Jenny Orchard

Figurative ceramics

Maxine Price. Morning song. 2010

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.

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Known potter #39: Jenny Orchard

Jenny Orchard. Zigzag vase c.1985

This 25 cm high vase was made by Jenny Orchard in the mid 1980s. It is one of nine pieces that we bought at an estate auction in May this year.  They were covered in dust after years of storage, and some are ‘as found’, but they have all come up well in the wash and now add colour and pizazz to this season’s exhibition.

This piece plays with the vase form, affectionately mocking an era where women had the time to decorate a house with flowers, but also making such rituals fun. Its architectural shape rises from a  flat base in a combination of curves and angles, with a strong forward motion.  Slipcast, and glossily white, it could be a blank intended for decoration. The decals seem casually chosen and placed, until one notices the juxtaposition of stock bird images with line drawings of monsters and cubist female forms.

Jenny Orchard was born in Turkey in 1951, grew up in Zimbabwe, and spent time in London, before emigrating to Australia in 1975.  She obtained a degree from the University of NSW College of Fine Arts in 1979 and has held a range of higher education teaching positions in Sydney.  In 2006, she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts.

When searching for a critical approach to Orchard’s work, I found most useful Janet Mansfield’s Contemporary Ceramic Art in Australia and New Zealand (Craftsman House, 1995, pp. 130-33). Here Orchard herself is quoted as saying that “two fundamentally absorbing issues, culture and gender, inhabit my clay in a primordial and emphatic way”. Peter Timms says: “Jenny Orchard plays games with functionalism and non-functionalism”. Moira Corby says: “Whether functional or sculptural, Orchard’s eccentric pieces always jolt the viewer to reconsider preconceptions about the use of form, colour and pattern in the context of an object to be looked at”.

Jenny Orchard. Wall vase

This is certainly true of the piece we have decided to add to our permanent collection: this tiny and quite delicate pocket vase which, unnoticed while on the wall, has half-transmorphed into a surrealistic and not entirely beneficial organic female form.

Gearing up for season 2

Featured potters - Season 2

The sign goes out on the road again for our second season on Friday 3 September. Behind the scenes we have been hard at work during our winter break, packing away the old display and preparing the new exhibition.

This season in the main gallery we will be featuring the work of Victor Greenaway from his early days at Ian Sprague’s Mungeribar Pottery to the present day.  We have also put together displays of works by Les Blakebrough  and  Jenny Orchard, including a number of new acquisitions.   Rather than packing away last year’s featured potter, Christopher Sanders, we have moved the display to the downstairs foyer and added more pieces from the collection.

Illustrated in the picture above are Jenny Orchard: vase 1997, Christopher Sanders: bottle c.1981,Victor Greenaway: bottle 1970, Les Blakebrough: charger, 1984.

Contemporary Australiana

June Arnold. Multi-necked vase

June Arnold. Multi-necked vase

On 1-2 October this year Leonard Joel auctioned 1,000 items from Marvin Hurnall’s collection in a marathon two-day event. Hurnall is a well-known collector and dealer in Australiana based in Melbourne. This article in the Australian dated 19 September explains the background to the sale.

The auction included quantities of work by all the usual suspects, including Grace Seccombe, William Ricketts , Melrose and Remued. We weren’t able to go but I trawled through the catalogue looking for things of interest. This provided a fascinating insight into what might be considered contemporary Australiana and I have been meaning for some time to write up the results.

As expected, the Leach/Hamada tradition was not very well represented. There were just a few Harold Hughan pieces and a John Gilbert platter. While the work of master potters like Hughan may be included in Australiana auctions it would be hard to argue that they have a distinctly Australian style. By contrast there were numerous post-war works by David and Hermia Boyd, Klytie Pate and Carl Cooper, all potters seen as quintessentially Australian.

Decoration was a feature of most of the more recent pieces in the auction. The standout for us was a very large (56 cm diameter) charger by Stephen Bowers painted using polychrome underglaze colours with sulphur crested cockatoos (lot 786). This sold for a hammer price of $3,250. Bowers was a trainee at the Jam Factory in Adelaide in 1982 and is now its managing director. In his work he combines Australian motifs with allusions to earlier ceramic traditions.

There were also three pieces made in 1989 by Barbara Swarbrick, a potter based in Thornbury, Victoria, who decorates functional forms with richly coloured and dramatic images of Australian birds and foliage. Of these we liked best lot 186, a deep, wide-rimmed pedestal bowl with inside and outside surfaces completely covered in decoration.

The bird theme was continued in a terracotta vase dated around 1995 by the Hermannsburg potter Judith Inkamala (lot 788). This not only has birds painted on the surface of the pot but the lid is moulded in the form of two yellow and green parrots.

The Works by Bowers, Swarbrick and Inkamala can be firmly classed as Australiana because of their Australian subjects but there were also works in the auction by Deborah Halpern and Jenny Orchard that might be seen as exemplifying an Australian style. Both of these artists use clay as a sculptural medium, decorate their surfaces in bold, brash colours and use figurative motifs in their work.

Halpern is a Melbourne artist and daughter of the potters Artur and Sylvia Halpern. Her signature big face was seen in both the lots in the auction (571 and 953). Orchard is a Sydney artist born in Turkey and bought up in Zimbabwe. She creates highly idiosyncratic and quirky slip-cast functional forms and figural sculptures. Both streams of her work were represented at the auction. Lot 234 was a narrow cylindrical vase and lots 249 and 951 were both animal-like figures assembled in a haphazard way, like a child’s toy, from a variety of separately moulded pieces.

Three other Melburne artists using clay as a sculptural medium were represented in the auction. Lot 511 was a large, colourful and humorous coil-built figure of a camel and circus acrobat by Paula Frost, who trained as a fashion designer. There were four ceramic pieces by Greg Irvine, a painter who also creates expressionist human figures out of clay. Of these, we liked best lot 840, a male ballet dancer, with an attenuated form and a face like an ancient bronze mask. Lastly, there were a number of pieces by June Arnold, a sculptor in both clay and bronze who is best-known for the dolphin fountain in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, made in 1982.

In summary, it seems that Australian motifs, painterly decoration incorporating strong colour and figural motifs, quirky ceramic forms and figural sculpture are all characteristics of contemporary ceramics that would attract the eye of an Australiana collector.

It is hard with an auction like this to know what to bid on, particularly if you can’t be present, but we did in the end place four absentee bids. Of these only one was successful and we are now the slightly-bemused owners of the large (44 cm high) multi-necked June Arnold vase (lot 797) illustrated at the head of this entry.