Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Freer than California, s bigger than Texas



Most artists with a ceramic background know how Voulkos, Mason, Price, Arneson, Gilhooly, Shaw and others widened the expressive possibilities of clay.  They moved it outwards from traditional function ware, towards larger scale, sculptural work.


In California in the 1950s and 1960s the art climate was open to experimentation. Physically and psychically removed from the New York art world, a California artist felt little restrained by the East Coast's hierarchical and traditional definitions of fine art.  The less formal California life-style also encouraged a personal and artistic freedom... 1


A similar sort of thing has happened within more recent times in Australia.

Wherever I travelled overseas, I kept hearing that Australia (and Canadian) ceramics is more adventurous, more exciting.

This could be due to the appearance of the regular, truly international ceramic journals; Ceramics Art and Perception, and Ceramics Technical, both produced and edited by the late, constantly globetrotting Australian Janet Mansfield.   Consequently overseas readers were exposed to the best ceramics from around the world, with a healthy disproportion number coming from Australia.  So non-Australians finally got to see what we were doing.

Or maybe we were just becoming more adventurous, more exciting. Lets look at why this might have happened:

Similar to west coast USthe 1950s and 1960s,  Australia (and even more so Western Australia) is now universally known for a laid back culture.  So we might enjoy and feel a similar creative freedom. 

There is also a east coast, west coast difference in Australia, just like in the US. Perth in Western Australia is 4000 km (2500 miles) away from the larger, older and more conservative Sydney. 

Perth also has a mild Mediterranean climate, with a much more sunny (3,200 hours sunlight annually)  and less humid climate than Sydney, or the other east coast Australian cities.

The population hugs the sea coast and its beautiful beaches, with most living within a half hour drive to the sea.


Western Australia has huge, wide open spaces: at 2.5 million square kilometres (1 million square miles).

It is a third of the Australian landmass,  and is five times bigger than Texas,  or six times the size of the UK.

With space and distance comes both physical and psychological freedom.

Yet it only has 2.5 million people, with most living in one city; Perth.  So less people means less competition, less rush, less stress.

With less people comes a greater need to "do" things oneself.  A wider skill set is needed, as there is often no one who nearby who can do it for you. With no one to do it for us, or show us, we just figure out our own, with often unique ways of doing things.

With less people, there is greater need to work together to make things happen (a sort of small town thinking in a city).  Everyone contributes, to create communal resources and events.

It's a young state, with a Parliamentary government only created in 1889, so there is less overly complex and redundant rules and regulations.

With its physical isolation, youth, and wealth (it produces just under half of Australia's export income) comes also a fierce independent spirit.  An 1933 WA referendum voted overwhelming for separate from Australia, but this was thwart, and is still a source of local frustration.

With the disappearance of ceramics from Universities and Technical college, in it's place has emerged clusters of ceramic artists and student around independent, self funded studios.  Free from the straight jacket of dusty, decades old curriculum... 

So, watch this space...

1. Marshall, R., Foley, S. (1981) Ceramic Sculpture: Six Artists, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, USA. p10 


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