Japanese Influence On Potter’s Work
By Tom Esplin
There seems to be a good deal of culture-swopping going on across the Pacific. We exchange our rugby, lamb and logs with Japan for their Ikebana, Bonsai and pottery, or so it seems, judging by the exhibition now at the Connoisseur Gallery, George Street.
Comprising 162 items, this exhibition is the work of Bruce and Estelle Martin, each working in their own style. This married team of potters have not been to Japan, but they became so interested in Japanese art that when they established the Kamaka Pottery four years ago in Hastings and graduated from amateur to professional status, there was a heavy leaning on Japanese traditional shapes and glazes.
This is especially true of the slab work of Bruce Martin, but unfortunately the authenticity of Japanese brushwork is hard to find as yet, and a good sense of design is not very obvious in some of the twisted slab work. It is in the more simple shape that the promise of his work lies. This could be said of the flat dishes and Bonsai pieces.
If one can disregard the aesthetic element, the technical standard of his work is very high and this professional competence can also be seen in the fine throwing of Estelle Martin, whose thin-walled pieces are a delight to handle. The Japanese influence in her work is not so overpowering. There are shades of Bernard Leach, but a strength and sense of form is present in much of what she produces.
Professional potters face an unenviable dilemma, for they are in business to make a living and sell pottery. To reach a wide public this often means catering for a taste that is seldom discerning.
The rapid growth of the pottery movement in New Zealand is really quite astonishing. Much of the output is in the nature of therapy, but the real future of New Zealand pottery and the impact it will make beyond these shores lies literally in the hands of the professionals.
Kamaka is Maori for stone, for the Maoris have no word to describe pottery. New Zealand has never had a pottery tradition and so our borrowings over the last 30 years have come from English and Japanese pottery traditions – a fact that this exhibition only underlines.