by Margaret Moore
Pippin Drysdale is an artist emphatically
inspired by her surroundings. Hers is a creatively emotional
and intuitive response to the landscape facilitated by considerable
technical skill. Margaret Moore gives us a critically
informed insight into Pippin and her powerful work pointing
out the subtle, poignant abstraction of the essence of 'the
bush'. The 'beach' and elsewhere.
Drysdale's ceramics are characterized by a formal simplicity
enlivened by painterly application. The bowl and plate or
slab have sustained as the dominant forms providing sites
for distinctive surfaces exhibition at The Door gallery Fremantle,
clustered groups of bowls sitting as inverted cones and wearing
radiant colours were entitled the Pinnacle Series. Their
installation suggested a heightened consciousness of the interactive
potential of thematic vessels and a bifurcation into a sculptural
rather than painting arena. Through reducing the applied
decoration to repeated horizontal lines encircling the forms,
the Pinnacle Series exuded a restrained and quiet mood
where previously Drysdale's work has overwhelmed in its unleashed
exuberance. For followers of Drysdale's work a considerable
shift, be it an exciting one, in the artist's practice. Unquestionably
it continued to display a virtuosic skill in applied decoration
luster and glazing; the porcelain seemingly transfigured
into glass, semi-precious stone or plastic, and more generically
landscape itself. In tracing some of her earlier experiences,
key developments and inspirations, this perceived shift proved
more exponential than aberrant in the continuum, which is
Pippin Drysdale. It also re-affirmed one of her strengths
is as a colourist.
In just over a decade of practice Pippin Drysdale has achieved
a formidable resume of exhibitions, residencies and awards.
She graduated from Curtin University in 1985 after previously
completing an Advanced Diploma in Ceramics at Perth Technical
College in 1981. During the intervening year of 1982 she
undertook a study tour to the United States of America working
at Anderson Ranch, Colorado studying with distinguished potters,
Daniel Rhodes, Toshiko Takaesu and Rhoda Lopez. She has maintained
international activity with return invitations to lecture
in America and invited participation in Art Fairs in Chicago,
Singapore, Surabaya and Melbourne and in the Perth International
Craft Triennial. In 1995 her work was included in the significant
Australian exhibition Delinquent Angel: Australian Historical,
Aboriginal and Contemporary Ceramics at the prestigious
Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza, Italy. She
was also a joint winner in the City of Perth Craft Award.
The energy, consistency and maturing of Drysdale's work begs
the question from where does her inspiration come? Without
doubt Drysdale's extensive travel and opportunities availed
to her to work with a number of prominent potters has helped
shape her directions and has influenced the character of her
work. This has not always been a visual influence, rather
a philosophical or conceptual one. As Dorothy Erickson acknowledges
of the artist's ensuing friendship with Toshiko Takaesu and
time in America.
Her [Toshiko Takaesu] philosophy, work ethic and example still
inspire Drysdale today. The American experience was critical.
She was told to forget the fashionable rustic Zen aesthetic
traditions, to create her own sensibilities and adapt her
techniques to suit her environment. This gave her the confidence
to develop methods that suited her. Comparatively, experiences
in Italy and Russia where Drysdale took up extended residencies
resulted in more direct absorption of style and motif into
the figuration on her ceramics. In 1991 she spent three months
at the Grazia Deruta factory dedicated to majolica pottery
in Perugia, Italy and three months at Tomsk University in
Russia. The Carnivale Series and Effigy Series
1992 which followed are each abundant in motifs reflecting
the technical discipline of the majolica tradition and resonant
with Drysdale's own holistic response to living amid these
two cultures and two environments. The work resonates with
the ageing patina of icons, lustre of gold leaf, architectural
references and folk and religious traditions. Imagery and
sensation which embraced Drysdale (and which she still describes
effusively today) is modified to her own idiosyncratic style.
The refined repetition of the majolica pottery yields to a
more fluid, bold interpretation by Drysdale.
A similar process of translation occurred in the production
of the Pinnacle Series, which had its conceptual beginnings
in Banff, Canada, where Drysdale also undertook a residency.
She was deeply affected by the verticality, majesty, inherent
age and poise of the mountainous terrain of the Canadian Rockies.
This seems manifest in the vettical, conical shape of the
final works, but their vital hues of cerise, fuchsia, cinnamon,
yellows, blues and browns implies a more local palette. These
abstracted peaks could as readily be associated by Australian
audiences with various rock formations throughout the country
including the haunting Pinnacles of Western Australia.
The Pinnacle Series is an excellent example of the
accumulative nature of inspiration and production, and in
context, registers the work as more a progression than a shift
in Drysdale's career While the Canadian experience may have
provided the impetus, the lineal patterning can still be traced
to the majolica training combined with Drysdale's continued
interest in her Australian landscape and declared interest
in defining Australia by motifs. In an interview in 1992
in relation to the impact of the experience of Italian Russian
majolica traditions, she stated;
I would like to develop the equivalent Australian symbols
- of landscape, history, both social and Political…I'm sure
the influences of many cultures on modern Australia will enable
this process to move .away from the more obvious symbols of
our flora and fauna. However, the 'bush' and the beach are
strong influences in my works and will continue to be so.
The decorative lines on the Pinnacle vessels, some broken
and some continuous, are such a quintessential emblem of so
much that is Australian - from the line demarcating water
and land which edges the island to the illusion of the horizon
curving in an arc due to the vastness of space, or the age
rings in a tree. The abstraction is subtle and poignant.
It is undeniably an Australian immersion which has seeded
the most recent work culminating in the audaciously scaled
Aurora Australis 1996. In this magnificent vessel
Drysdale has enlarged the conical form and painted 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 the
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-grays broken by
hints of yellow, which in the words of the artist provides
'sun or optimism'.
Travel and dedicated training alone seem not entirely responsible
for the inspired character of Drysdale's vessels. Yet inspiration,
true to the divinity the work connotes, is not necessarily
tangible or instantaneous. Drysdale works in a way which
is determined, dogged and sometimes protracted before a work
is truly deserving of the inscription 'inspired'. Artistic
inspiration for someone such as Drysdale seems more accumulative,
more subliminal and abstract, although she willingly points
to a number of forces and shared experiences which are definite
sources for her work. She recognises the impact of the artistic
vision of the Australian landscape by Richard Woldendorp and
Fred Williams. More concretely she recently enjoyed slides
of the North West of the state taken and shared with her by
Dorothy Erickson. She recalls a childhood spent regularly
on stations in the Kimberley.
In review Pippin Drysdale has been artistically driven by
factors which shape much creativity and which are increasingly
becoming the subject of greater analysis in contemporary art.
Her work evidences the effects both subliminal and real of
transcultural experience, and a phenomenological interest
in the land rather than necessarily a literal or narrative
one. While she acknowledges quite specific sources such as
the images of fellow artists, the Canadian Rockies and trips
to the Fremantle Markets to photograph produce, her underlying
motivation and inspiration is an holistic one which brings
nature and culture together rather than placing it in opposition.
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. Aurora Australis exemplifies
this - simultaneously an object of the earth and an object
of mediating power made possible through Drysdale's informed
approach to an art, a fine understanding of colour and application,
and the confidence to allow a compulsive, intuitive element
into the precision of her pottery.
"Big Bold and Beautiful" .chapter for Hewitt's Art
Bookshop's Women of the Nineties for the
"A Creative Journey" in Pottery in Australia, Vol.31.
No 2, 1992, p.59.
the artist 18 April, 1996
Moore is Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery