Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Eat the children / communicating by clay telegram

Like many, I woke up very early this morning wrestling with a problem.

In my case, I'm struggling with the details of an artwork I'm trying to create.

I have this idea of creating an artwork, that in it's consumption, becomes a bridge between the arts community here in Perth, Western Australia, the most remote city on a continent in the world, and those attending peak art event half way around the world.

But I have my own creative twist:

The artwork enables each members of the audience at the art event to be given the contact details for a corresponding creative person in Western Australian.  This is a multiples to multiples connection.

Over the last 25 years I have been mapping the Western Australian Artist community.  This is not just the names read regularly in the daily newspaper's art pages, but members of the wider local arts and crafts community.  Having given arts and crafts workshops with many members of this community and it's numerous small groups, I know many of them well. They have paid me to learn about and make art in a workshop or class, and so indirectly they funded my occupation as an artist, put food and drink on my table.

I wish to connect these people directly to approximately three thousand people who will be attending the opening of the exhibition I'm in, on the other side of the world.

As a committed "clayalotic" since childhood, it seems only natural to use the humble material of clay as the vehicle to make this communication happen.  So I propose to make individual ceramic porcelain vessels which will be used to make a huge sculpture.  At the exhibition opening night the sculpture will be progressively dismantled into these individual ceramic porcelain vessels, which will be filled with wine and given to each of the audience members to drink from, and keep.

The audience members will be free to keep these porcelain vessels, take them to other exhibition openings that night, to take them home, and perhaps to use them again elsewhere, or at the least to take it home as a keepsake of the evening.

There is a worm in this story:  Each individual ceramic porcelain vessel will have on it contact details for individual Western Australian artists or crafts people who have helped or supported me during the last 25 years.  They may be a professional or recreational artist, an art educator, or administrator.

This project then becomes both a mantra of thanks to the many who have helped me, but also an open invitation to create communication between individual people involved in the arts in two different places on earth.  A clay bridge.

I hope that at least who have taken home the thousands of individual ceramic porcelain vessels, will be tempted to use the details on their vessel, to contact the other person.  Even if it is to say "hi" I got this at an exhibition.  Perhaps to ask how their details got on the vessel?  Or do they make art?  Where do they live? and so on...

In these days of billions of flickering images, a small physical object may become the vehicle for building personal contact, through a share interest in looking at and making art.

The viewer considers about were the art came from, how it was made.  The Western Australian gets to hear about the art world, on the other side of the world.  Clay pen pals?

Even if only one or two of these connects leads on to an on going conversation and relationship, my work will have been done.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Why do I sculpt in paper?

A  4 tonne sculpture in the foyer of the High Court of Australia in Canberra, Australia
While I am know for my ceramic paper clay sculptures in the ceramic and arts community, I also work in creating up to 3 tonne compressed paper sculptures.
The dry paper sculpturing came out of my frustration with drawing units at university.

As a sculptor/potter I found very frustrating (as many of my clay peers did) with being limited to a flat, unresponsive 2D plane. 
 Plus a health dose of antidisestablishmentarianism, which grew out of my experiences with an authoritarian father (a product of his time, and probably the only way for him to survive with 5 sons), being rather headstrong myself, and having just finished worked for a political lobby group. 
 Plus, as a very poor mature age arts student (we couldn’t afford a car for a decade), the piles of paper donated to me by fellow students to make into paper clay, offered a free material to sculpt, if only I could find a way to make it solid. 
 I begun to cut it into circles on a pottery banding wheel, then bolting it together into lumps, while at the same time came up with the idea of bolting them together into a paper tower. 
 After that, and over the next decade I slowly developed ways to compress it and carve it afterwards   (Gallery and explanations here).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Engagement with Arts and wider community

Bored with watching TV and after a couple of beers, I'm in no condition to do some more serious paperwork.

Those who know me, know that I collect names and numbers (I also fastidiously document my idea development and making process, but more on that on another day).

The "arts world" collects data on artists in order to rank, or categories them.  Data collected includes auction house sales and prices, Museum collections and exhibitions, number of exhibitions, media stories, etc etc.

As most of the top local galleries here have closed, now I (and many other artists here) have to collect and archive my own records, so we have no one else documenting our work, exhibition catalogues, reviews, sales data and so on.

Anyway, I digress...

Resent I was shocked to discover that 42,300 people had viewed one of my Youtube videos since I had uploaded it 5 years ago.  I had made the video so I could finally stop demonstrating this technique at every workshop (by then every clay manufacturer in Australia makes all their clays into paper clay). The video was there just in case someone occasionally asked me how to do it.

These videos, plus images on social media and my website saved my bacon once when I permanently lost my laptop en route to giving artist talks and workshops overseas.

So... I originally started this blog entry today with the intention of taking a stocktake of my other online digital profile.

To keep it simple I've collect the results for only the last month (with no paid advertising)

Sessions: 2,900
Users: 2,173
Page views: 14,029
Ave. pages per session 4.84 pages
Avg. session duration: 1:44 minutes
Trend: hasn't changed much over the last 5-6 years, except duration and number of pages viewed increases

3,352 minutes watched,
ave duration 1:55 minutes ,
4 new likes,
7 new shares,
7 new subscribers
Trend: slight improvement

Facebook pages   
206 pageviews,
31 new likes,
2992 reached,
1777 engaged with post
Trend: no idea
72 plays  
489 loads
Trend: no idea
impressions: 24,300 impressions, 16,230 viewers
Repins: 150 saves,  60 clicks through to website
number of time most popular image pinned? 2000+
Trend: no idea

Tweets: 15
 Tweet impressions: 1,706
Profile visits: 121
Mentions:1   Followers: 168
Trend: no idea

This blog        
Pageviews: 466
Biggest following: Ireland!
Trend: no idea

Instagram (all time, not month)  
72 posts,  
197 following   
Trend: no idea

120 images viewed
Trend: no idea

Ok, so that's the numbers, but what do they mean?

I read somewhere that "likes" are like nodding to someone as you walk down the street,.  In this city I  see a hundred faces within a very small period of time.  Would I remember them, or anything about them a day later?  Probably not.

I also find myself nodding sometimes to people I thought I knew (often realising afterwards that I didn't), generally in neighbourhoods I feel more at home, or small towns.

I was asked at a workshop this week by participant if they could take a selfie with me.  They asked if this happened a lot.  Without thinking I said that not very often in Australia.  For a shy person like myself, it's nice to slip along in my own world.  Prior to large events I find myself spending more time alone, almost to "charge my psychic batteries" so I can become a "temporary extrovert".  It's certainly become easier to speak publicly on something I know a lot about.  But it's taken two decades to become comfortable speaking in public, but on my area of expertise.  

The real advantage of the digital revolution is that introverts like myself can present our work without having to physical face people.

The internet was made for introverts.

Even more so, on social media.

update: 9 April 2017


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How did you start?

A vase made in 1989, that gained my entry into ECU. 
Its been a busy week for self reflection: Or at least to think about how others see me:

On Sunday my hands were filmed, as well as various other hands making or doing things, for a demo advertisement. Nearly a dozen people crowded in the studio for 2 seconds of final film. Long story.

Today I was interviewed, for online content to assist arts students and emerging artists.  I took the time to try and write out my answers beforehand, to clarify my thinking.

Question 1: What started your passion for art?

I grew up on a farm playing creatively with my 5 siblings and occasional visits from numerous cousin, in the creeks, small forests, hay shed, workshop and a rambling 23 room homestead.  At school art was the only subject that allowed a similar playful experimentation.  This became more important at high school, and the art department became a sanction during a traumatic time in boarding school.  To my knowledge I was the only person to take art as a first and second option in lower high school (never sure if my parents were aware this happened!).

However, in the last few years at school, I got the clear message that you can’t make a living from art, so did not take it in my final year.  However I did return to art after that, training as an art specialist at Teachers Collage, and at one stage lived across the road from the ceramic studio, with after hours access.  When I arrived in WA I continued to make and draw, attending community ceramics classes at Applecross and Perth Modern.

It was not until 1990, while travelling through US and Europe that I meet clay artists who survived full time from their making.  This inspiring me to make the decision to become a ceramic artist in late 1991, regardless of getting into a tertiary course (which I eventually did).

What started your own passion for art?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Artist Report Card

My First Critic

I was searching for some bad poetry I had written a long time ago, and came across digital copies of my old school reports:

I was amused to read how some of my teachers had (perhaps too accurately) described me perfectly:

Though I would share, in the hope that it would both be insightful, and inspired you to do the same.

When I was 13:

Art Teacher:                    
 A capable + conscientious worker who has settled down very well.

Form Teacher:                  
Doing very well.  
Very alert student.  
Methodical in his own way.  
Has a great deal of ability.  Keep it up.

The next year...

Art Teacher:                    
A first class effort.  
Graham has made excellent progress in this subject.

New Form Teacher:        
Generally, quiet satisfactory work.


Art Teacher:                    
Graham continues to work well in art.  
A law unto himself at times.

... need I say more?

Poem about clay

Poem (1983)
Clay (1983)

Ok, this is a blast from the past.

I was required to bring along a poem one evening this week, and the pressure was on with a month's notice and reminders closer to the night.  So I dug deep into the digital files and filtered through dozens of bad poems I wrote a long time ago.

Yes, I know.

Here goes:


Squeeze, fondle
bend and tease
grasp and freeze
tickle and please.

Wrinkle and lapping water
steady patience, building mason
mind and body, hands and kindness
clay, the living flesh.

Season and steady
brace and flow
test and fire
mind, body, expire
love and laugh
flow within, to the clay.

An expression
often a suggestion
a statement of directive
but balanced and beautiful
built into this a tangible relationship.

The pleasing of construction
the delight of success
the testing of flavour
and the seasoning of despair
teasing back for more to build
harmony between man, water, clay and fire.


what do you think about clay?

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Winter Morning in the Studio

Unpacking the class set of 3D pens.

Early Sunday mornings will find me cycling to, and making, in the studio.

The phone doesn't ring, and I have the place to myself.

Today was particularly productive and enjoyable.

With a kiln full of porcelain paper clay firing out the back, the pressure was now off for a few days.

Ideas for my demonstration at the US warm up Throw down) for the Symposium in just a months time, came rapidly and fluidly.

The winter sun shone in through the window, as I looked out at the green park around the studio.

Munching home made cake from the Friday class, I checked the size restrictions on the Argentinean exhibition, and dashed off an email seeking a variation of conditions (assuming the currently firing is successful, and the assemble work, works).

Student works demanded my attention, so I carried their work around to the kiln room.  I loaded up the kiln, did some quick calculations, then left it ready for me to plug into the computer after the other firing finishes, probably on late Monday.

I then checked the conditions for a Japanese exhibition, and then reviewed a short Instagram movie of a prototype I had made in the residency at Perth College.  Based on this and ideas floating around me for the last week, I jotted down some notes and made a quick drawing for my next version of the spiral.

A quick phone call to organise a walk later this morning, I now had time to unpack 5 boxes that had been sitting unopened in the studio for the last week.  These were a class set of 3Doodlers for an upcoming workshop.  I bought my first 3Doodler on Kickstart back in early 2013.  It was unproven technology, and I gambled a hundred bucks on the guys who developed it in a shed.

I first blogged a comparison between the 3D printer I had been hacking and the 3Doodler 3D printing pen in December 2013.  The 3D pen was a 3D printing head redesigned as a pen you drew in the air.  No computer coding, or computer needed, and so much fun.

Unpacking a set of the second edition of the pen was a bit like Christmas.  All shiny and new and plug and play.

Alas, time ran out, so I packed it all away again, except for one pen and material I left out on the desk ready for early Monday morning.

A quick photo to try to capture the morning.

Then climb on the bike, and back up the hill in the sunlight...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Disaster, disaster Will Robinson...

Perhaps a little atypical is the high incident of studio disasters I have.

Those clay studios making multiples probably have their fair share of breaks, tears and collapses, during their design development.

For some strange reason I seem to be stuck in this stage, of just losing most of my works at the making, firing and post firing stage, for years and now decades.

Over ambitious?


Slow learner?


I was always seen by others as stubborn.

Using the wrong medium?


I love the fact I'm working with a very fragile medium.  Everyone knows it can break easily, particularly when I keep making thinner and thinner, taller and taller works!

After yet another disaster today I was rethinking why I don't make these structures in steel.

The reality is I like the delicateness of the work.  The danger of it collapsing during the build and then the likelihood of it breaking at any time.

Obviously I'm limiting my consumer audience  to those who have an "art safe" house.  But I just can't help myself...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Feelings of both disquiet and gratefulness

Awaking in the middle of the night, I revisited yesterday's feelings of both disquiet and gratefulness.

The former occurred will listening to an artist's talk by Shaun Gladwell at the John Curtin Gallery, and the latter after a coffee with Creative Kids Art Club  Director Jane McKay.

Initially I struggled to become engaged with, and stay awake during Gladwell's talk.  His Self Portrait Spinning and Falling (Paris) (2015), had him spinning on a skateboard in from of his favourite Paris locations.  Having worked with young skateboarders back in 2002 to create skate able sculptures of the City of Vincent (1), neither his ability nor the slow-motion video held any particular significance for me.   Youtube and other social media are full of the physical exploits of people on skateboards and bikes. in some ways the presentation by Gladwell to an audience of less than 20 people, and described by Curator Margaret Moore in her introduction as "mostly friends of the artist" suggested a position of privilege and exclusivity.   Mention was made that Gladwell first appeared in the Hatched exhibition at PICA(2), and regularly visited and maintained contact with his artist peers in Perth.

This video work is "significant" because it is show within this privileged and exclusive space.  Yet to me it appears that Moore is intentionally, or unintentionally, saying that the work is here in the Gallery, predominately because of a small number of personal friends of the artist.  The question is, which comes first the chicken or the egg?  Is it (a) the work artistically and culturally important on its own terms, or (b) is important purely because of Gladwell's friendships to people who decide what is show here?

Not personally knowing Gladwell or his work before attending the talk, my own judgement is that it is the latter.  This is where my feelings of worry or unease come from.  This lack of objectivity in curatorial decision making in the West Australian arts, particularly in areas and levels which receive substantial support and media exposure.  We are told what is important, but I'm not sure it is.  The low level of public attendance at this talk suggests that the wider arts community have already come to this conclusion already.  Despite this, to me, Gladwell came across in his talk as both modesty and likeable.

30 minutes later I meet artist and educator Jane McKay.  McKay had emailed me a week before, seeking inclusion of her children art classes details in my webpage of suggested art classes for parents.  As I feel a sense of responsibly to other parents before recommending children's art courses, I thought I should meet Jane first.  I learnt she has attracted a growing audience of parents and children for her after school art classes, so much so, that in five short years she has had to recruit a team of other primary school art specialists to help meet demand.  Young (5-10 yrs old) children unselfconsciously love making art, and their parents know it.  The Perth gallery selling her work closed and her interstate gallery wanted her to make work she didn't, so the classes became a way to survive.  Her experience is similar to my own experience with adult pottery and sculpture classes.   Plus McKay appears to share my deep sense of personal satisfaction that comes from enabling others to experience making art.

I am reminded of Shaun's talk earlier in the day, were it was obvious he also enjoyed making his art, that is exploring new video technology, and pushing himself physically on the skateboard and within a jet fighter.

During and after the meeting with Jane I felt grateful.  I remembered going into my studio earlier in the day, and while making a sculpture, I watched two of my fellow artists teaching adult students how to make their own art.  The sense of enjoyment was obvious.  The 15 year old  studio is an independent, self funded, non-profit arts studio collectively run by five artists. It's financially supported by, and in return provides social, educational and creative support for nearly 80 other professional and recreational artists. It's growing rapidly.

I a reminded of a talk given by Nicole Foss at the 2015 national Baptist Care Australia  conference (an aged care and community services provider).  Doss provided sound advice for individuals and organisations trying to survive during this time of radical upheaval.   She pointed out that to survive the current economic turmoil and technological revolution, we need to return to our roots, reconnect with our communities and audiences.

This is not done by employing a marketing expert, or increasing the PR budget.  This is done by personally talking to others on a one to one basis.   This is not by having 5000 Facebook "likes".  Last year I was surprised when I was told by the chair of a WA community arts organisation that he did not know the first names of even a dozen of their financial members.  I worry how long that and other arts organisation will survive when the public funds dry up?

Similarly, many artists have now lost their personal connect with audiences, when their commercial gallery system imploded due to economic and technological change.  The accelerating budgetary squeeze at both federal and state levels is only really beginning to affect universities.  Past staff freezes are only the beginning, with more reorganisation and rationalisation still to come.  University galleries are also now only surviving on borrowed time, once their senior administrators realise they don't have large audiences:  Because they are captured and controlled by only a small part of the artistic community.

 (1) Graham Hay,(2002) A skate able sculpture, Pottery in Australia, 41, (1), 42-43 Copy: (12/02/2016 3:45am)

(2) Margaret Moore, Exhibition review : Hatched: Healthway National Graduate Show 97 Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth WA,  ArtLink Magazine, Issue 17:4 | December 1997, source: (12/02/2016 3:45am)

Monday, January 4, 2016

"The sky is falling!" ...Henny Penny*

*The title of this post is tongue in cheek.

I started writing this blog after a 23 December 2015 C-File posted about a New York Times article:

"Why Handmade Ceramics Are White Hot" (DEC. 16, 2015)

The NYT article nominated a small group of "Hot" ceramicists.

I suspect that the  C-File editor, writers and some readers took exception with the NYT deciding which ceramic artists are "hot", because by implication, it might imply that  the C-File's own A list was not.

Perhaps a wider perspective will give a more balanced perspective.

One of the detailed explanations for this trend, was written up by Canadian MA student Mary Callahan Baumstark, before the trend spotting journalists at NYT, and Vogue.1

She also highlights its feminist ideological foundation, and the way social media has enable a small number of craftspeople to quickly surpass the localised popularity of the orthodox ceramic community's champions.

I suspect social media has enable the Mass Intelligentsia to emerge independent to the established ceramic elite Intelligentsia.  It's almost like a reverse of the classic "high culture" stealing from the  "low culture" conflict (e.g. graffiti appropriated by Street Artists), but in this case the emerging digitally empowered middle class have now stolen from the high.

Meanwhile, many long term ceramic artists in Australia like myself have been transfixed like kangaroos in headlights by the UK BBC short series Great Pottery Throw Down.  

Personally I cringed while watching it, to see so many redundant studio techniques-a bit like watching someone carry around and use a brick sized mobile phone in 2015.  Completely unnecessary and uneconomical  way of working, and just plain hard work.  I suspect an experienced Chef would feel the same watching the Master Chef or UK Great Bake off TV series. 

Baumstark referenced the " maker movement (or DIY) movement after 1989", which is still going strong here in Australia (see the short ABC TV Bespoke series.)2  

But this misses the point.  Ceramics has always been a contestable market, and no amount of fancy writeup in peer reviewed journal articles (or the digital equivalent C-File) read by a tiny audience (myself included) will protect us, against someone skilfully using social media (and now noticed by the NYT and Vogue), and making adequate unique, functional objects.

What would Marx make of this triumph of Social Capital over Cultural Capital?

You can't beat them, and by creating C-File, Clarke et al are already trying to join them.

As makers, we have to be careful, as Baumstark points out:

The reality, however, was more complex and although it offered economic stability for some, the majority of economic revenue came in the form of craft support (such as supplies, retail space, and marketing) and was garnered not by individual makers, but by platforms and corporations masking themselves behind the maker's’ efforts. 

We have to be careful that C-File does not become another such platform.

Moreover, I hope C-File does not get in the habit of white anting the NYT and other digital media platforms promoting individual ceramic practitioners, while simultaneously promoting it's own stable  of individual ceramic practitioners.

To do so would do the ceramics community a grave disservice.

1 For those interested, I've dug up some of the Vogue articles:
Earth, Spin, and Fire in the bumper Sept 2015 
The New Look of Traditional Japanese Ceramics October 20, 2015
The Latest Trend in Fashion? Mixing Clothing and CeramicsMarch 12, 2015 
One-of-a-Kind Ceramic Tableware, Perfect for Summer Gifting July 22, 2015

Paradoxically in Australia: just about all universities and technical collages have closed down their ceramic major courses over the last decade, and now many community ceramic classes across the nation have waiting lists-but that's the subject for another blog...)


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