-shop Raranga Harakeke allows the beginner to acquire sustainable harvesting skills and the construction of storage vessels.  This then, is an easy introduction to a technology that is rich with potential as a stand-alone art-form as King’s own exhibited works attest to.

Anna Browne, who was “always a sewer” has a long-standing background in textile design and its use in interior design.   The last decade of exhibiting has seen her employ the concept of fabric as a powerful medium for artistic and personal expression, fusing life and art together. “I hope to make people more aware of the significance of textiles, [as they] are with us all our lives and are imbued with meaning.  Browne says, that with this in mind, the class by ‘re-purposing’ vintage fabrics will work, on their second day, on “…a biographical piece…- making lives into art”.  Her life, art and teaching reflect a shift towards ecological thinking, locally and globally.

'Mound' Anna Browne

She says;
The 'domestic arts' are very fashionable at the moment (the online/ phenomenon, craft fares etc) and there are many forums and outlets for this sort of work. But … courses like these at CEAC are a great way of networking and drawing inspiration from others.

The transformation of materials into treasures was a desire obvious in Browne from an early age – a clear indicator was her girlhood wonder at the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin and the spinning of straw into gold.   Ultimately, Browne is hopeful that Living the Arts may help people to alter and sharpen their vision and their perspective on life: to “…become more sensitive or mindful of 'the art' in everyday activities and be open to creative possibilities.”

The drive to be resourceful was also a natural impulse for Kaz Bos.  Like Browne, she was inspired by stories as a girl such as the quilted coat made from beautiful scraps for Joseph in the bible Bos, an all-round ‘crafty’ artisan, who specializes in jewellery, came from a very practical family where manual skills were a given.  Her mother was a leather-worker and her father, a thrifty Dutchman with impeccable carpentry skills, instilled a strong ‘waste-not-want-not’, ‘do it yourself’ ethos in his daughter. 

Fabric necklace Kaz Bos

Recycling –reusing – has been me since forever; this is partly from my thrifty up-bringing.  I fix everything, cut down old knitted jumpers and re-fashion them, and make cushions out of vintage ties...  Broken jewellery pieces, buttons, beads, vintage fabric, old family necklaces… these things I recycle for people into something they can treasure and wear or use.  Anything you do with your hands in this way is a gift of love, time and effort…

Perhaps unusually, it was a stranger who grudgingly taught her how to crochet.  This stranger at a retirement village was a “crusty old bat…who I remember distinctly as I sat behind her …”.  Intent on a gripping episode of Coronation Street, her hands busy with crochet, the attentions of an avid 10 year old were reluctantly received.  Nonetheless, this was the young Kaz’s first ‘instruction’ on handicraft.

Flour, flax, old textiles and broken jewellery are turned into ‘gold’, no less than the raw material of paint.  Pamela Wolfe employs paint, brush and sheer hard work.  Her visual catalyst is the blooming life immediately surrounding her house and home – the flowers in her garden.  The muscularity of her flowers projecting from dark backgrounds encourages the viewer and student to consider the still life genre in new ways.  The still life genre was a tradition that, by the 19th century, was associated with ladylike accomplishment.  A ‘lady painter’, she is not, any more so, she says, than painter of colourful gardens, Karl Maughan…

Pamela Wolfe 'Inseminator' 2010
Oil on canvas

Pamela Wolfe began painting from home when she had her first child.  The flexibility of the hours; “…you can choose your own hours”, and the companionship of her husband, art writer, Richard Wolfe, are two great benefits for this full-time artist. She notes the potential isolation of the studio; “Loneliness can be a problem for the self- employed, so having someone to talk to and have a coffee with makes all the difference.”

Pamela Wolf

Pamela also cuts through certain popular notions about art as a career, citing the common message in Richard Wolfe’s recent book ‘Artists at Work’, which addresses a misconception:
That anyone can do it.  It takes a lot of time and hard work, sometimes with little reward, but you do it because you are driven, and can't imagine your life without it.  It really takes an obsessive nature, and great determination. It is not about money, it’s about ideas and idealism. 

Likewise, her new tutoring role is about “giving back to the community”.  Wolfe says the idea took root in her mind and she thought, ‘Yes! [It’s] my time to take on a new challenge’. 

For all the women heading the Living the Arts workshops their arts and interests have become their living. None of them can imagine their lives without them.  Living the Arts is an opportunity to acquire the skills to enhance life.  The power to transform using ones hands in an accomplished way is both restorative and satisfying for the creator and equally meaningful for the viewer or receiver.

Kyla Mackenzie