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Constancy Peter Wilson and the work of art.

IN 2006 I WROTE A CATALOGUE ESSAY FOR PETER WILSON'S exhibition, 30 Years On. Held al the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, the exhibition was a celebration of 30 years of Wilson's practice as a fine arts potter. This task afforded me a wonderful opportunity to see the progression and development of Wilson's dedication and excitement in his work over an extended period. Looking at that catalogue in 2012 alongside his most recent exhibition at Kerrie Lowe Gallery in Sydney, I am again moved by the intensity, the joy and the commitment to discovery through process that characterise his oeuvre.

The achievement of perfection through repetition is at the core of Wilson's work ethic. Passion in this context is not an intense, physical, fleeting expression but rather an ongoing symbiosis between the artist, the materials and the processes of his creation. Of a firing of 90 pieces, 60 might be rejected but, in that rejection, each piece is carefully notated; comments on glaze composition, form, colour, perceived imperfections, are kept and filed for future reference. He confesses that his studio is often more like a laboratory, where science is not an intrusion but a welcome collaborator. The products of this collaboration, however, need both the precision of scientific method and the tactility and poetry of the finely wrought to satisfy, indeed to survive the interrogation of a master maker.

As in scientific endeavour, risk taking is important for Wilson, both in uncovering new technical possibilities and effects, and in recognising and developing the particular nuances that distinguish the surface narrative of one place, one texture, one landscape from another. At the same time, the most carefully measured ingredients of a glaze or the precision of clay preparation, ultimately have to be consigned to the flames, the X factor, in order to become the object. Discovering which newly formulated glazes like to be held at heat and for how long; learning when and by how much to reduce, is a perilous path. The fruits of this rigorous, often precarious method are enjoyed in a series of often quite disparate pieces in Wilson's latest collection.

From an earlier fascination with geology, to a preoccupation with the landscapes of Gippsland, Mudgee, Lithgow and Bathurst, the natural world has provided Wilson with an abiding inspiration. Residencies and travel in the intervening years have broadened the scope of his engagement to include the landscapes of Canada and Spain providing a new palette of textures, colours and motifs. The blinding whiteness of a Canadian winter is captured in a pristine blue/white orb while shallow white vessels with turquoise interiors evoke holes cut in a frozen lake. The deep brown fruitiness of baked Catalonian earth; the bloom of a black plum; metallic slivers of glaze suggesting ragged leaves of ancient olive trees all combine in the surface of a generous bowl. The interior glazed surface of another glossy black bowl is finely flecked with gold dust. This elegant piece exudes Spain.

Other concerns revisited, refined and re-imagined in this collection include the occasional departure from the shining, peerless, perfect form. Though rare, when this controlled detour appears, it invites several responses. A deep, rather solid dish form receives an ever so slight disfiguring of its rim, just enough to salute the Japanese tradition of beauty through imperfection. The petite, triangular feet of the dish are largely hidden under the form so that the vessel seems to float in defiance of its simplistic, grounding in the everyday. These heavier, chunkier forms are reminiscent of those produced in collaboration with the painter John Olsen between 1991 and 1997, yet they carry their delicate crystalline surfaces confidently.

A further group within the collection features a variety of large, lipped platters or chargers, lidded tea vessels and spherical vases. The forms are beautiful, sedate and dignified. The glaze is an arresting combination of red, russet and orange finely spattered against a deep brown to black background. This group represents the most obvious aesthetic departure from the general parameters of the works on display in that the surfaces appear more controlled, more predicted, more uniform from piece to piece. Landscape elements are certainly present; the surfaces are active, explosive, evoking eruptions of fire or moulten rock. Almost liquid, shimmering orange crystals spread over the deepest chocolate field while shifting patinas of purple settle around rims and edges. The glaze is Wilson's own variation on an iron red subjected to "a full cone 11" (Peter Wilson 2012) and a slow cool to enhance the size of the crystals. These pieces again illustrate the symbiotic nature of Wilson's working method, his need to be a part of the process, to tamper with the known, to poetically interject in the discourse of ceramics production and history. These works in particular support his search for tactility, for the "works that speak to your hands".

Peter Wilson fits the title fine arts potter comfortably. He is proud and grateful for an earlier life spent as a commercial potter specialising in utilitarian wares, where repetition was central and critical to the development of forms that were simultaneously beautiful and useful. His elegance and lightness of touch are the rewards of years spent developing an eye for balance, a sensitivity to form, weight, tension and proportion, honing his dedication to his calling. Today, as always, he is both worshipful of tradition while searching for the unique marriage of form and decoration, of tactility and metaphor, of harmony and mystery, the work of art, which when it comes to life, dictates the terms of its own creation. (Lloyd Rees, 1981). His constancy is his defining grace in this forever incomplete journey.

Much like the mystery of the processes of the ceramic arts, each pot contains its own narrative written in a language complex and rich in descriptive form. There is an immense pleasure in the 'eureka' of discovery and for the maker that is its own reward and value. (Radcliffe, 2000 on Wilson's 2000 exhibition).


Lloyd Rees, 1981.

Peter Wilson, 2012. In conversation with Marilyn Walters.

Radcliffe, D. "Peter Wilson's Ceramics", Craft Arts 52, no. 2001.

Marilyn Walters, Sydney, 2012.

Article by Dr Marilyn Walters

Dr Marilyn Walters is an artist and writer and former lecturer in Contemporary Arts at the University of Western Sydney.

All photos by Paul Symon, Sydney.
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Author:Walters, Marilyn
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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