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Painters on Pots

A master maker welcomed a group of emerging artists into his home and studio to experiment with clay. The trick here was simple: all of the artists were painters, none of them had put their hands in clay before, and the learning curve was steep and exciting.

Good ideas don’t have to be unnecessarily complicated. Painters on Pots is straightforward enough: find some artists who work with paint, and introduce them to a new medium. Let them go somewhat wild exploring the new medium, then see what this introduction results in. 

For this basic idea to work, there are some ingredients required: one is a ceramist with a bit of experience as a teacher to act as a guide, some artists with a bit of enthusiasm and a dollop of either bravery or foolhardiness, and a location, where these people can meet and interact with the clay, the teacher who knows what clay is and what to do with it, and one another. 

Fortunately, Zsolt Faludi fills a number of these criteria. He possesses the ability to calmly, and even invitingly, instruct folk on how to work with clay, he happens to have a decent studio, and a kiln to fire things with. He likes to work from home. 

He hasn’t always; for many years he was a teacher and lecturer. Faludi has worked with clay since “the stone age,” he wryly suggested in a short conversation, by which he meant Hungary. He came to Australia in 1984, and has largely been here since, making things. Faludi exudes a great affection for making ceramics; when he was first learning how to work with the medium, it was assumed it would vanish, to be replaced by mass industrial processes. But he dove in anyway – and perhaps, he allowed the clay to shape him. Faludi lives in Glen Huon these days, in one of Tasmania’s more picturesque regions. 

Faludi doesn’t really teach as much as he did, but after many years dedicated to sharing his knowledge and making much sought-after works, he still feels that perhaps he owes something to the medium. So, when an opportunity arose to welcome some younger people into his workshop, he was game – and rather interested, because none of them were potters. 

Zoe Grey, Harrison Bowe, Maggie Jefferies, George Kennedy and Sam Field are people who work with paint. They come from disparate backgrounds and their approaches to making art vary wildly. Maggie is engaged with making art with people with disability; Harrison is a former graffiti artist who has translated his practice from rooftops to canvas. The group are at early stages of their careers, exploring paint and perhaps finding themselves as artists, although that might be something artists do for much of their lives. 

This group of young people (except Kennedy, who was in isolation – an annoyingly common challenge in this peculiar era) were welcome by Faludi into his home and, more importantly, his studio, one warm February day. The Huon Valley is fine place to be at any time, but it’s a delight in summer. The group received basic instruction and were given clay for the first time in their artistic careers. They made very basic coil pots. They chattered, and there was lots of amused banter. The process was lively and inquisitive, and all reports from the younger painters indicate that it was tremendous fun. 

It was more than fun though. Maggie Jeffries reported finding the medium challenging because she had no idea how much could go wrong. Clay is not paint, and there’s a lot that is in some ways left to chance, particularly when one is starting out with it. Some of the artists found this aspect a bit daunting or challenging – Zoe Grey, who is strongly conceptually driven in her approach to painting, found herself having to let go and work with her hands, whilst Harrison Bowe recalled painting graffiti at night: “You’d be working under a red light in the dark, and that might change how a blue looks and you just have to trust the process.” All the artists were engrossed by how a beautiful blue underglaze might change after being fired and look entirely different, but this factor was also part of what they were all discovering. 

They also discovered how Faludi works. Grey underlined that stopping work, having lunch and a glass of wine, was just as much a crucial part of the experience as the making was. The moments of sharing and the experience of communal making feed into work like this. Faludi finds this essential – if something is not fun, he will simply not do it, that aspect has to be there. He found much of this fun in the artist’s lack of experience with clay: “They don’t know anything so they have the advantage of doing crazy stuff.” Sometimes, technicality impinges on the creative.

This concept does shine through in the work that has emerged from the project. Fascinatingly, if one has some familiarity with the output of the artists, it’s possible to observe how their form of mark-making translates from two to three-dimensional works, and differing mediums. There’s a small truth to be gleaned from this: artists cannot help but be themselves, and even when they explore new ways to create, they still bring their own authenticity to the work. Being authentic or having a kind of integrity was crucial enough to Grey for her to point to it in conversation, but this rich discovery is visible in all the works: they are singular and distinctive.

It’s not all intensity and integrity though. Just as notable is a sense of exuberant discovery, and even playfulness. The sense of communal activity and shared knowledge has been baked into the clay along with the underglaze, producing works that have recognisable aesthetics – there’s nothing generic about any of the works. The experiment of getting people who don’t know what they’re doing to do something and enjoy it has worked well. There’s a general feeling from all the painters that they have discovered skills that will inform the rest of their creative lives, whether they continue to work with clay or not. 

Faludi was unsurprised, of course: there is little he has not seen when it comes to clay and what people do with it. He casually noted that great painters, naming Miró, had also worked with clay. However, it seems obvious that this master maker was most rewarded by the interactions, and the chance to pass on his lifelong experience to a group of people he described as lovely, beautiful young artists: that joy of sharing knowledge and seeing it implemented is a precious moment.   

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 59, 2022. 
Images courtesy the artists and Despard Gallery, Hobart.

EXHIBITION
Painters on Pots
17 August – 10 September 2022
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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