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Pot of the Week

Pippin Drysdale’s Tanami (desert) Traces
by Dr David Bromfield

Originally published in Ceramics Art & Perception. Reprinted by permission.

Enlargement opens in new window"You can’t get away from those very strong fundamentals of process, because if you try and cheat the system it never works. You can’t get away with not doing the work, not following the process. You’ve got to eat and sleep it. That’s how I work, totally involved in creating, this Tanami Series I will have taken me more than a year to develop as a major body of work. Its been fraught with a lot of technical difficulties even last week I discovered that you can’t re-fire the pot it will crack."

Pippin Drysdale, on the Tanami (desert) Traces Series I August 2002

For Pippin Drysdale technique always concerns continuous invention and experiment; it is never about reliable elegance or repeatability. The knife-edge presence of her painted forms emerges from an extended process of experiment and improvising towards a particular remembered sensation, a precise ‘expression of an experience’ as she puts it. In this case the experience was a plane trip across central Australia in and around the Tanami Desert region taken as part of a recent fellowship from Arts Western Australia.

Australian artists have often use of the airplane view as a painterly convention, a means to compose their gesture landscapes in a flat plane. Perhaps because Drysdale is a potter she saw the land differently, as a challenge to make elegant subtly shifting irregular patterns, graft across the curved ceramic surface. She was fascinated by the subtle traces of the land its forms and shadows as they slid down slowly from the horizon, pink at sunset, deepest blue green at dawn.

It demanded major changes in her working method to evoke this in a ceramic form with an independent presence, an autonomous beauty. It took seven months of experiment with her assistant Warrick Palmateer, who throws her pots to develop an appropriate shape from hundreds of small ‘ maquettes, each a slightly different in shape. Her previous series had used wide bowl shapes or occasionally a tight cylindrical profile both of which were suitable for a radically expressive, painterly approach to colors and glazes. Now she had to abandon the immediate spontaneity of earlier work. In this case the curvature required a greater subtly, the lip of the vessels are more precise relation to the volume and the cross section so that the space implied by its outer surface would unfold slowly to the inner eye.

The vessels must also be able to hold a tightly disciplined system of highly crafted lines and stains, unlike the nebulous forms in her recent work which were achieved almost entirely buy a mixture of wax or latex resists and glazes calculated to achieve a semi predictable drift across the surface, a specific density or translucency on firing. The creation of the new form went hand in hand with the development of a new type of crumbling, linear decoration that wrapped round the vessel like rough woven raw silk. Over time form and decoration slowly fused into one, a single inevitable presence arose, from hundreds of possibilities judged inadequate to the intensity of the original experience. Drysdale kept detailed, but informal, notes during this long process.. . mainly in the form of ‘notes to myself as to what to do next-

Enlargement opens in new window"When I started this body, I found it very hard to visualize what I wanted. I find mostly the way I work is with a physical form. I have to make it see it and have a process of elimination. This doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, and then yes this one’s got something, lets work with this and move on to next problem. The form evolves over seven or eight months. I learned to keep the base physically heavy and use a sense of gravity. I wanted the form to be quite beautiful in itself to float and have tension."

© Dr David Bromfield 2002

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