Hugging the picturesque, Sydney Harbour shoreline just a short ferry ride from Circular Quay sits the purpose- built, 1930 Manly Art Gallery and Museum (MAG&M) which holds the distinction of being the first metropolitan regional- based gallery in New South Wales (NSW). The permanent collection numbers over 6000 works in a range of media including paintings, works on paper, museum objects documents and photographs. One of its key collections is an extensive collection of Australian ceramics comprising over 400 works. These works were purchased or donated over the past decade and chart the historical foundations of Australian ceramics whilst also reflecting the nuances and shifts in contemporary ceramics practice focussing on some of the most important ceramicists working in Australia today.
Of particular interest to ceramic enthusiasts are the works of some significant, Asian- born potters who came to Australia to live and work. The impact of Australia on their work and their influence of Asian ceramic traditions upon Australian artists reflect a long- standing interchange between Asia and Australia particularly after World War 11.
One such artist is Hiroe Swen (born 1934, Kyoto, Japan) who began her 5+ year apprenticeship in 1957 at the Kyoto Crafts Institute when female potters were very rare. She arrived in Australia in 1968 and is one of Australia’s foremost ceramic artists. Today, she is regarded as a National Living Treasure.Her coil-built vessels combine Japanese aesthetics with those she says are the timelessness of the ‘Australian condition’. Her artwork gives a simple feeling of kokorozukai or ‘consideration for others’. Swen’s pottery is functional such as daily dishes, containers or flower vases for tea ceremonies. She continues to practise every day in her studio at Queenbeyan near Canberra. Through decades of teaching and mentoring, she has imparted much of her approach and philosophy to her students.
Influential, Japanese artist Shiga Shigeo (1928-2011) is also featured in the collection. He was trained at the Kyoto Ceramics Institute, arriving in Australia in 1966 at the invitation of famed potter, Les Blakeborough (1930-) to work at Sturt Gallery in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands of NSW. He ended up staying 13 years. Shigeo experimented with the local, ‘unknown’ clays and minerals, much impressed by the pale yellows and blues of the Australian landscape. He eventually set up his studio in Terrey Hills, Sydney. Shigeo, regarded as a master of glazing, also generously shared his original glazing techniques with his National Art School and Newcastle students over the 1970s and 1980s.
A third important Japanese ceramicist included in the collection is Mitsuo Shoji, who was born in Osaka in 1946 but has lived in Sydney for over 40 years. A good friend of the legendary ‘father of Australian ceramics’ Peter Rushforth (1920-2015), Shoji loves the red clays here and worked in different styles and series. He has also had a longstanding teaching career.
Finally, look out for works by Chinese -born, Guan Wei (1957-) who is regarded as a major figure in both Australian and contemporary Chinese art. He moved to Australia in 1989 but has now returned to Beijing. He says he feels divided between two worlds. His sculptures, paintings and potted works possess a distinctive style and personal language and symbolism.
Chinese, chinoiserie and indigenous motifs as seen on a large, underglaze blue and white vase, Blue Like Sky II, which is decorated with Chinese cranes, clouds, indigenous figures in a canoe and a leaping kangaroo is one example of this syncretism.
(The permanent collection is being uploaded online.)
Margaret White, Katherine Roberts, Senior Curator, Manly Art Gallery & Museum