The Lure of the Landscape

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.


    Pippin 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.


1.        Erickson Dorothy "Big Bold and Beautiful" .chapter for Hewitt's Art Bookshop's Women of the Nineties for the

2         Drysdale, Pippin. "A Creative Journey" in Pottery in Australia, Vol.31. No 2, 1992, p.59.

3         Interview with the artist 18 April, 1996

Margaret Moore is Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of WA.                        


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