Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reg Preston

Pleasantly surprised would be the best way to describe my response to the Reg Preston Retrospective at Skepsi. Sometimes a potter's name is so familiar, so established in one's psyche, that it is easy to overlook or have any expectation of experiencing something new in their work. For me this was true of Reg Preston.

The motivating factor in getting me to Skepsi on Wednesday was the knowledge that the gallery, as it is now, is soon to be no more, as the lovely Anna Maas moves on to grand new ventures. I wish to take every opportunity to appreciate this well respected Melbourne ceramic institution before it's closure. The fact that it was showing a retrospective of Reg Preston's work was secondary, although the press image was appealing... 

When I think Reg Preston I think heavily glazed containers from the 70's. And yes, there were certainly a few of these to be seen.

I don't know if it's because I'm in a mood to find enjoyment in nearly everything at the moment but I found it wonderful to revisit such works. Where, in the past, I may have dismissed these pieces as 'not my thing' on this day I found joy in their generorisity. Containers that hold volumes, with a looseness of form giving the impression that overfill and the vessel walls will swell to accommodate.

But what was even more surprising was the diversity, scope and sense of humour in Reg's work.

The exhibition included displays of his tools, sketches, paintings and works by those close to the artist, such as the beautiful, exploratory pieces below, made by his wife, the potter Phyl Dunn.

Not all the items spoke to me of the man as much as the intimacy of viewing fragments from his visual diary

and an artist statement that I like so much I think I might have to include it in it's entirity at the end of this post. 

A lifetime of potting could never be summarised by a room full of pots but this exhibition did give glimpses into moments of a potter's life and the strong sense of the fascination and dedication Reg Preston had for his craft.

MAY 4 - MAY 15
The Life of an Artist Reg Preston in retrospect
Skepsi on Swanston
670 Swanston St Carlton, VIC


I set up my studio in 1945 and made pots strictly bound to useful purposes. For many years this proved a good discipline and certainly a useful apprenticeship. My pots today retain, in some cases, vestiges of that training. Many are containing shapes and the forms are often closed off with lids. But I simply make pots that please me and hopefully they will be enjoyed by others.They are pots that are derived from a number of factors, the clay itself, the firing, other pots from other ages; these factors have over the years of work been gradually assimilated and become unconscious. It seems best for me just to make the pots that please me and allow them to change and evolve from one to another as they will.

New work comes from a detached observation of my own work. Very small things, small changes over much time. The gradual understanding of shape, of materials and the fire. I make a glaze and it suggests the pot, conversely, I make a pot and it demands the glaze.Varieties of clay suggest the pot, and pots demand particular clays. The kiln and the firing change all and suggest further combinations. I watch what happens on the wheel as I make a number of similar pots. Slight things happen which suggest easier ways, slightly different answers and eventually quite new pots. Slowly, slowly watch and wait. Like the growth of a tree it is a slow process.

When I need something from outside myself I beg borrow and steal it, but only just what I need at that moment. I rely on forgetting everything that is superfluous. I avoid teaching so that I don't have to analyse my own processes. All knowledge and technique acquired over the years recede into an unconscious mind. My preoccupation is always with the next pots.

The best ideas for me come from pots and long bouts of continuous work. I find continuity of thought about the pots that I'm making day to day to be the time that is most fruitful. Occasionally when all the thought about the process, the technical knowledge merge and become one, then days later you might get from the kiln one or two pots that stand as it were 'on their own legs' detached and quite apart.

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