We bought this two-piece sculpture by Maxine Price, from the Q Exhibition Space in Queanbeyan, NSW, in June last year. It is 47 cm high and sits nicely against the wall on the gallery counter, where it attracts a lot of comment. The abstract nature of the forms and the pastel colours remind visitors of Chagall or Picasso.The apparent closeness of the couple – two parts of one whole – is belied by their pensive outward-looking gazes. The man’s hand above the woman’s shoulder is at once familiar and possessive, and she seems to shrink away from it.The title of the work – ‘Morning song’ – seems ironic in this context.
On the weekend, while doing some research on another potter, I reread Contemporary Australian Figurative Ceramics. This is a book published in 1988 by Virginia Hollister and Kathrin McMiles to coincide with an exhibition held during Ceramics 88, the 5th National Ceramics Conference. This made me think hard about the place of figurative ceramics in our collection. The thing about Morning Song is that, while large, it is still sufficiently small to display well in a domestic setting. While expressive and thought-provoking, its exploration of social and cultural themes is subtle and non-confronting.
In the Figurative Ceramics book, all of the illustrated pieces are over half a metre tall, and some much larger. Although I would love to see Rebecca Chapman’s 2.4 metre high building block woman in a gallery space, I cannot imagine it as a permanent feature in our living room or garden. Similarly, when we went to see the White Heat exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum during the Ceramics Triennale in 2009, we had a wonderful and stimulating gallery experience, but would not have been able to house many of the pieces on display.
Hopefully, these larger-scale works are being bought by galleries or for public spaces, where we can be challenged by them from time to time. In the meantime, we have been continuing to build our collection of figurative ceramics with works of a more domestic size, and now have examples by Janet Beckhouse-Korakis, Jenny Orchard, Fleur Schell, and Amanda Shelsher.