Tasmania's journal of discovery

A journey through time

BY PATSY HOLLIS | For his master’s degree in Arts, Design and Environment at the University of Tasmania Fine Arts, ceramicist Ben Richardson worked in Tasmanian clays and glazed the pieces with materials garnered from Tasmania’s earth and rocks. He called the exhibition that marked his graduation “a journey through time” because he felt his work was underscoring the span from mankind’s earliest use of clay and fire over 3,000 years ago to the present day.

Ben started on his personal journey when he originally came to Tasmania to study agricultural science and ended up with an economics degree. Not the usual start to a career in ceramics, but over the years he had developed an interest in working with clay, did some Adult Education courses in pottery and looked to learn more.

Next step was embarking on a course given by eminent Tasmanian ceramicist Les Blakeborough at the Arts University at Mount Nelson. Although no formal qualification emerged from it, Ben took every ceramics unit he could find and was so successful he was employed there as a teacher himself from 1985-95.

His journey continued with embarking on a masters degree; some of his graduation works are those you see here. During the one-year course, including a summer school, Ben went on field trips to the West Coast, centred around Queenstown, where man’s harsh imprint on the land is still clear. For Ben: “Queenstown is like a crucible to me — it brings to the fore where man has collided with nature. It’s percussive.”

But as it happened most of his creative journey took place within sight of his Ridgeline Pottery workshop at Sandford near Hobart — collecting the clay, exploring the eroding rock shelf where land falls into the sea, noting the shadows of trees as they cross the walls of his studio and of black cockatoos searching for grubs under the bark of nearby black wattles.

“Australia doesn’t have an inherited tradition of working with clay,” he explains. “Yet I didn’t want to express my work in terms of another country, another place. We are so rich here in materials here, I decided I could commit to making pieces and glazing them just from Tasmanian clays and other materials.

“I go to South Arm, near Clifton Beach, for example and the black lines of the oyster leases there are marks that occur on some of my pieces. The trees that inspired the bar effects on others are trees that grow near me.

“I get rocks from around Tasmania and crush them, then mix them in different combinations. I know that if I were to go to New York, for instance, I would prefer to see works from around New York, not far way. This is the inverse of that feeling.”

Another stimulus to his strong, spare, stonelike wares has been Japan. “I look back to the roots of Japanese wares and see that the objects made are not only beautiful, they are useful. In Japan, art and man and nature all go together. In our society we tend to separate man from nature in art. I want to help redress that.

“I photograph and reflect poetically on the fragments of sight that catch my eye and frame my reflective daydreaming. These visual and written reflections have become my journals.”

Click here for Ben Richardson’s portfolio:

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