Stepping Up: Profile on ceramicist Margaret Brown. By Wendy Johnson
Black lines working their way mysteriously through southern ice clay. It’s Margaret Brown’s signature look and not an easy one to achieve.
Margaret is a top-notch ceramist who works from her studio in the quiet surrounds of the Bega Valley, New South Wales. These days life isn’t all peace and quiet, however. Margaret is getting ready to participate in two exhibitions being held as part of the prestigious Australian Ceramics Triennale, named Stepping Up in 2015, coming to Canberra this week (9 to 11 July). She’ll also be participating in the free one-day Market Day being held for the public at the National Gallery of Australia on 12 July (11am to 4pm). And she’s just placed some of her beautiful work in Agency, the new store that has opened by Craft ACT: Design and Craft Centre in the Ori Building, Braddon. Phew …
Porcelain is Margaret’s preferred medium. She’s drawn to it for its pureness and translucency.
Having created and wholesaled domestic pottery for 20 years, Margaret took a short break and then completed a Diploma in Visual Arts (Ceramics) at the Australian National University, focusing on porcelain. “My whole outlook changed when I went to university,” says the artist, who received a Technical Award upon completion of her course. Today Margaret creates domestic forms that are part of daily living, like mugs and beakers, but beautiful, unique pieces that combine function with quality craftsmanship and design.
The black lines that make their way through her pieces—each one entirely individual—are about capturing movement within a space, says Margaret. “No two pieces are the same,” says this high-end ceramicist. “While I have control over the shape of the piece I don’t have complete control over where the black line travels. It’s about letting go a little bit to see what happens. It’s like watching bugs in the sky dash around. Where will they go?”
But don’t be fooled. The technique Margaret uses has taken time to master and it requires a great deal of skill. “I put a slice of black clay into the white clay before throwing each piece. I have to throw very quickly on the wheel so I only get one or two lines,” says Margaret. “They don’t all work out. I’m not so keen on multiple lines … these pieces tend to go back in the bucket.” The process is based on an old Japanese method called Neriage which roughly translates into ‘to knead’ or ‘to mix’. The colour is diffused on the inside and outside of each piece and the lines capture the movement of clouds as they drift by.
Margaret also creates lamps out of translucent porcelain, which are slow but relaxing and rewarding to produce she says. The hand carving of one lamp can take up to 12 hours. “These lamps can’t be slip cast like commercial products can,” she says. “I sit and hand-carve them so each one is unique. I carve possums, frogs, kookaburras, horses, Australian nature—the things I see in my everyday life.”
Since 2002, Margaret has held several exhibitions in Canberra and NSW. As part of Stepping Up, she is participating in two of the 35 free public exhibitions that will be held across the city. Her work features in Belonging: embodied commentaries inspired by place, which is on now and will carry through to 11 July at the ANU School of Art Foyer Gallery. This is a must-see exhibition of the works of more than 150 members of the Australian Ceramics Association.
Margaret’s work will also be in Stomping Ground, which features the work of Craft ACT-accredited professional members. The title refers to frequented or favourite locations and references between the ground and each artist’s chosen medium of clay. Other ceramicists participating in this exhibition are Avi Amesbury, Sarit Cohen, Linda Davy, Cathy Franzi, Bev Hogg, Ian Jones, Anita McIntyre and Gail Nichols. It’s on now at the ACT Legislative Assembly and will close 15 July.
At the Market Place, Margaret will have on hand her black and white creations. This is a unique chance for Canberrans to talk to, and buy from, 30 ceramists, including several who have never shown in Canberra before.
For a complete list of free public exhibitions being held during Stepping Up—with some underway now and some extending into August—and a list of the ceramicists who will be at the one-day-only Market Place visit the Australian Ceramic Triennale website.
The Australian Ceramics Triennale starts this week.
Credits—Artist: Margaret Brown, Images: Andrew Trousdell