After completing a four week residency in Vallauris , France and returning to Australia, we at ArtChat were fortunate enough to catch up with Leading Australian Ceramist Bill Powell and discuss all things clay in preparation for his exhibition “Stretching Potential” at Red Hill Gallery.
AC: The ceramics in your current exhibition at Red Hill Gallery are stunningly different from the pieces in your last show. What inspired you to change techniques?
BP: When I first arrived in Vallauris , France I was conscience of the limits of the four weeks of the residency so I got straight into my usual crystal glazed work. The workshop and kilns there are much smaller than my own studio so I soon found that I had completed my tasks and had some spared time on my hands. I used this time and the lack of the normal daily life stresses to experiment and explore a surface texture technique I had seen once before in the US. It was all about the raw clay itself and was very different to the highly glazed surfaces that I had made a habit of. I found this creative freedom to be invigorating and so fresh and new. Since returning to Australia I have developed this further. To the point of this body of work that I am proud and excited to be showing here at Red Hill gallery
AC: What challenges did you face creating this series of pottery, and how did you overcome them?
BP: The greatest challenge has been translating this technique into our available Australian clay bodies. In this exhibition I have used six or seven separate clays from varied sources and all with their own peculiar characteristics. Gaining an understanding of each one and how to get the best out of them has been a journey of trial, error and revelation, a process that I find both enjoyable and rewarding.
AC: When you’re not creating, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
BP: Potting can be a very physical activity and places stresses on the body. I have formed a lap swimming habit that helps maintain a level of physical health and also promotes a mindfulness that I find beneficial. I also enjoy photography, travel, and writing and, when I have a chance, playing guitar. Sadly, spare time has been very rare lately.
AC: Did your time in Vallauris, France influence the way you created these vases?
BP: It was during my time in Vallauris that I first attempted this stretching and layering clay technique. I was introduced to the local dark manganese clay bodies and pure white porcelains of the local area and decided to combine the two. Interestingly the results have more to say about our Australian landscapes than any direct French reflections. So often we see what is right in our own backyard far clearer from a distance.
AC: Do you have plans to travel for your art research again?
BP: I currently have no specific plans for further research travel but I do harbour desires to visit either Japan or China or both if possible. Both countries have well developed traditions in ceramics and a history that is both alluring and intriguing. Specifically the Porcelain works of China.
AC: How long did it take you to develop your wheel throwing skills?
BP: I have been throwing on the potter’s wheel since my first encounters with clay. That was back in the late 70’s. My skills are all self taught and have been greatly improved by many decades of production throwing. In fact I still throw production two days a week, along with teaching and running workshops in my techniques.
AC: If you could invite any artist in history over for dinner, who would it be and why?
BP: There are so many. If I can only have one and I could overcome the language barrier, then I think I would like to share the time with Spanish maestro Antoni Gaudi. I admire his visual intelligence and unique designs but most of all , I would like to gain an insight into his mindset and how he was able to swim against established schools of design and confidently forge a vision that is both outstanding and awe inspiring.
AC: What do the vessels in this exhibition represent to you?
BP: I have an overall perception of this body of work as a metaphor for personal development. I have explored multiple varied clay bodies and created each piece from the inside out. With this sodium silicate technique, the outer surface is stretched to within its breaking point. The risk is that the internal pressures when forming the shape can, in fact, go too far and tear, leaving the pot unrecoverable. The final result reflects these stresses and is evident in the textured surfaces. Much like life’s personal pressures that we all bare and internalise and which form our characters from within. After all, there is very little personal growth to be achieved from the sanctuary of our comfort zone.
Bill Powell’s current collection of glazed and unglazed ceramics are on exhibition at Red Hill Gallery, 61 Musgrave Road Red Hill, Brisbane until Sunday 30 July 2017. Make sure you visit the Gallery and its amazing team.