by Dr Dorothy Erickson
Pippin Drysdale, née Carew
Reid is an artist inspired by her surroundings. These are
not necessarily her everyday world but the world she inhabits
in her mind. One coloured by experiences of the land that
inspires her and with which she closely identifies. Drysdale
who states she likes to live and "work on the edge –
constantly pushing work into a state of experiment – expanding
and evolving" makes generous pots that provide a surface
on which she can express her strong personality. She keeps
the forms classically simple to avoid competition with the
Drysdale, the reformed
rebel, has an enviable zest for living. She approaches her
work with great energy and like her colourful pots, makes
her presence felt. Her approach is painterly and gestural
as suited to a canvas as to a pot. This year after only a
decade of development she is representing Australia in the
aptly titled "Delinquent Angel" at the International
Ceramics Museum in Faenza, Italy, the worlds most prestigious
ceramic exhibition venue.
Forming close friendships
and networking with a number of potters and writers on the
national and international scene has assisted her career considerably.
This has led to opportunities to exhibit or give workshops
around Australia and in New Zealand, Hong Kong, USA, Indonesia,
Japan, Singapore, Italy and Russia. Her work is now in most
major collections in Australia and in a number of substantial
books. She has had good coverage in the press but [journals
excepted] is concerned at the quality of the writing – particularly
the type of criticism in the local press.
Entering the competitive
art scene at a mature age enabled Drysdale to concentrate
her energies on achieving success and quickly bringing this
to fruition. With very generous support from her family, the
help of several grants from the Visual Arts and Crafts Board,
the Western Australian Department for the Arts and Foreign
Affairs plus many hours of dedication she has produced an
enormous volume of work in a short time.
Born in Victoria in 1943,
daughter of a successful businessman, Drysdale came to Western
Australia at the age of three. She identifies strongly with
the wide open spaces, the clear light and the brilliant sun-washed
colours. She has had a long apprenticeship for her eventual
career. As a teenager she was always drawing – a talent fostered
by her parents who arranged private lessons from well-known
painters Wim and Rhoda Boissevein. With homes in the station
country, the forest region and near the water in Perth she
stored the visual memories of these regions. They emerge from
her subconscious when she paints her bowls.
Drysdale was a rebel.
She found school an unsatisfactory environment and jobs undertaken
thereafter not much better. Married young to a desirable artistic
'name' in Melbourne she joined the flower children, forsook
the marriage, dabbled in Buddhism, visited the forests and
grew herbs to go in pots thrown by a lover. When he decamped
she tried out the kiln blowing it up on her first try. Nonetheless
a serious interest in clay began soon after.
Drysdale studied first
in the practical Advanced Diploma in Ceramics course
run at Perth Technical College [now WA School of Art and Design]
followed by an inspirational year's study tour in USA in 1982.
Here Drysdale worked under some of the most influential artist
potters in America – Daniel Rhodes and Toshiko Takaesu. The
latter became a friend and mentor. Her 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.
The endless throwing required
as part of the training at Perth Technical School developed
skills that stand her in good stead but made her realize that
she did not wish to be a production potter. The artist-potter
making unique pieces attracted. Hence the trip to America
and the encounter with Rhodes who encouraged her to undertake
further training. This she did at Curtin University graduating
in 1986 with a Bachelor of Art in Fine Arts. While Ceramics
was her major she studied other disciplines that contribute
to her work. For instance photography made her focus her vision
more specifically and in art history she came across the Abstract
Expressionists whose methods became inspirational.
She said later "I
knew that unless I went back to university and really concentrated
on drawing, design, colour, composition, photography and all
those other elements which would help me feel confident about
making marks, I would not be doing justice to the craft"1
Early in her career she
spent much time in drawing and preparatory work but now with
practice and confidence she works completely intuitively attacking
each fresh white pot like a clean canvas. The most important
tools are the array of brushes she has tailored to create
special marks saying "without these nothing is possible".2
The surface marks evolve out of the mood of the moment. It
is the first mark that is the hardest. There are days when
that mark will not come but once it does a self-propelling
momentum builds up with the most adventurous and experimental
work taking place at the end of the day.
Initially Drysdale worked
with porcelain slabs – large flat surfaces – empty stages
on which 'happenings' occurred! Using the theatre as inspiration
and a VACB grant awarded in 1987 she produced a body of graphic
aften sombre-coloured work with strong tonal contrasts designed
to evoke an emotional response. Puppets, ghosts and
shadowy figures peopled her stages. In some severe brush marks
and jagged angular forms mimicked the movement of her characters
revealing the anxious pent up energy of this post-graduation
period. Moody Blues, a delicately balanced work shown
in the Fletcher Challenge Award exhibition in New Zealand
in 1989, is a particularly striking piece which clearly captured
the surreal quality of her exploratory drawing. It has a haunting
Drysdale has passionate
convictions amongst which are environmental concerns. Treescape
of 1989 was an early attempt to alert people to the problems
of degradation in native forests. The Logging on Parchment
series, funded by an Australia Council Grant in 1990, enabled
her to put her concerns about die-back in the south west forests
into a concrete form. Pieces such as the slabbed-porcelain
dish in the Cooper's and Lybrand collection, reminiscent of
a view through a window, give a 'window' into her personal
crusade. In approaching a piece such as this she says she
finds herself moving around it depicting various aspects of
the one landscape. In so doing she draws from the image bank
created sketching for hours in the forests in her hippy days.
Essentially Drysdale reacts
to her surroundings. This can be clearly seen in the work
which followed her 1991 sojourn in Italy and Russia. She learnt
how to master lustres and gold leaf to recreate the richness
of these cultures. Personal contacts enabled her to spend
five months at Ulbaldo Grazia's factory in the pottery-making
town of Deruta. A design brief of controlled, overall, colourful
patterns was in opposition to Drysdale's usual free flowing
style but she schooled herself to undertake the work. The
immediate results were somewhat stilted but the discipline
required to fill a form with a repeat motif enabled her to
branch out in a new direction. The Carnivale Series
that resulted is colourful, crowded, joyous work.
The Russian section of
the trip was organised and sponsored by the Russian underground
artists movement. This exchange resulted in an exhibition
of Russian artists coming to Perth the following year for
the Festival of Perth. Shades of Ukrainian folk-art and architecture
pervade the large open bowls of the Effigy Series which
were inspired by her visit. All the symbols have strong
religious connotations but also convey her fascination with
the whimsy and incongruity of Russian life. Even more brightly
coloured and as she has said "vessels which shout abundance
and extravagance" were her OTT Series of 1992
and 1993 painted and lustred on wide chalice-like forms. These
make striking statements and a number have found their way
into public collections.
After this colourful,
chaotic collection Drysdale reverted to her Australian themes.
On the simple, classic, slightly enclosing bowls she painted
a distilled essence of desert Australia the Lustred Landscape
Series – for the CINAFE exhibition in Chicago in 1993.
Outback Australian landscape reduced to its essence – perhaps
just the horizon line in lustre dividing the earth and sky.
However minimal the statement is she wraps it around all sides
of the form, capturing the colours that only someone who has
experienced the outback can imagine; the intense iron-stained
red of the earth, the clear purples of the twilight, the cerise
of the afterglow of sunset, the violet of the 'piccaninny
Of all the elements the
sea has been one of the strongest influences on her life.
She enjoys submerging her body to combat the powerful force
of the waves and currents. She says that when she paints she
"feels the energy of the sea". It invigorates her
building to a crescendo. Her Indian Ocean Series
certainly featured energetic, spontaneous marks that drew
the eye forward to the next point of interest. As Sea Escape
1 demonstrates even working on a three-dimensional form
she treats it like a flat canvas, creating a flow from the
edge to the centre or vice versa. The swirling green sea,
the white foam, intense blue sky and lustred, golden sand
captured the spirit of the sea extending seamlessly from inside
The Chalice Series
of 1994 featured a taller more enclosing form. This subtle
movement of the form conveyed a sense of preciousness that
was further reinforced by the smaller size and heavier lustres.
Eclipse a small, gold chalice now in the collection
of Telstra in Sydney is typical. It features a golden orb
peeping out through bands of sunstreaked clouds.
The work exhibited at
Faenza continued her Australian themes. With the Treescape
she felt the need to return to expressing a sense of looking
through a window to the forest. It was a crescendo, her final
statement from a body of work and completed with a will of
its own. The result is a strongly self contained piece, delicate
in its background colouration, deep and mysterious. The feature
elements – leafy green and yellow ovals that ring the bowl
beneath a dragged white line of cloud – are reminiscent of
sections through a sawn log. It is a mature statement from
someone at ease and attached to her environment – very much
a statement with 'a sense of place'.
In 1995 there has been
a shift in emphasis away from the intense painterly approach
previously taken to a more sculptural concept. Acknowledging
that achieving a harmonious balance is more difficult with
minimal work she is concentrating on form rather than surface,
her energy channelled into developing vessels which can be
grouped together to create formal landscapes.
This change of direction
was triggered by a residency undertaken in Canada in 1994.
The Banff Centre for the Arts which invited her was set in
a national park with an awesome environment of towering peaks.
This induced her to think more collectively of groupings and
colour combinations, of pieces being the sum of their parts
not just isolated objects.
Her current work the Pinnacles
Series has already been shown to acclaim in Australia
having been purchased for the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery
Collection in June 1995.
After ten years of practice
a pattern is beginning to emerge. The bold bright, frenetic
pieces give way to more peaceful work. The quiet elegance
of the Desert Series that went to Chicago in
1993 came soon after the very bright OTT Series
based on experiences in Europe. These worked up into the Sea
Series with frothing foaming waves careering around
the bowls. The bright marks of the Spring Fever Series
that arose from her Canadian experiences in 1994 are giving
way to classic forms grouped in threes in one colour-way.
This cycle from turbulence to peace and back again will probably
continue to be seen in her work as she strives in her perceived
"role as an artist to renew, ... again, the powerful
landscape mythology which provides perpetual meaning and richness"
to her work.
1. "Potter Pippin enjoys painting
on clay" by Angela Leary in The Mercury , Hobart
October 1988, artist's cutting book.
2. All quotes are from artists statements
1993 or interviews with the artist in 1995.
Ill 1. Caspar the ghost, 1988,
slab porcelain plate, 5 cm h x 36 cm x 39 cm hand-painted,
sprayed, part of the Puppet Series , collection of
the Art Gallery, Hobart.
Ill 2. The Puppets , 1988 thrown
porcelain plate, 4.5 cm h x 55 cm diameter, sprayed, latex
resist and painted porcelain platter, collection Museum and
Galleries of the Northern Territory.
Ill 3. Treescape , 1989, 5 cm
h x 56 cm diameter, painted plate, latex resist from Tree
Series 1, Holmes `a Court Collection.
These three 1-3 can be deleted.
Ill 4. Pippin Drysdale in her Fremantle
studio in 1994.
Ill 5. Moody Blues, 1988, 5
cm h. x 37 cm x 39.5 cm, a delicately balanced work shown
in the Fletcher Challenge Award exhibition in NZ in
1989. Private collection New Zealand.
Ill 6. Preliminary artwork for Moody
Blues, collection of the artist.
Ill 7. Detail from Logging on Parchment
series, 1990, 5 cm h x 36 cm x 37 cm, slabbed porcelain dish,
stained and painted with sgraffito, in the Cooper's and Lybrand
Ill 8. delete
Ill 9. Carnival Fruit, 1992,
4 cm h x 39 cm diameter, thrown porcelain plate from the Carnivale
Series . Private Collection WA.
Ill 10. Effigy 1, 1992, 9.5
h x 48 cm diameter, thrown porcelain bowl, latex resist, glaze
and lustres from the Russian Series ,1992 collection
of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Ill 11. Effigy 2, 1992, 6 cm
h x 60 cm diameter, thrown and painted porcelain platter inspired
by Ukrainian folk art. Collection of Manly Art Gallery.
Ill 12. Surf Carnival, 1992,
15 cm h x 24 cm diameter thrown, painted and lustred chalice-like
form in porcelain from the OTT Series 1. Collection
of Toowoomba University.
Ill 13. Bowl from the OTT Series
2, 1993, 21 cm h x 29 cm diameter, thrown porcelain
painted and lustred, in the Collection of Edith Cowan University.
Ill 14. Horizons 1 1993, 14
cm h x 23 cm diameter, latex resist, glazed and lustred from
the Lustred Landscape Series exhibited at CINAFE in
Chicago in 1993. Schultz Collection, USA.
Ill 15. Desertscape, 1993,
13 cm h x 20.5 cm diameter, latex resist, glazed and lustred
from the Lustred Landscape Series exhibited at CINAFE
in Chicago in 1993. Rosenbaum Foundation collection, Pennsylvania
Ill 16-17. Two views of Sea Escape
1, 1994, 25 cm h x 35 cm diameter, thrown porcelain bowl,
painted and lustred from the Indian Ocean Series Private
collection Perth, Western Australia
Ill 18. Eclipse 1, 1994,
19 cm h x 13.5 cm diameter, thrown porcelain bowl, painted
and lustred, from the Chalice Series. Collection of
Telstra, Sydney, NSW.
Ill 19. Treescape 1, 1994,
27 cm h x 45 cm diameter, thrown porcelain bowl, painted
and lustred from the Landscape Series Exhibited in
"Delinquent Angel" at Faenza, Italy 1995.
Ill 20 Detail of the above
Ill 21. Constellation, 1995,
7-28 cm high x 13-24 cm diameter thrown porcelain vessels,
painted and lustred from the Pinnacles Series Collection
of Newcastle Art Gallery.
Ill 22 Spirit of Spring, 1995,
15 cm h x17 cm diameter, thrown porcelain bowl, painted and
lustred from the Buoy Series exhibited in Melbourne
in June 1995. [She will know the collection in July]
NB. Illustration for the catalogue
to be chosen from work currently being produced. Similar to
Text from Art & design in Western
Australia: Perth Technical School 1900-2000 check title
details and page from book
The brightest star in the graduation
constellation is Pippin Drysdale (b. 1943) who graduated
in 1982 and went on to study in USA and WAIT. The skills developed
at Tech stand her in good stead but she chose not to be a
production potter. The artist-potter making unique pieces
was a more attractive course for her. Drysdale paints and
glazes forms often thrown for her by others such as Tech graduate
Warwick Palmenteer. Drysdale's art is a creatively
emotional and intuitive response to landscape. Rich painterly
glazes are her forté and have given her an international practice.
She has been Artist-in-Residence in Europe, Asia, America
and New Zealand and undertaken some thirty solo exhibitions.
She was represented in the Australia exhibition Delinquent
Angel at Faenza in Italy for the l995 World Ceramic Concorso
and demonstrated at Gubbio in 1999. Work has been purchased
for the various State and regional gallery collections and
she is represented in a series of international books on ceramic
art. British author Peter Lane has described her work as 'confident,
bold and vigorously executed" [Fig.
Peter. Porcelain. London: Craftsman House, 1995,