Gwyn Hanssen Pigott is undoubtedly Australia's most celebrated ceramic artist. In a career spanning six decades, Hanssen Pigott's inspiration emanated from many and varied sources. As a student in Melbourne under the tutelage of the renowned Australian potter Harold Hughan, she discovered the enduring beauty of classical Chinese forms through the Kent Collection of Chinese ceramics at the National Gallery of Victoria. Her apprenticeship at Sturt Craft Centre in the New South Wales town of Mittagong, working with Ivan McMeekin, instilled in her purist methodologies. She sourced local materials for her clay bodies and began a lifelong engagement with the capricious nature of wood-fired kilns.
In the late 1950s, Hanssen Pigott travelled to Europe, living in England and France, and coming into contact with modernist studio potters Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. However, the 1970 touring retrospective of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, that the artist saw at the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1971, was seminal, although its affect on her work was realised over a decade later.
In 1987, Hanssen Pigott exhibited her first 'grouping' of ceramic vessels, three beautifully crafted bowls, arranged in such a way as to become 'inseperable', in the artist's mind. For the following twenty-five years, the artist developed these 'groupings', which included elegantly thrown forms in stoneware and porcelain, glazed in an array of finely nuanced hues. Bowls, beakers, bottles, cups and teapots – all inherently functional when removed from this new context – were pared back to their essential forms, then placed in careful arrays, allowing light to permeate within and between the objects. Conscious of how the eye should travel across the arrangement – the spaces between the objects allowing for contemplative 'pauses' – Hanssen Pigott sought to elicit the mood she felt was inherent in the each of the vessels.
'Trail with purple beakers', 2012, which draws upon the earthy colours ubiquitous in the functional tableware of her early career, was one of the last works Hanssen Pigott created. Many of the pieces were fired more than once, and delicate touches of gold lustre cloak minute pinholes, where wood ash fell during the firing process. The rich bronze, copper and chocolate hues, together with the contrast of opalescent matt surfaces against the lusterous sheen of gloss, and the open arrangement of forms, enables the viewer to reflect upon the mood of the individual pots, to 'absorb what they've got to say', as the artist stated (1).
(1) Gwyn Hanssen Pigott to Julie Copeland, 'Artworks', ABC Radio National, 8 February 2009
bowl, 6 beakers, 6 bottles: wood-fired porcelaneous stoneware
27.0 x 120.0 x 16.0 cm overall
Signature & date
Stamped with potter's roundel mark on base of part d, part f, part h, part j and part l. Not dated.
Mollie Douglas Bequest Fund 2017
Not on display
© The Family of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott
Shown in 1 exhibition
An Idea Needing to be Made: Contemporary Ceramics, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 27 Jul 2019–20 Oct 2019