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Stories of life fired into pottery

After a covid-induced hiatus, King Street Artworks’ [KSA] gallery space is once again hosting solo and joint exhibitions – starting with a collection that would not be out of place “at any major art gallery” overseas.

“Quite a lot more…”, featuring work from experienced potters Linda Thornton and Jacqui Clarke, opened at the King Street Art Gallery last Saturday morning, with a crowd of friends, whānau and KSA artists in attendance.

The exhibition is the culmination of a year’s work for the two artists: Showcasing a range of functional and decorative pieces – vessels, busts, jewellery, wall hangings and eye-catching ornamental fruit – in understated yet striking colour palettes.

KSA is a free, open-door creative space where, supported by a team of tutors, artists of all abilities can experiment with a range of artistic mediums. It has an active ceramics studio where Thornton and Clark met 10 years ago.

KSA has now, after having paused them due to the pandemic, reinstated its regular exhibitions at the King Street Art Gallery, allowing artists to display and sell their work.

At the opening for “Quite a lot more…”, studio coordinator Ian Chapman praised Thornton and Clark for “providing us with work of an exceptional standard”.

“Linda and Jacqui’s art could easily be on display in any major art gallery around the world,” he said.

“This is the first solo or semi-solo show we’ve had in a few years, and it’s great to kick off with work of such high quality.”

Clark said the exhibition’s title is a tribute to the communal nature of KSA and the inspiration gained from their fellow artists over the years.

“We felt like the pieces in this exhibition work together as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said.

“It reflects the experience of creating work in a shared space. You learn so much from the other artists – you’re always absorbing different ideas, different styles, different types of creativity.

“Each of my pieces carries all the people I’ve met at King Street – the conversations, the friendships, the lessons they’ve passed on. It’s a tapestry of my time here.”

Although Thornton and Clark have shown individual pieces at Aratoi, in both KSA’s annual exhibition and the Wairarapa Art Review, this is the first full collection they have exhibited.

Thornton was previously a profilic silversmith, specialising in jewellery making – but found she needed a new direction, as concentrating on detailed and intricate pieces was triggering headaches.

Her friend and neighbour invited her to KSA, where she decided to try ceramics, “something [she] had always wanted to do”.

“I loved that it was such a relaxed, non-competitive environment. It was nothing like taking art classes, where you’re under pressure to produce a result.

“You just sit there, fiddle around with a piece of clay, and see how it evolves. And, after all the tiny jewellery I made, it was really rewarding to make something big.”

Thornton’s exhibition pieces are mostly sculpted in black clay, which she enjoys for the depth it produces – “especially when touched with gold”.

“Black clay has a real glow to it, it’s tactile, and all the carvings show up beautifully. It makes everything look striking and different.

“Why not, for example, have a black apple and pear?”

Clark, who grew up in a “very artistic family” in South Africa, discovered KSA when her son attended the studio as a homeschooled student – and she started attending to lift her own mental health.

Her pottery is mostly inspired by the natural world – and her current body of work is heavily influenced by the eucalyptus trees on her property and the shapes found in their leaves, twigs, and bark.

“Their bark is like a skin – all the patterns, textures, pigments and scars. We all wear our story on our skin, and trees are no different.

“I also have an affinity for eucalyptus trees as they’re imported. I myself am an immigrant and am a naturalised citizen of New Zealand. Eucalyptus trees are the same.”

She and Thornton are thankful for the encouragement and support they have received from their tutors and the wider KSA community, allowing them to hone their skills and grow in confidence.

Both believe ceramics has taught them patience – as clay can, at times, be notoriously difficult to work with.

“Anything can go wrong – pieces can break in the kiln, colours can come out differently than you planned, glazes can crack. You come to expect the unexpected,” Thornton said.

“We ceramics artists are on the journey together. When something goes well, we’re all thrilled to bits. If not, we share in the misery!”

“Quite a lot more…” will be on display at the King Street Art Gallery, 16 Queen St, until March 18.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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