City Gallery City Gallery

Past exhibition

John Parker: Ceramics

12 October–1 December 2002

PUBLICATION publisher David Bateman; essays Jim Barr and Mary Barr, Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins, Janet Mansfield, John Parker

John Parker: Ceramics surveys the thirty-five-year career of one of New Zealand’s leading ceramicists. It features 350 pieces—including 150 new ones. Parker’s latest White Ware works are displayed in a theatrical installation that showcases his skills as a lighting, exhibition, and theatre designer.

Parker begins his ceramics career as a university student, taking night classes with Margaret Milne, and spending time with Barry Brickell and Graeme Storm. In the early 1970s, he studies at London’s Royal College of Art, which offers a pottery training—different to courses available in New Zealand, Australia, or elsewhere in the UK at the time—based on the Bauhaus principles. Parker is exposed to new techniques: ‘[I] discovered commercial stains, industrial techniques, started working with porcelain, using an electric wheel and firing with electricity. I’ve always been interested in starkness and the purity of form and control and in black and white … Firing with electricity at college now gave me the control.’

Parker is influenced by two European artists based in London, his friend and mentor Lucie Rie and his teacher Hans Coper. Rejecting ornamentation, preferring intellectual discipline, refined shapes, and precise technique, Rie and Coper foster a new austerity in ceramics. Parker says: ‘I identified immediately with Lucie Rie’s work, her interest in pure form and simplicity, her design flair and attention to detail and finish. She includes nothing unnecessary in her pots.’

Parker’s simple forms contrast with contemporary New Zealand ceramics, which largely operates in the Anglo-Oriental style inspired by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. In New Zealand Potter, Margaret Harris reports: ‘Parker’s pottery bears no resemblance to the characteristic grey-brown pottery that blends into the landscape’.

In her catalogue essay, Margaret Mansfield notes, ‘The crisp profiles, the rational geometry of the segments of the pieces do not call for any functional use and Parker has mentioned in statements about his work that he likes to play with … "anti-function". He makes bowls which are difficult to use because of obstacles in the way and bottles which would be difficult to fill with any liquid but which still are bottles.’ This, Parker declares, is a situation where ‘form foils function’.

In 1980, Auckland’s Denis Cohn Gallery presents the Five x Five exhibition, showcasing five ‘outcasts from the ceramic community’. Including works from Parker’s Penetration series, the show exposes Parker’s work to a contemporary-art audience that has long stopped visiting studio-pottery shows. The positive reception of his work encourages Parker to make more conceptual pieces and to undertake collaborative projects with sculptor Terry Stringer and architect Simon Carnachan.

In 1996, Parker decides to limit his palette to white, refining his procedures and opening up a gamut of technical and formal challenges. Parker says his title White Ware plays on ‘the collective term for refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines’. The work also nods to the 1930s New Zealand architect and designer Keith Murray, who designed a distinctive creamy white hand-thrown and lathe-turned range for Wedgwood and who trained Ernest Shufflebotham, who would design for Crown Lynn.

In the catalogue, Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins notes: ‘Having done much to disestablish the influence of imported traditions of ceramics in New Zealand, with his White Wares Parker comes closer than perhaps any potter to creating new and distinctive tradition of urban ceramics.’