Verge, the Australian Ceramics Conference, has just started in Brisbane. Opening speaker and New York gallery owner Garth Clark gave a challenging presentation where he called on delegates to abandon the ‘Fortress Ceramica’ and take up the new opportunities beckoning for innovative work in the art market. He gave tantalising examples of the huge prices that ceramics by names such as Jeff Koons can now fetch in New York. According to Clark, ‘ceramics has found itself on top of the fine arts table’. But he advised that to take advantage of this new position it was advisable to leave behind the legacy of the craft movement, in particular the ‘Anglo Oriental Company’ of Bernard Leach.
Later that day, Gwynn Hanssen Pigott gave the perspective as someone very much a product of the Bernard Leach tradition. Her years spent in workshops with potters such as Michael Cardew and Ivan McMeekin has granted her the legacy of a wonderfully intuitive feel for clay. She spoke of the mystery of celadon glazes—their capacity to be hard but soft, cool but warm. He was adamant that her work was not design—‘it’s a gut feeling’. In an act of long-term responsibility, she spoke of the need to plant a forest of timber in her Queensland property, after taking so much wood in firing her kiln. Gwynn’s went way over time, but the conference was thrilled and gave her a standing ovation.
The two talks gave the audience quite different alternatives: the yellow brick road to the Big Apple, or the lonely mountain path to the studio?