18/11/23 — 20/12/23
18/11/23 — 20/12/23
The aesthetic adventure of Peter Hawkesby has been described by Richard Fahey as having two great attributes: “A deep attachment to and learned appreciation of clay’s materiality with the will to extend the medium as a means of individual expression.”
At the end of 2020 Hawkesby relocated from Tāmaki Makaurau to Ōtepoti Dunedin. Having previously completed most of his work at the kitchen table, Hawkesby now finds himself enjoying the most well-appointed studio he has ever worked in. From a pair of rooms perched above a panel beater’s spray booth he looks out over the rooftops of this well-preserved Victorian city to an ever-changing sky-scape punctuated by chimney pots, the extra-large bell of the Bell Tea Building and the dalliances of local seagulls. This is the environment in which this exhibition has taken shape. The two distinctive components, vases and ‘heart baskets’, zig zag across Hawkesby’s oeuvre, reconciling divergent aesthetic tendencies; joining vessel and anti-vessel and reference points in lived experience.
Of his ‘Modern Ming’ vases, Hawkesby says, “It is nothing like the Mingware sent to Europe in vast quantities, but it is decorative. The alliteration with two Ms sounded so good.” These magnificent tubular vessels elevated on ball-shaped ‘slippers’ are designed to recapture something of the magic of firing in a kiln with flames. “It was an attempt to get some of that surprise by using different clays, so there would be a subtle alteration in the glaze jumping from one clay body to another.”
Like their antecedents, the ‘Summer Frock’ teapots, made in Ōtepoti in 2021, the highly coloured Modern Ming vases discombobulate conventional distinctions between form and decoration. Their structural seams are ornamental playgrounds. The finger prints that weld these vessels together provide irresistible opportunities for a carefully syncopated glaze maquillage. The ‘Black and White’ Ming variants contrast these colourful pots in thrall to the ‘snap’ of commercial glazes, yet also locate raw clay at the centre of a decorative scheme. In these reductive vessels, lazily looped circles of unglazed, untouched pot function as adornment.
Hawkesby’s chocolate-hued Heart Baskets appear austere in relation to the hot house flowers that are his Modern Ming, however they attest to the most extreme stretching of the possibilities of the electric kiln. Assisted by a stint in the spray booth at Otago Polytechnic and a golden mid-fired tenmoku devised by art school technician, Locke, Hawkesby has electrically achieved feats of brownness that appreciators of the studio pottery of 1970s Aotearoa would only dream of.
The origins of the Heart Baskets are in Hawkesby’s first Ōtepoti winter. Like the many puffer jackets purchased during that season, they took a number of years to perfect. Hawkesby says, “I was making the frame not particularly as a basket but something I could wrap large rolled-out slabs around. I was making it as I went along. I liked the fact it had this basket form.” Along the way, the form acquired personal resonance. “Over a month I made the baskets, I was driving 150 metres from the workshop to home. I was being made aware I had something going on in my chest. I admitted myself to hospital. It wasn’t hugely serious but a reminder I am 70 something.”
Before leaving Tāmaki Makaurau, Hawkesby would regularly drive ceramic components across town in pursuit of varied kiln environments; wood, gas, diesel, higher-fired. In the process of setting up the new studio in Ōtepoti, he has made the transition to the electric kiln. Surprisingly, the full sumptuous variety of surfaces evident in this exhibition have all been coaxed from his electric kiln named Gertrude II.
Hawkesby says, “I’m wowed with what clean heat can do.”
Peter Hawkesby was born in Cockle Bay, Tāmaki Makaurau in 1950. Recent exhibitions include Scratch a Cenotaph (2018), MNVWZ Antics (2019) and Bone Thrones (2020) at Anna Miles Gallery, Dirty Ceramics, Dowse Art Museum (2019), Professor Tick & Company, McLeavey Gallery (2020) and Tender Brick: The Material Epiphanies of Peter Hawkesby, curated by Richard Fahey for Objectspace (2020) that toured to the Sarjeant Art Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui (2021) and CoCA Toi Moroki, Otauhahi Christchurch (2022). Hawkesby’s work is represented in public and private collections including those of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Chartwell, Dowse Art Museum, MTG Hawkes Bay Tau Ahuriri, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand and Tūhura Otago Museum.
All Photos: Samuel Hartnett