MY FIRST MAJOR SOLO EXHIBITION
HOW IT STARTED
Following a challenging couple of years - including the burning down of my workshop and then the rebuilding of it - I set myself a big goal for 2021, and that was to have my first solo exhibition.
Why did I care about having a solo exhibition? Well I wanted to put myself to the test - challenge myself, put my work out there and see what I was actually capable of doing with clay.
I applied to a couple of arts centres as potential venues, and although I did receive acceptance for a small solo showcase (window display) at Salamanca Arts Centre, everything else was knocked back and this left me a bit deflated.
I talked to one of my ceramic mentor’s Vipoo Srivilasa and he encouraged me not to give up, that he has also had his fair share of rejections. This conversation revived me and so I thought about my exhibition dream from outside the box.
I approached a friend, Craig Webb who started the Raptor Refuge in Kettering, Tasmania, to see if he’d be interested in hosting a solo exhibition at his refuge. The Raptor Refuge looks after and, if possible sets free injured Tasmania Raptors.
Craig was extremely enthusiast about my idea, and here started a very busy and productive making period, with my first major solo exhibition secured and to be themed around Owls and Raptors.
CREATING MY OWN DEADLINE
The first thing I had to do was work out how much I needed to make, create a deadline for myself and get some dates organised. I required three months to make everything, then I added one month extra, just in case.
I set forth making a plan. I allowed two months to push myself into some new and challenging large outdoor works, and then one month to make the indoor functional ware.
My enthusiasm was very high, especially while making (my favourite part).
MAKING NEW THINGS
I had a plan to make some things that I previously attempted or wanted to make in the past but didn’t know how to properly. I received some practical advice for some of the large pieces from Nanna Bayer, and proceeded to make.
The first and largest thing I had attempted at the beginning was an owl bird bath. I went on to make an indoor water fountain (my first!), a large bird house and an eagle sculpture. All of these turned out better than I could have imagined.
My aim from the very beginning was to make everything really well. I couldn’t afford the time to have to remake anything. This high-standard approach from the start, proved to be a successful attitude.
I purposefully made the eagle sculpture larger than the internal space of my kiln so I would be forced to figure out a way to divide it into two-parts for reassembly afterwards. I decided to cut a long V-shape along the chest and back to the shoulder feathers, and then add a flange and gallery to the head part - so the head could fit into the body like a teapot lid.
To ensure it wouldn’t warp too much while in the kiln I made a temporary base for the top to rest in, and a temporary lid to sit in the body.
With some anxiety as to what the end results would be I was very happy when it all locked in together after firing, and I sealed it with some black sikaflex.
MY BIGGEST MAKE SO FAR
Trees have fascinated me for my whole life, and so you may understand my exhilaration when attending a Tasmanian Ceramic’s Association clay weekend at Bothwell when I married together my love (okay sometimes an obsession) with trees and our group project of making a totem pole.
On the Saturday night I was sitting in my room contemplating the day and the totem pole segment I made, and glanced out at a very old oak tree. Then the ‘penny dropped’ and I thought about combining these things together.
I’ve been trying to duplicate and express my deep connection with trees in clay for a few years, and achieved some positive results however it was the size that I struggled to find.
Upon returning home from the weekend I went straight into my studio and started make ‘tree segments’ that would stack on top of each other, tapering their way to the top - where a bird of prey would be finely sculpted.
Using the coil building technique, and slabs for bases and tops, I proceeded to build.
The first tree sculpture consists of five tiers and a ‘boobook owl’ sculpture on top. Finished it stands at 135cm. Then, with one week up my sleeve, I loved this so much that I wanted to make another. I started the base quite large, so this one ended up being seven tiers with a ‘peregrine falcon’ on top. This one stands at 191 cm finished and used 56kg of clay.
THE FINAL STRETCH
Exactly three months from the beginning I finished my last piece (the large tree sculpture) and I could then settle into the last weeks of glazing, kiln firing and logistics. This was probably the most stressful time of the journey.
For one, my kiln’s simmerstat needed replacing, so luckily I only had a short pause on firing and then I went into back to back firings to get everything done, and finished the week before the exhibition.
The logistics side of things was tedious, but necessary. In the end I had 153 x creations from earring sets to my very large outdoor pieces, and all of them needed to be numbered, photographed and catalogued. Then they needed wrapping and packing, and the outdoor pieces required crates.
We decided to make crates to transport them and then they could also be the ‘plinth’ at the exhibition. This turned out to be a great idea.
Technically I had two launch days. The first was a private gathering for members of the Raptor Refuge. I set up to do some sculpting under a tree, with live tawny frogmouth models!
Then I had my official launch day, which mainly consisted of my family and friends. As I play in a local band, I always imagined live music at my solo exhibition launch day, so our band’s flute choir created a beautiful ambience amongst my sculptures and the rehabilitating raptors on site.
The support from those in attendance was good. Numbers were fairly low as there were a couple of location drawcards - as the refuge is only open to private bookings - it is not open to the public, there was an entry fee and it was ‘out of the way’ in Tasmanian terms.
WHAT CAME OUT OF THIS EXPERIENCE
I was lucky enough to have pre-sold my very large eagle sculpture - which has become a memorial piece at a local aged care centre. I received a couple of commissions, and have received great feedback. Sales were pretty good, and I sold almost one third of the pieces I had there.
The biggest thing to come out of this experience for me was I saw in myself what I am capable of achieving. Just six months ago I still didn’t know how to make a water fountain, a bird bath, lamps and many other things.
Pushing myself into this solo exhibition has seem me grow as a ceramicist, I figured things out and I see that I can do it! Now I am hungry for the next challenge.
I see that having a month up my sleeve to do all of the logistics and allow for final kiln firings and any unforseen mishaps was a good idea - I am so pleased I did that.
I’m also pleased that I took the time to categorise and photograph everything, as this made it easier when the refuge was selling pieces for me and keeping track of what sold.
WHAT DID I PERSONALLY ACHIEVE
I achieved more than I can explain here. There are many smaller personal achievements I received along the way, but the pure scope of work, seeing it on exhibition, talking with people about what I made and having people make the trip to see it was all priceless.
The personal accomplishment in this whole process has been a fantastic experience. Now I can’t wait to organise more solo exhibitions, with new themes to see what I can come up with next!
Thanks for reading...