Pippin Drysdale  Big, Bold and Beautiful                 

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 exuberant surfaces.  

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 charisma

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 dawn'.

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 to out.

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.

Internet Slides

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 Collection.

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 Constellation probably.

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. 195]

                            Lane, Peter.  Porcelain.  London: Craftsman House, 1995, p. 128.
    For art enquiries, please mail pippind@iinet.net.au