My (winning) sculpture In Wallace Arts Foundation 2017
As always my mind was too busy and excited to stay still for a minute, when thinking about Fire & Clay 2017, the Auckland Studio Potters annual exhibition. It’s a pottery & ceramics annual extravaganza, which was held recently at Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre in Hillsborough, a green leafy suburb of Auckland.
Thinking back to when I started potting again... I did throwing-on-the-potters-wheel before my stroke, in London. Those were the days. A friend, Meiling, had a wheel at home in her back garden shed. She and I used to go for evening classes for pottery.
I was a computer analyst programmer back then, when Murray and I did our extended OE in Europe.
London June 1995, just back from a holiday in Turkey and without warning, I had a brain haemorrhage-stroke - AVM... Arterio Venous Malformation... huh? How did that happen?
Friends coming back from holidays sometimes arrived at a London airport with broken limbs, arms, legs... from skiing mishaps, or mountain climbing left turns etc.
All we did were relaxing day-trips on boats, or visiting cultural sites like Pamukkale Terraces. Pamukkale looks a bit like snow fields but it’s actually limestone deposited from flowing mineral-rich water, and is also known as Cotton Castles.
Also a bit of climbing over amphitheatre ruins at Ephesus....
Cerebral AVMs are rare. 1 in 10 people whose first symptom is excessive brain bleeding will die. The prognosis wasn't hopeful. In 1995 after my stroke, my hopes and dreams were shattered: I couldn't walk, talk, read, write, or remember. I dribbled as I couldn't feel the right side of my body of because of the paralysis, and confined to a wheelchair.
The AVM tangle of arteries and veins was there since birth, so I've had to Relearn life at 34 years of age when the stroke occurred.
When we eventually returned to Auckland in 2011, a clay modelling, sculpting, carving Tool Set was a gift to me by Janet Jagers, from Wellington – the London connection. I was invited to join Meiling Lee-Sang (also a London link) and the group of friends for a once-a-week pottery session, at Margaret Bray's studio, on the outskirts of Auckland. It was more like a girl's tete-a-tete, a get-together; luscious morning teas, and the pottery was thrown in, for good measure.
Meiling drove all the way to and back from pottery sessions; fond but distant memories. Margaret organised a day-outing sometime later, when I met the renowned Barry Brickell, now sadly passed on .. and Peter Lange, at Auckland Studio Potters. The event was for Throwing Without Water. Barry Brickell, the founder of Driving Creek Railway in Coromandel which is an amazing place; was an artist, conservationist, writer and visionary. ...
Fast forward to the present. The day was sultry and clammy, as it drew near the hour, on the Opening Night at Pah Homestead for Fire and Clay exhibition 2017, which was to run from 14 November until 10 December. The opening night struck on a weekday rather than Friday or the weekend, so we had plenty of time to spare, as we arrived at Pah Homestead and parked.
Renton Murray, another legend from ASP, pulled up as we parked. He had given me pointers on all sorts of ideas I struggled with terminology and how to do things when I first started at Auckland Studio Potters. He waved a cheery greeting and hurried up the driveway.
PAH Homestead – a gracious, prestigious address, it sits resplendent in the setting sun. It brought back memories of Penang, Malaysia, where I grew up. Visions of magnificent mansions on the millionaire's row of Northam Road, a European enclave in Penang's early days, with grand stately homes best described as unabashed exhibits of wealth, according to some sources. Now nearly all sadly replaced by banks, commercial buildings or facades of indoor-outdoor local hawker food complexes, only a few were left, perhaps faded glory of what they once were – that's way of the world now.
Pah Homestead on the other hand, was warm and welcoming. A wonderful setting to showcase and award the outstanding pottery and ceramics of Auckland Studio Potters members. On entering Pah Homestead, the first person we see is none other than Peter Lange, well-known ceramic artist, specialising in work with clay, bricks and fire, making pots, firing strange kilns and building brick structures.
During that interesting day after Barry Brickell's demo. of Waterless Throwing at ASP (2011), I asked Barry's opinion on the question which had long been bothering me: “Can someone throw pots, with only one usable hand, on a potters wheel?''. Quick as a whip, Peter Lange's reply was fortuitous, ''Of course you can, I could show you ….''. And he did it superbly. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was game to try - Peter tutored me for a term, later. I'm a one-handed potter now, though I prefer creating sculptures and hand-building functional pieces.
Murray and I went upstairs to view the Fire & Clay exhibits. My! It was a well-presented display of Art and artistry. Congratulations to the show designer. Peter was with another guest of the evening but kindly consented to have his photo taken with me and my exhibit; Globally Challenged: Last Clam Standing. It was the first sculpture you encountered as you ascended the stairs from the ground floor - 50 as finalists were selected from 121 pieces, my sculptural piece looked the part.
There were many interesting pieces on display. How did the potter or ceramic artists do this... or that, when we viewed the tapering body, undulating sweep of the artwork?
One large electric blue bowl stood out; others works were quirky takes on life.
Another one was smooth, sinuously lean, like a piece of driftwood, but with a curvaceous silhouette - was actually a teapot, with an inky black charcoal body.
We drifted downstairs and the speeches began. Sir James Wallace was there to say a few words. Suzy Dunser was preparing to speak as the President of ASP. The selector this year was Mary-Louise Browne, current Gallery Manager of Two Rooms Gallery in Grey Lynn. I later had a photo taken with her. Awards were given out. Trien Steverlynck was a surprised receiver of a flower bouquet. I took a hurried photo of Nadine Spalter, the Co-Director of ASP. There was ample food and drink; ambiance was great – delightful evening, though I missed seeing Margaret Bray – she was the one who introduced me to ASP who also did kiln-firings for me for some years.
On a later date, Murray and I went back to Pah Homestead to make a walking-video at the Fire & Clay exhibition. The video will be available to view, part of my DIY Stroke Rehab videos NZ, later in 2018. As we reached the top of the grand staircase and saw my piece... I did a double-take... ohhh-hh, the ''red'' dot, usually meant that I've sold my piece - really? As we got caught up with speaking to a few people for quite some time, we left Pah Homestead without enquiring who bought the piece; hurried to make the next appointment.
A few days ago, I learnt that The James Wallace Arts Trust had acquired my piece; Globally Challenged: Last Clam Standing, on display at this exhibition, and it is now in his collection. Really chuffed. I only re-started pottery and sculpture when we returned to NZ in 2011, and one-handedly at that. It is a pleasure and privilege to have caught The James Wallace Arts Trust's attention, for his collection.
Gosh..!- I'd set goals (subconsciously) in that every piece of artwork I do each year, they should have more complexity, dexterity, or require more difficult handling of bigger sculptures than that of the previous year. Only being able to use one hand in creating ceramic art is challenging, in that the mechanics of how to make larger and more difficult pieces takes a lot more thought, planning and execution.
Being one-handed and my piece being selected for a prestigious art collection is epic – I’m still pinching myself, that the piece is in the Arts Trusts' collection for perpetuity. Compared to others with a well trodden track record, it was a lightning bolt – in a great, fantastic way.
Onwards and upwards... Thanks to all who have supported me throughout my (ongoing) journey of Relearning life. Murray, with the patience of a saint, who drives me to Botpots when kiln-firing is required and also Botpots for clays, glazes, etc.
Plenty more to come... If you believe you can, you're already halfway there.