A WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT: THE CERAMICS OF PIPPIN DRYSDALE
   
   

DOROTHY ERICKSON

"An exquisitely executed piece of work at an exhibition speaks to you but you do not see the pain, joy, experimentation, disasters, and years work that led to the creation of the piece. I once envied artists who received grants but I quickly learnt that a grant brings with it obligation to perform. It drives you on to take risks, to push your limits and to create more and more wonderful, wonderful art."

( Pippin Drysdale in Artforce 3 1998 )

Western Australian Pippin Drysdale's emotional and intuitive response to the landscape has won her plaudits at home and abroad. Her resume lists a formidable number of residencies, awards, international books and exhibitions. Her work is in the major Australian collections and others abroad. In little over a decade she has achieved international prominence. The work speaks to nationals of other countries as well as touching a chord with those to whom it belongs.

Grants from Federal and State agencies which provide lecturers with 'head space' are very useful. For practising artists these grants are essential if they are to achieve their potential. A product of Government largesse as well as her own talent Drysdale is one of the fortunate few who have been well-supported to develop their career. To watch the career of an artist blossom through support from State and Federal arts agencies has been instructive. One can note the growth in practice and opportunities grasped from within the security of the grant income.

Art is not Drysdale's original career. After another life she attended Perth Tech, took a study tour in America and enrolled at WA institute of Technology to acquire the conceptual development she felt necessary to succeed as an artist. Production pottery was not her choice. Painting pots was more seductive. Her graduation show in 1985 included large platters with painterly abstract expressionist decoration. They were interesting but not particularly outstanding.

To show in Sydney and Melbourne is imperative for ambitious artists and Drysdale's first grant enabled such exposure. She applied for an Australia Council Special Development grant "To develop ceramic work for interstate exhibitions in 1987". This allowed her to participate in Craft Expo, Sydney where the work was appreciated Michael Bogle in the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out why, writing:

In spite of the communications network of magazines and newsletters between interstate craftspeople, a regional flavour always presentsitself in national exhibits. Western Australian work is a good example of regionality…Western Australian designer-craftspeople always seem to be pushing the frontiers of "Euro-style". They aren't afraid of colour and fashion and Shun that "brown sauce" that craftspeople often ladle on their work. The ceramics of Fremantle's Pippin Drysdale are an excellent example of the complex colours and nervous decoration one often finds in the west. ( "A gathering of The crafts" June 5, 1987)


This was a financially successful venture. The proceeds were used to develop work for Hobart.

Using the theatre as inspiration she produced a body of graphic, often sombre-coloured, work with strong tonal contrasts designed to evoke an emotional response. These were exhibited in Handmark in Tasmania and Narek in Canberra. From these three exposures Drysdale was invited to exhibit in the National Ceramic Award at Canberra, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Purchase, the Shire of Diamond Valley Awards, Australian Expo in Singapore and Fletcher Challenge in New Zealand. Hobart Art Gallery added her work to their collection. Orders were placed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Visual documentation produced a Certificate of Excellence for Outstanding Achievement at the International Art Competition in New York in 1988. A very good return on a $5000 investment.

The work was continually improving. The 1989 reviews of the Fletcher Challenge noted her work as "working with electric vigour…powerful display of brushwork". However Sue-Anne Wallace wrote of her solo at Narek "Drysdale is a competent, if unadventurous ceramicist, with a leaning towards decoration rather than form. This recalls the painterly ceramics of Arthur Boyd and John Perceval…her work shows much promise."

More work was necessary. She applied for a Creative Development Grant "To extend and refine the painterly techniques". The Logging on Parchment series of 1990 was the result. She could be more liberal with her materials and more expressive with her brushes. Importantly the grant enabled her to send work to Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane and Tokyo and develop new glazes and forms for three solos in Melbourne and Perth. The result was works purchased for AGWA and MAGNT and QAG and ensured a growing reputation and the beginnings of a corporate and private client base. Sales provided money to purchase assistance with throwing. A further good return for a small investment.

The work was now of a standard to accept an invitation to be an artist-in-residence at the Grazia Deruta Majolica in Italy in 1991. The factory regularly has artists in residence to develop work. A short residency in Cardiff was arranged plus a return trip via USA. Meanwhile an artists' exchange with Siberia was also offered. ArtsWA provided a $3250 Travel Grant and Foreign Affairs provided project assistance of $1000. These small sums allowed the project to proceed and had enormous benefit for the artist. Not only was there considerable impact on her subconscious with the results obvious in her work but she also learnt to master lustres and gold leaf to recreate the richness of these cultures. An added benefit was being included in international books on porcelain by authors Daphne Carnegie and Peter Lane. Her subsequent work, of international quality, painted and lustred on wide chalice-like forms, make striking statements and a number have gone to public collections. The work saw her selected for CINAFE, 1993 and develop the Landscape Lustre Series-outback Australian landscape reduced to its essence.

ArtsWA provided money to take part in the 1992 Ausglass Conference in Canberra allowing her to work with some of the best glass people in the world. Her glazes took on a glassy depth. The painting became more sophisticated. The invitation to be part of Delinquent Angel-the exhibition of Australian ceramics in Faenza, Italy came from this body of work and from that the current invitation to Gubbio, Italy to attend a symposium and exhibit in 1999.

Drysdale's works are technically difficult as she likes to "work on the edge - constantly pushing work into a state of experiment - expanding and evolving". This means a considerable wastage despite time spent on experiments and tests. The grants assist in covering the losses. Drysdale was anxious to produce work for CINAFE 1994 and applied for a larger "Creative Development Grant". Being successful she commenced the Seashore and Chalice Series which featured a taller more enclosed form conveying a sense of preciousness. She could now lavish lustre on her pots.

When her gallery withdrew from CINAFE she participated in art fairs in Singapore, Surabaya and Melbourne. The fees to the organisers were considerable. However an invitation came to be Artist in Residence in Banff, Canada which luckily had a Bursary attached. The Australia Council allowed her to include this in her programme. This residency saw a distinct change in the work. There was a shift in emphasis away from the intense painterly approach to a more sculptural concept. She concentrated on form rather than surface, her energy channelled into developing vessels which could be grouped together to create formal landscapes. Her Pinnacles Series won the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery Purchase Award and the City of Perth Craft Award in 1995 - her first major awards. Still building on the experience she went for a short visit to the eastern goldfields and began to translate the colours and the textures to the new shapes. The strength of her practice is as a colourist. Rich painterly glazes are her forte. She soaks up colour and atmosphere and stores the elements which inspire her. The she commits the experience to the surface of a generous but classically simple pot. Suffused sunrises and glowing sunsets above a horizon line contrasted with crystalline foregrounds indicating vegetation. Plainer forms overlaid with crackle resembled the crazing of a parched lake. The mature work shown in Beaver Gallery saw her invited again to show in USA.

The combination of the grants over the four years had made a remarkable impact on the quality of the work. An article and cover on Craftwest and another in Craftarts International plus inclusion in the new books by Ioannou and Mansfield helped develop her profile.

Granted a 1998 VACF Project Grant of $20,000 for a "New body of work emphasising new glazes and surface treatment on large scale works" she prepared Eastern Goldfields Series III for an exhibition at Quadrivium Gallery in Sydney and SOFA New York and Chicago. It purchased throwing assistance to make the massive forms and enabled her to experiment with new surface textures incorporating both crazing and lustre.

An ArtsWA Creative Development Fellowship of $30,000 for 1998 was awarded on the strength of the mature work. This took the pressure off earning. She was able to step back from her heavy exhibition schedule to experiment and let the experiences run free. She travelled to the north of Australia for visual stimulation and to undertake intensive research and development. Helped by ceramic chemist Mike Kusnik, she developed a new matte glaze and taller forms and had time to control the wastage.

Drysdale spends weeks preparing glazes, developing the palette with interrelated gradations and tones of each hue, then tests that they are eompatible and will sustain layerings of glaze to build the three dimensional surfaces she seeks. The new glaze, giving a very different quality to her work, was exhibited for the 1999 Festival of Perth. The art critic David Bromfield wrote of:

…Her impressive exhibition… she goes out of her way to seduce her viewers, to charm them into taking the work seriously, long enough for the depth of her contemplation of the landscape, which informs each piece, to reveal itself fully…It would be a mistake to think of her as a glorified abstract expressionist porcelain painter. On the contrary, she emphasises the alchemical processes that make the clay a unique medium so the evolution, under stress from high temperature and chemical reaction, of the marks, dripping glazes, parallels and recalls the rocky landscapes which evolved in exactly the same way…Drysdale has achieved an extraordinary range of effects: from the dry-as-dust ochres, greys and blues of Spiritscape - Balgo Hills to the lush infinite blues and purples of Nightscape - Lake Amadeus. Three small striped Maningrida Weavings range from purple through flame orange to deep red. To glance from one to the other is to watch the sun slowly setting on a perfectly still day. (West Australian Feb.6, 1999 Big Weekend p7)


Critically and financially successful, it gives her a base from which to advance and the courage to accept the experiences being offered - a trip to Pakistan, a residency in Italy and another in Honolulu. This is an international career built with the help of regular funding from Government agencies - a worthy return for 'our investment.



 
    For art enquiries, please mail pippind@iinet.net.au