If you are in Melbourne any time between now and Nov 10, and you like things made of clay, then it is almost obligatory that you visit Heidi to see Stephen Benwell's Beauty, Anarchy, Desire - A Retrospective. Even on the slim chance this work is not your cup of tea there is no denying it is substantial and worthy of experiencing.
I have talked about Stephen Benwell's work before, on this blog. I am a fan. So seeing his work in this context and on this scale was special.
Owl Form, lidded container, 1982, stoneware
Representing a career in ceramics that spans over forty years and presenting his works in a chronological manner, you can't help but notice the changes in ceramic materials with the passage of time - from the earthy tones of 70's stonewares and stains, through the more vibrant earthernware years to Benwell's current use of porcelain and high fired colourants. His ideas and self expression have develop alongside and with developments in ceramic materials.
Bowl, 1987, stoneware
There is a beautiful publication to accompany the exhibition and comprehensive text displayed on the gallery walls so I wont go into the hows and wherefores of Stephen's work. But I enjoyed my time in the space so much that I wanted to visually share a few moments and reflect on the subtle, nuanced way Stephen manipulates clay and also paints.
Stephen uses ceramic underglazes like a water-colourist but... well better.. because he marries his imagery to his three dimensional canvas. They are mutually dependent - the pot is so much better with the images, the images so much better on the pot. Even on his flatware there is compulsive finger impressions.
In Arcadia, 2005, eartenware
His work seems so personal, there is no sense of sermonising, more didacticism in its truest form and an individual narrative formed from quiet observation. There are beautiful, humourous moments and on the odd occasion it looks a little like he is taking the piss. But more than anything on display there is an understated intelligence and poignancy that speaks louder to me than any words ever could.
And I stand by my observations of three years ago... Benwell's faces are amazing.
This is an inspiring retrospective of a well deserving artist.