I began this collaboration in translucent porcelain with Elisabeth Cummings in September 2012. I had reached a stage in a ceramics practice of inviting ‘other hands and eyes’ to synergistically explore what this wonderful and tricky material might become in an austral context – what the possibilities of Australian porcelain might be, beyond imitation or imported tropes from its long cultural traditions and innovations in China, Korea and Japan, and its later trajectories in continental Europe and Britain. Porcelain has again become the stuff of contemporary artists and designers excited by its expressive possibilities. But, what might contemporary Australian porcelain – forms and voices invoked by this place and encounters of this place – become?
I have been seduced by the medium for more than a decade after moving to set up a studio in the crisp clear chiming light of the Southern Highlands in 2003, and have now made hundreds of works carrying and exploring porcelain’s cloudy translucence. Five years ago, I began exhibiting works with light itself – illumination to backlight or infuse the works – and I continue on this (rather addictive) enchantment and its possibilities as a vocabulary in making.
As an alumna of the National Art School in Sydney, I contribute to the ceramic plate auction fundraiser organized most years by the Friends of the National Art School (FONAS), and in 2012 decided to take the plunge and invite Elisabeth, a fellow alumna and revered Australian painter, to collaborate on making a porcelain plate to donate. She said yes. This is where it started. I threw four simple forms on the wheel, and she responded to them with brushwork using the oxides and terra sigillata I use in my ceramics. We were both pleased by the results, and decided after the auction to continue on this path and collaborate on a larger series.
The simple, flat ‘pans’ I formed by potter’s wheel come from the circular salt-encrusted clay pans that dot the coastal areas of the dry tropics of northern Queensland – in this case from country I had been revisiting on the edge of the city of Townsville. In the dry months, they glisten as silver-white circles on an umber clay base, ringed by ground mats of red samphire. In the Wet, they fill with water and are reclaimed to the wetland mosaic to which they they belong. I am most invested in distilling ceramic forms from the ‘country’, affective places, the living grounds of this continent in my practice, so the pans are one recent, unfolding rendition. Elisabeth is also a Queenslander of origin, so I wondered how she might respond to these white circular ‘canvases’. Where the circle, rather than the usual square or rectangle of paper and painting frame, might lead her mind’s eye and brush.
I threw and first-fired a series of porcelain pans over the summer months of late 2012 and into January 2013, and delivered them to Elisabeth at her Wedderburn studio in early February when she had returned from travels. So began several journeys between the highlands and Wedderburn during that year. I collected the final batch of works from Elisabeth in mid December 2013. The cicadas in the forest at her place were in full aural force. They had claimed the scribbly gum trunks around her home and filled the air with a palpable, pummeling, pulse. Sitting inside, drinking tea and talking about the pots and other things, the constant surround-wall of cicada sound evoked memory of being in the presence of a wet season waterfall in the tropics. Elisabeth was speaking about the cicadas, naming ‘black princes’, ‘green grocers’ and ‘floury bakers’. So, I now think of the porcelain series that finally emerged, and which returns me to that day and Elisabeth’s calm but pulsing creative space, as ‘Cicada Waterfall’.
Louise Boscacci, 1 March 2014
(Citation: Boscacci, L, 2014, Cicada Waterfall: notes on a collaboration in porcelain with Elisabeth Cummings, Artist Text, 1 March 2014. Series exhibited in ‘Elisabeth Cummings: a Still Life, 2014’; King Street Gallery on William, Sydney Australia, 8 July – 2 August, 2014).