Review of Retrospective at City Gallery, Wellington

Reviewed by Galvan McNamara

Stylishly elegant this is one of the best display installations I have seen for a long while. Three long linear displays of pots traverse the length of the gallery. On your left is a retrospective accumulation of pots on a cantilevered shelf. Clusters of pots from given periods of his long making life are carefully arranged in time specific groups. Easy to read labels are near the floor so you can see the objects without one single word in your eye. Something that doesn’t happen very often in Museums these days. Down the middle of the room. About 15 metres long is one plinth, nearly at eye level with lots of glazed white pots that are illuminated with red, green and white time sequenced theatrical lights. Drawn out beams of light illuminate the reflective rims of the pots then slowly fill them with light. At the height of the illumination they cast complimentary coloured shadows. It is a beautiful seductive experience that needs to be cherished. On the far wall more white pots which are now his primary production. But a mixture of matt and shiny glazes. This shelf is slightly above eye level and gives you great appreciation of Parker’s elegant profiling. Beyond being a highly productive potter Parker is also a writer, film critic and theatre and exhibition designer. He knows about space and the ways you can make people respond to objects. His most recent design work for theatre was the Auckland Theatre Company production of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. Those of us who know him know his energetic commitment to everything he does. Those of us who know him also know he is a mischief. He has a wicked sense of humour and a little bit of that side of him creeps into the show with titles like. “No Great Sheiks.” from the Valentino series 1978. “Everyday is Halloween in Tinsel Town” from the same series. Later his impish self is more visually obvious in pieces from 1994 called “Safe Sex Bottles.” Dildoesque forms with brass marine fittings. His most deliciously naughty act will hoveringly haunt the history of New Zealand Ceramic for ever. In 1980 he persuaded a dubious Peter Sinclair then running Alicat Gallery in Ponsonby to allow him to perpetrate a superbly orchestrated hoax. He staged Domestic Wares supposedly made by a little know Auckland Pottery factory called Vortex Ware. He presented the show in a chrome, glass mirror installation redolent of the thirties. Much to Sinclair’s chagrin the show didn’t sell but in the intervening 20 years the shiny black tooled pots have become collectors items. Parker still gets an occasional call about the Vortex Factory from serious collectors. Parker lists his influences as the European émigré Lucie Rie and Keith Murray the expatriate New Zealander who made a name for himself working for Wedgwood during the 1930’s. Parker has unselfconsciously forged an aesthetic for himself diametrically opposed to the prevailing Leach/ Eastern influenced truth to materials ethos that pervaded New Zealand Ceramics in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. (I have to say that I believe his major strength is his own truth to his own chosen materials) He uses commercial clays and commercial glazes and he throws divinely. He has spent 36 years of his life trying to throw better. There is a small monitor on the end wall of the gallery with just working sound showing him throwing. Potting, centring, turning. Exquisitely. He says “ Things are easy to make – but its much harder to get what you want. If you are not losing a lot of stuff you are not pushing the limits.” Although his work are undeniably vessels their strength is in the profiles which often rise to such fine completion that it seems impossible they have been thrown on a wheel. His bowls are open and generous and superbly glazed. All of these take me on journeys of elegant technical manoeuvre, but the works that knock my socks off are the Penetration Pieces that he has been making since the 1980s. Some of the penetration pieces from 1993 in primary reds, yellows and blues are great works of Art. His most recent work, white grooved vessels from the last three years are the synthesis of a lifetime’s hard work. He throws thick and then tools the surfaces down. They have a timelessness that you only find in art of substance. Accompanying the show is a handsome catalogue with lots of large format and plenty of thumbnail illustration of his work and workings. It has compelling essays and a technical notebook by Parker that allows the devotee and the ordinary viewer into the processes that make a potter. When he was young he conjured at 55 he still makes magic.