by Dr Dorothy Erickson
majority of Australia's population lives in an urban environment
clinging limpet-like to the periphery of the continent where
horizons are hemmed in by the blocky forms of buildings. That
'wide brown land', that 'sunburnt country' of Dorothea McKellar,
synonymous with our perception of our nation, is not the daily
environment for most people. Expansive skies and a wide horizon
line are really only seen by city dwellers when they visit
the beach. Perhaps this is why so many flock to the sea in
summer and also why so many are attracted to the recent pots
of ceramic artist Pippin Drysdale. She is an artist whose
emotional and intuitive response to the landscape provides
us with a poignant essence of bush, beach and elsewhere. Passionately
fond of Australia's expansive spaces she wrote in a 1994 profile
"All my life I have been surrounded by wide open spaces
– the land and the sea – and fascinated by their contrasts,
light, colour, space, texture and spirituality."
painterly glazes are her forté. Suffused sunrises and glowing
sunsets above a horizon line evocative of the 'breakaway '
country contrast with crystalline foregrounds indicating vegetation.
Plainer forms are overlaid with crackle resembling the crazing
of a parched lake as in Horizonin the collection
of Australian Capital Equity or showing the 'glint of gold'
where seams of lustre encircle a pot as in the Pinnacles
Series which are in the collection of Manly Art Gallery.
Some times a golden texture, as in Desert Plains, could
indicate a harvest of ripe wheat or native grasses, heads
nodding in the breeze against the vermilion background of
the earth from which it came. At times the results appear
to be semi-precious stones, at others the landscape itself.
All of these and more are seen in the major body of work
she has produced since mid 1994.
affinity with her country and her interpretation of it have
won her plaudits both at home and abroad. Her resumé lists
a formidable number of residencies, awards, inclusion in books
and exhibitions. Her work is in the collections of the Art
Galleries of WA, Queensland, Northern Territory, Tasmania,
Hobart, Queen Victoria Museum Launceston, The Museum of Applied
Arts and Sciences, New Zealand Art Gallery, Auckland, Tomsk
and Novosirbirsk State Galleries in Siberia, Russia and numerous
regional, corporate and private collections internationally.
The major omission is the national collection. Significantly
from her 1998 exhibition at Quadrivium Gallery in Sydney the
majority of the pieces were sold to German and American collectors.
The work speaks to nationals of other countries as well as
touching a chord with those to whom it belongs.
née Carew-Reid, is an artist imbued with a love of the landscape
instilled from time spent on family properties in both the
south and the north of Western Australia. A late-comer to
art as a career Drysdale graduated from Curtin University
in 1986 following a grounding in the excellent 'Advanced Ceramics'
course at Perth Technical School under David Hunt. Early work
focused on the South-west forests and environmental degradation.
The painterly surfaces were covered with the graphic and gestural
marks of an abstract expressionist. The work was often dark
and sombre reflecting not only the deep shadows of the forests
but also the approaching demise of the pristine wildernesses.
They were being sacrificed to the exigencies of logging. Under
a peculiarity of the Western Australian Government a joint
forestry and environmental protection authority is managed
by a Forester! As a former forest dweller and 'The Comfrey
Herb Lady' Drysdale was passionate about the loss and as she
considered it an important duty of artists to assist good
causes attempted to change attitudes through her work.
1991 Drysdale has maintained an international profile with
lecture tours and residencies. An inveterate traveller, bon
vivant, raconteur and generous friend her contacts from her
past as well as the present have introduced her to interesting
and educative experiences. One such was the
opportunity to become a decorative artist-in-residence at
the Grazia Deruta factory in Italy for three months of 1991.
This was followed by time at Swansea in Wales and a further
three months artistic exchange with Tomsk and Novosirbirsk
in Siberia in Russia the same year. With this sort of experience
she and her art are products of trans cultural experience.
Subliminal influences are constantly at work.
to advancing her art she builds on contacts made with potters
in Australia and those she made in America in 1982 when she
studied with Daniel Rhodes and Toshiko Takaesku. Drysdale
has undoubtably learnt from those with whom she has come into
contact but the influences are more conceptual and philosophical
than visual. The philosophy and example, not to mention the
work ethic, learnt from Takaesku still support her today.
It was Takaesku's advice which set her on her path and permitted
the growth of the artist she has become. Takaesku told her
to forget the fashionable rustic Zen aesthetic traditions,
to create her own sensibilities and adapt her techniques to
suit her own environment.
is essentially a painter whose chosen canvases are the slab,
chalice, goblet, crucible and bowl. The strength of her practice
is as a colourist. With time the spatial qualities, style,
motif and figuration have become more organised. Time spent
in Italy and Russia in 1991 saw a structured approach absorbed
from the confined surroundings as much as the traditional
way of working in the pottery in Derruta. An exuberance of
colour, pattern, lustre and onion-dome-forms became part of
her oeuvre following time spent later that year in Russia.
Imagery and sensation were galvanised and modified to create
her Carnivale, Effigy and OTT Series dominated by
vivid purple, crimson and lustre.
frenetic work was followed by a return to her roots – a peaceful
desert interlude in 1993 with bowls suffused with one or two
colours rimmed with lustre. Desertscape now in a private
collection in USA and Southern Twilight in
the collection of Ron and Sandra Wise exemplify this. In the
former a red ochre base burns under a pitch dark sky. In the
latter the exterior of the plump form has the lilac of a dusk
sky contrasted with the rich golden glow of the lustre of
Drysdale's work since 1994 - the Pinnacles and Eastern
Goldfields series have drawn on her love of the Australian
outback. The vastness, endless space, the rich reds of the
earth, the glorious sunsets, the delicate hues of dawn, the
subtle tones of salt encrusted lakes and the riotous colours
of the spring wildflower displays speak to her. This work
is quintessentially Australian despite time spent in the Canadian
Rockies in 1994. The Pinnacles Series is as much about
the local petrified forest forms of that name as they are
about the steep mountains of Banff. In other linkages the
forms which are her canvas at times echo those of the crucibles
of the Western Australian goldmining industry while the palette
recreates the autumnal tones of the desert landscape as in
Saltbush Plainsin the Noakes Collection.
The delicate lines encircling the forms of the Circles
in Space are both broken and continuous, a subtle interruption
to regularity which tease the senses and focus concentration
on the object.
forms, from tiny 'limoge' goblets to pots of almost Ali Baba
proportions, are thrown and turned by Drysdale and assistants.
The larger pots are the work of 'Tech' graduate Warwick Palmenteer.
After his visits, her studio is filled with serried rows of
ghostly forms waiting to be brought to life under her brush.
The painted surfaces are complex feats of technical virtuosity
– a type of controlled happen-chance. Glazes react with each
other, underglazes with lustres, with crackle and to other
pots in the kiln and so it is only after very considerable
research and development that Drysdale has reached the point
where she is in control of most of what emerges from her kiln.
Placing a surface on a pot is rather like the process of etching,
where many things are done in reverse and it only after the
various overlays are planned and the 'pulls' are complete
that you know if you have a prize or a plodder. Opening a
kiln after a firing can bring great joy as a special gem emerges
but equally there are disasters when a new clay or glaze component
does not behave as expected. Drysdale's wastage is particularly
high as she pushes to achieve technically and artistically
difficult results. Fortuitously she has received four Australia
Council development grants over the thirteen years of her
practice and is one of two 1998 ArtsWA Fellows. This sort
of support has been crucial in allowing her to develop the
technical facility to be able to express herself with confidence.
was a significant year when she really came to prominence
winning the Perth Craft Award, the Newcastle Ceramic Purchase
Award and was represented in the major Australian exhibition
Delinquent Angel: Australian Historical, Aboriginal and
Contemporary Ceramics at the prestigious Museo Internationale
delle Ceramiche in Faenza Italy - the holy grail for ceramic
artists. This exhibition later toured Asia , the Americas
progression as she mastered the various difficult techniques
can be seen in the surfaces of the pots. The crystalline glazes,
married with brush and resist, produced the luminous landscape
series of 1996. Noon Heat shows what the combinations
of techniques can achieve when handled in a confident manner
by someone with an eye for colour and form and an intimate
technical knowledge of her medium. This series was produced
after a spring visit to Leonora in the remote Eastern Goldfields
of Western Australia. On the long drive splashes of colour
on a hillside of green, a blaze of wildflowers beside the
road, the caked crust of a salt flat, the subtle colours on
the sides of the Gwalia open cut, the rusty red of the earth,
the blue of the sky were absorbed and recorded on film as
aide memoirs for future inspiration. The results are exquisite
works of art which eloquently evoke a sense of place. They
have been eagerly collected – particularly for large corporate
ceramics are characterised by formal simplicity enlivened
with a painterly surface which at times could almost be described
as chaos. Lost in a Sandstorm almost envelops you with
its swirling heat. Geiki , in the Wool Board Offices
in Korea and Aurora Australis now in the collection
of the Western Australian Art Gallery are two magnificent
pots of an audacious scale some 45 cms high. To quote Margaret
Moore Aurora Australis , has "a cataclysmic fusion
of energies around its exterior. The surface strikes a sophisticated
balance between the evidence of brushed passages controlled
by hand and the bubbled and cracked refuse at whim of the
kiln. Most significantly it achieves a depth of colour and
texture which invites readings as the ravaged textures of
old land, perhaps the result of volcanic forces. Just as these
earthly associations settle imagination leaps to the imponderable
caverns of the sky or universe. The russet reds and browns
give way to metallic blue-greys broken by hints of yellow,
which in the words of the artist provides sun or optimism."
("The lure of the Landscape" Craftwest 1996/2)
pot is a virtuoso performance which she commences with trepidation.
Like any painter the first mark is the hardest. The vessels,
having previously been designed and made as a separate exercise,
sit cold, creamy-white and formally naked waiting to be dressed.
One of the most successful themes that has come through in
this body of work is that of sunrise and sunset in the landscape.
The controlled collision of brushed glaze with the crystalline
growth structure of the chemicals produces effects evocative
of forests, lakes or scrub on wide plains or undulating landscapes.
The brushed horizon line creates the breakaway of a butte
or the wide curved surface of the ocean. Above this a radiant
colour in hues of yellow or pink rise to the rim. The subtle
peach shades of the Fly Flat Diggings pots, one of
which is in the Auckand Art Gallery, are a perfect
counterpoint to the sagey-turquoise of the mulga scrub over
the brown earth. Or is that a dark lake with lilies floating?
Drysdale's work invites this leaping imagination. One can
sit for hours and read so many different stories in each surface.
It is as if the ancient land has handed on some of its mystery
to a master to allow 'city folk' the chance to share the eternal
mystery of the bush. They can certainly admire works like
The Resolution which has a lightning-flooded sky illuminating
the violet hues of a tropical evening embodying the arrival
of 'the wet' to bring relief to the parched earth. This contrasts
with the more muted colouring of Basalt Genesis which
was sold in New York to a major American collector. The new
owners were so ecstatic about the piece they commenced correspondence
with the artist.
a different vein is Beginning of the Myrtle. The wildflowers
on the road verge flash by leaving 'after-images' on the retina.
The myrtle among the catkins of the Grevillia on the road
out of Southern Cross is captured against the green of the
new winter grass. The brush marks of the resist are more obvious
in this than many other pots but the energy with which it
was created is still imprisoned in the pot. Despite the dogged
determination it often takes to bring her inspiration to the
public this side is not obvious in the finished object. The
immediacy of impact and the freshness of appearance belie
the groundwork that goes into producing the final result.
inspired character of Drysdale's current vessels are an accumulation
of subliminal, abstract forces of both nature and culture
acting in symbiosis. They include: her youth on the family
properties in the Kimberley's, the example and sculptures
of her ancestor Sir Bertram McKennal, paintings of Fred Williams,
the photography of Richard Woldendorp and Dorothy Erickson,
a cultured background, forces that sculpt the land itself
and her immersion in them on a morning swim or walk on the
beach, the strong will of a rebel channelled into a satisfying
and productive path with however a willingness to take risks,
shared experiences, the endless discussion and criticism with
friends of each offering from the kiln, together with many
hours of preparatory research into her media. All of this
melded together contributes to an informed and confident approach
which allows free rein to intuition when she takes up the
brush. Works such as Tempest are the result. As Margaret
Moore has written "Drysdale is aware that her 'themes'
are living forces and although they may be of the earth they
cannot be grounded by an earthly art form."
solo exhibitions in the past five years and another about
to be shipped as well as a number of major group exhibitions,
workshops and residencies is a punishing pace. She previously
worked in cycles from turbulence to peace and back again but
with this body of work has come stability and maturity. There
has been a sustained development marrying quietness with chaos
often in one body of work. In early July she is working for
an exhibition curated by The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
for Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art and touring regionally.
Once this is complete she intends to rest and recharge her
energy and her inspirational antennae. She is touring to central
and northern Australia in a light plane. The aerial perspective
attracts her and the contact with Aboriginal culture. This
contact will no doubt bring changes to her work. Whatever
the input Drysdale will remain a virtuoso skilled with stains,
glazes and lustre, a magician who absorbs the essence of her
surroundings and transforms elegant porcelain shapes into
objects of desire.
II from the Logging on Parchment Series,
1990. 45 x 39 x 7 cm. Photograph by Victor France.
IV, 1992, 58 cm diam x 7 cm. Collection Manly Art Gallery.
Photograph Victor France.
Twilight from the Landscape Lustre Series, 1993,
13 cm x11 cm. Collection Ron and Sandra Wise. Photograph Victor
4. A group
from the Pinnacles Series I, 1994. Circles in Space
1-3 are in the Collection of Manly Art Gallery. Photograph
1995. Collection of Australian Capital Equity. 30 cm diameter.
Photograph Robert Frith.
Plains , 1995. 28 cm ht. Victor France photograph.
Bush Plains from the Pinnacles Series I, 1995. 40 cm ht.
Kate and Philip Noakes Collection. Victor France photograph.
Heat , 1996. c17 cm ht. Victor France photograph.
10. Fly Flat Diggings, from the Eastern Goldfields
Series, 1996, 12-25 cms height. Victor France photograph.
1996, 30 cm height. Collection of the Wool Board, Seoul, Korea.
Victor France photograph.
of painted surface. 1996. Victor France photograph.
the Wet1997. c 30 cm ht . Victor France photograph.
1997. c 32 cms ht. Victor France photograph.
in a sandstorm, 1997. c. 19 cm ht Victor France photograph.
of the Myrtle, 1997. 22.5 x 22 cm ht. Victor France photograph.
Genesis, 1998. 33.5x 29 cm ht. Robert Frith photograph.
Sinclair Collection USA.
Resolution, 1998. 20 x23 cm ht. Photograph Robert Frith.
of The Resolution, 1998. Photograph Robert Frith.
, 1998, 27x 25.5 ht. Photograph Robert Frith.
of Schistose. Photograph Robert Frith.
Australis, 1996. 45 cms ht. Photograph Victor France