This area is divided into the categories shown above (click on any button to navigate to the desired category). The majority of Rick's work is unmarked but the mark to the right was used between 1975 - c1980.
True to Form
This information is based on the True to Form exhibition and its accompanying catalogue. Read an introduction to the exhibition by Bill Milbank (Director), an essay by Paul Rayner describing the development of Rick's work and the Artist's statement.
The works have been grouped onto category pages accessed with the
navigation links at the top of the page: box, bottle, bowl, vessel,
figurative works and outdoor works. All dimensions are height x width x depth unless
Rick Rudd is by self definition a potter and in the 30 years he has been domiciled in New Zealand he has earned himself a significant place within ceramic art achievement in New Zealand. In retrospect, it can be seen he - along with John Parker and a few others - marked the entry into the functional ceramic scene in New Zealand of art school-trained studio potters, who put form before function. During his first decade in New Zealand Rick settled in the Auckland area and his design and hand building skills quickly impressed, with his work winning and/or being selected for successive Fletcher Challenge Awards and taking a leading role within the Auckland potters' community.
In the mid 1980s he moved to Wanganui - brining with him his pending role as president of the New Zealand Society of Potters, and quickly becoming a constructive and central figure in the ceramic and general art community for this region. Since his arrival in Wanganui the Sarjeant Gallery has shown Rick's work on a number of occasions and has, with the artist's generous support, built a useful and representative collection of his work. It is therefore most appropriate that the city celebrate his achievement, which now spans some three decades. True to Form is a survey of those decades tightly selected to effectively explore the key stepping stones, the shifts in process, and the extraordinary highlights that illuminate his path to date. The curatorial format and selection of works have been jointly worked on by both the artist and I, with Rick taking the leading role in sifting through his records of the hundreds of pieces made and securing loans of selected works. The decision to gather the work into five formal groupings of Box, Bottle, Bowl, Vessel and Figurative enabled us to provide a conceptual structure for the chronological ebb and flow to weave through. With the exception of 'the figurative' each of the three terms relate directly to the use of clay as a construction material for functional purposes and this conceptual underpinning remains central to Rick's work irrespective of style and process. Paul Rayner provides an exploration of both the conceptual issues of illusory function and Rick's evolutionary process with form in his rich and eloquent essay, "This is not a bowl." For more than five years in Wanganui, Paul had the opportunity to observe first-hand the development of Rick's work and we appreciate that he has been able to make time in his current role as art interpreter for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to contribute this informative reading of Rick's work.
Director, Sarjeant Gallery
'This is not a Bowl'
This essay focuses on some of the most distinctive qualities in Rick
Rudd's work, qualities which get people thinking "Rudd" before 'cup' or
Along the way there have been periods when Rudd's work has undergone spectacular development - most dramatically in his move away from monochromes into colour. However, there are long stretches when a quieter evolution goes on. In fact, it never stops, for while studio practice involves good deal of repetition in the pot-building process, every piece is different.
Each new work ushers in a small design modification until the latest form is as different from its ancestors as birds are from reptiles. For example, the Mobius works of the 1980s can be faintly glimpsed in patterning on a plate Rudd made in 1969. When I first saw this plate I couldn't help thinking of it as the "Lucy" in Rudd's work - the moment of genesis. With it a new "species" came into being which eventually divided into sub-species - wavy lines, spirals and Mobius twists - before being replaced by a more brightly clothed new bread in the 1990's.
At times Rudd turns to figurative work. These brief flirtations with a more classically sculptural subject depend on the right co-existence of emotional and environmental conditions. I'll focus on the three examples of this occurrence - Rudd's early interest in primates, his "show-biz' plates of 1979 and the 'trapped torso' series of the mid-eighties.
Bowl, 1969 (right), a round, flat-bottomed plate is a pivotal early work, as it's Art Nouveau-flavoured surface-pattern pre-figures Rudd's trademark wavy lines motif and hints of the later Mobius twist. By the late 1970s wavy lines undulated sensually around the equator of many of Rudd's works. Such a pattern skirts the considerable girth of the bottle form which received the 1978 Fletcher Brownbuilt Pottery Award (below left).
says the motif doesn't come directly from nature, but was more a result
of his taking a line for a walk. Yet for those of us always on the
lookout for analogies and metaphors, they bring to mind winding rivers,
stratified rock layers or rolling, hilly horizons. That people see
parallels between wavy lines and nature is understandable, especially as
the lines score their way across surfaces so evocative of earth forces,
The fact the clay has been fired adds to this association of ideas.
In 1979, Rudd's work underwent a fundamental re-invention of form - best illustrated by comparing Raku No. 51, 1979 (left-left) with Spiral Bottle, 1980 (left-right). The former is an unadorned bottle whose nakedness got Rudd wondering how it might look if its belly was squeezed into a sharpened edge that took off in different directions and never met. Some of the early spirals were so wayward they looked like lop-sided mutants, but the latter, Bottle, 1980 (left-right) is a Rudd masterpiece. The edge forming the spiral snakes up from the base, then does a 360 degree twist at the bottle's widest point before zooming up the neck on an almost vertical trajectory.
While wavy lines decorate the form, the spiral defines it - a crucial difference. The spiral was most naturally expressed using the bottle form, which Rudd describes as an enclosed vessel, without a handle and with a small apertures at its highest point. A bottle's dimensions seemed ideal for such a circuitous journeys.
After the bottles with an outer edge, Rudd made some with an inner depression. Visually these looked as they'd been turned inside out. Raku No. 595, 1983 (right) has two spirals, one forming an outer edge and the other an inner. The effect is of two distinctive forms very much coupled - one soft and voluptuous, the other hard and angular. Other bottles were even more acrobatic, incorporating up to four spirals.
The concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a Mobius strip as a one-sided surface formed by joining the ends of a rectangle after twisting one end through 180 degrees. Sometime in 1980 Rudd made a double inward spiral form that looked like a fat sausage tied in a knot. It wasn't like any other spiral he'd ever produced. The strange hybrid seemed to beg the question: what if the spiral met up with itself? The answer lay in the direction of the Mobius twists. Raku No. 300, 1982 (left) is an early example. Here, as with early spirals, its sharp edged line defines its form.
Some of the loveliest examples of Mobius twists are found on the bowl from which Rudd sees as an open vessel with its widest point at, or near, its lip. He soon discovered that Mobius twists worked extremely well on other forms too; for example, vessels, teapots, bottles and boxes. What began as a sharp-edged twist became a burnished strip, then a strip glazed white. Later, both types of strip were present and the most complex forms had a third glazed red. One such piece is Bottle, 1991 (right). It stands at the end of a remarkable era. Not only was Rudd about to abandon the Mobius twist, but raku firing as well.
For years, Rudd had used the raku technique of removing pots form the kiln red hot, then smoking them in sawdust in order to obtain that quality of all-over blackness so identified with his work. Throughout this time, he says, 'each piece was an exercise in form and line'. Early in 1993 line made way for colour.
He began by experimenting to find black, white and grey glazes of textural interest; then for crawl glazes - which crack and separate into beads, globules or plates during firing and leave fissure-like gaps. Then he started searching for a palette of primary and secondary coloured under-glazes and their crawl equivalents.
One thing to go during these experiments was the Mobius twist. On Vessel, 1993 (left), a teapot-like form, you can see a Mobius twist beneath a surface so encrusted with black, bubble glaze as to render it almost invisible.
Moving to colour found Rudd working with vessel forms rather than bottles and bowls. For him a vessel is a container with a handle, and an aperture appropriate for its function. These renegade cousins of teapots, cups and pitchers often have "drill-hole' handles, beak-like spouts and bulbous bodies. The largest are elegantly arching cones, cylindrical towers and gravity-conscious 'bladders' (see Vessel, 1994, right). Technically, these are among his finest works. By causing wider fissures in the crawl and using contrasting under-glaze colour, he creates some magical optical effects. Particularly static-inducing is powder-blue over sunflower yellow, violet over cadmium scarlet, or lime over orange.
While studying at Wolverhampton College of Art, Rudd visited Dudley-Zoo to sketch and photograph the primates: orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills. These forays resulted in boxes where three-dimensional heads sprout from flat surfaces, for example, Baby Gorilla Box, 1972 (left). A later piece which Rudd completed after emigrating to New Zealand is Caged Mandrill, 1977 (left). It's a more liberated three-dimensional form (albeit incarcerated) and was shown in the inaugural Fletcher Brownbuild Award exhibition in 1977. It was also the first time Rudd's work received significant exposure in New Zealand.
In 1979 the emotional and environmental conditions seemed right for a series of plaques featuring Hollywood movie stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (right) and Marilyn Monroe. This series came soon after he'd had a full limo treatment on a visit he made to Universal Studios in California, organised by David Hartnell. At the time he was also producing a radio talkback show for Hartnelll in Auckland and generally mingling with 'showbiz-types'.
After briefly re-visiting the primate heads in raku during the mid-80s, Rudd turned to modelling male and Female torsos (below), 'trapped' inside columns. Their sectioned-off bodies cleverly allude to the sculptural tradition of carving from a block - something Rudd, in fact, never does. These came into being after he moved from Auckland to Wanganui in 1985. During a short period of teaching pottery part-time at the Community College (now a polytechnic), he joined life drawing classes there. While everyone else got busy with pencils and paints he'd be pinching and shaping clay.
Art or Craft?
In conclusion, I propose to attempt to answer the question so often asked for those who choose to work in clay - is it art or craft? But before I do, what does the man himself think?
Well, he calls himself a potter, which accords with his desire to stay true to a craft tradition based on an object's ability to contain what it was meant to - food, water or whatever. Having said that, he really starts pushing back boundaries by turning out porous teapots, bottles without stoppers and cups impossible to drink from. Very few people, I suspect, actually use a Rudd vessel ...
If an artwork contains anything at all it's a message of some kind. The non-functional vessels certainly deliver a message - apart from 'use me at your peril" - that Rudd is far more interested in the idea of a vessel-ness than in making vessels per se.
One piece in particular literally strides the fault-line between art-as-idea and craft-as-function. Bowl, 1989 (below) is a large brick-shaped raku form, its long oval cavity fired in a pale grey crackle glaze. If Rudd was solely a potter he might have left it at that - an aesthetically pleasing solution to a utilitarian problem. But, through the use of trompe l'oeil (a centuries-old art tradition) he crates the illusion that the bowl is broken in two, rendering it 'useless', and so of little further interest as a craft object.
It's a very Magritte-like statement - 'this is not a bowl' because it is and it isn't at the same time. It suggests that when a craft object is not being used it starts being something else - perhaps art. A double life! So as far as I can see there's only one answer to the question: is Rick Rudd's work art or craft?
© Paul Rayner,
Art Interpreter, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.
Looking Forward Over my Shoulder
Clay, the material, seduced me very soon after beginning a foundation course at art school when Barbara Balls, my first ceramics tutor, encouraged me, giving me free access to her own studio. Now I cannot imagine what life would be like if I could not work with clay. Having been trained in England, I had no idea how I would earn a living, as most of my contemporaries at art school went on to become teachers. I only new that teaching was definitely not what I wanted to do.
The opportunity to join my aunt and three cousins, one of them married with two children, when they emigrated to New Zealand was to change the course of my life. At the time I had not considered staying in New Zealand but, as a potter, I could not have moved to a better place. Within a few years, home was New Zealand and England was somewhere else.
In New Zealand during the mid 1970s, pottery was popular, thriving
craft shops were abundant and the pottery community was very supportive.
It was possible to earn a living as a potter and many did. Times and
tastes have changed and the community is still a supportive one even if
individually there is more competition for sales among potters. Most of
those craft shops have gone - replaced by fewer craft galleries -
polytechnics now have full-time ceramic courses, the market is much more
competitive and the buying public is much more selective. For me there
have been times when it has been difficult to survive from selling work
and I am grateful for family, friends, potters and patrons who have been
supportive of me and my work.
My teaching has always been a supplementary form of income. Long ago, 'relief teaching' art in secondary schools, I decided I would only teach those who wanted to learn but weekend schools and blocks of teaching around the country have given me the opportunity to meet potters at all stages of their development and the chance to travel throughout New Zealand. Often I think when teaching in these situations the teacher receives and learns as much as is given.
The process of co-curating this exhibition has been a most rewarding experience. Selecting fifty works from twenty-seven years of working with clay was no easy task. Bill Milbank and I began by looking at the broad areas into which my work falls. Choosing the individual pieces was much more difficult . There were some I would have liked to have shown but were not available - lost, destroyed (it happens to pots!) or could not be located. My memory has been severely taxed at times but the effort was worthwhile when works I have not seen for many years surfaced from pristine condition to more than a little dusty. It's like meeting old friends, and brings back memories of meetings, exhibition openings, difficult or fortuitous firings and technical problems solved. With most of my work I take the container for inspiration and the interpretation is through form and texture. Shapes evolve rather than begin as separate ideas, and newer pieces often hark back to previous work.
All the work is in this exhibition are special for me; none is perfect, and I know where they have been inadequacies or aspects I would have liked to have been different. By researching, sourcing and bringing these works together it has meant that we had to look at many more than are shown in the exhibition. Fortunately I have kept a copious collection of slides, thus enabling us to survey my successes and failures. Looking at pieces or series which moved my work forwards has been very valuable but often it is the 'failures' which create learning experiences, motivating positive changes in form or idea.
The exhibition includes the first piece I made in clay and one of my most recent works. In looking back over my past production I look forward to the work which will follow. Whatever that may be, hopefully it will be True to Form.