Feb 17, 2021 Arts
If God is shopping for Christmas gifts he should start at Objectspace, where Tender Brick: The Material Epiphanies of Peter Hawkesby — an extraordinary manifestation of the art of pottery — is currently showing. It’s an exhibition that captures the spirit of Covid lockdown and embodies its title, although I’ve never thought of bricks as being imbued with kindness, let alone tenderness.
Hawkesby’s ceramics career dates from the 1970s, and a personal epiphany with fire and clay that grew out of a working relationship with Dennis O’Connor on Waiheke Island. He gained a deep understanding of the beauty and richness of traditional ceramics in Japan, where he studied while on a global journey through cultures and meaning. His work wears these deep influences like a korowai.
In his 2015 survey, The Ceramic Art of Peter Hawkesby, Richard Fahey writes of a once-quintessential garden object, the household 44-gallon-drum incinerator that sat up the back of the section near the fig and lemon trees throughout Auckland in the 1950s and 60s. It was the centre of a family gathering in the back yard (these were the days before the barbecue turned up). The garden incinerator consumed all the household refuse, glowing red hot and burning for days. The council took away this source of ritual and gathering but, as Fahey suggests, references to this rusty receptacle for cremating household waste gave Hawkesby’s work a historic and spiritual life of its own.
We need fire in our lives — raw and roaring, to be stared into and sat by, our eyes following the lines of smoke drifting towards the ancient universe above us. Street lighting has taken away that pleasure. The drum burning into the night brought ancient spheres of understanding to our suburban gardens which, like so much, have gone and left us wanting and needing.
These works are stunning in the richness of colour that takes the eye over their surface and texture. They soar from their plinths and their colour feels ancient yet new and scintillatingly crisp. They take on the form, richness and being of ancient yet ethereal works of beauty.
For many years local ceramics were centred on the works of potters like Warren Tippett, John Parker and Len Castle, who spent their lives dedicated to the potter’s wheel. Through them, we became devotees of deep-brown coffee mugs, technicolored bowls and locally-made wedding-present sets. They kept the ceramics world alive and we should pay tribute to their transformation from brown to white to red and beyond. This exhibition makes a quantum leap to outer space, with shape and form that can be both quirky and full of exciting, almost erotic, halos, tendrils, rings and half loops. Hawkesby is not afraid of taking us into the world of knobs, wedges, lumps and coils. Collectively, they give the impression of a group of friends at play, or in conversation around a fire by an ancient river, or in a cave before we started to walk upright.
Hawkesby, who once ran the Alleluya Café in St Kevins Arcade, looks like he has himself come out of the kiln. A total sinew of an individual, made up of muscle and grace. You believe that he is clay embodied in life. The exhibition’s title pays homage to Gertrude Stein’s 1914 book Tender Buttons, but that’s where it stops. Tender Brick salutes this country’s emergence and love of contemporary ceramic art. The smell valve test trio and the Putiki survival tick are primeval and celestial in shape, form and colour.
I hope God stops by.