Author(s): David Craig & Gregory O’Brien
The work of potter, artist, craftsperson, railway enthusiast and iconoclast Barry Brickell. Potter extraordinaire, conservationist, railway enthusiast and iconoclast Barry Brickell is one of New Zealand’s most important ceramicists. His exuberant and elemental, warts-and-all pots and sculptures pulse with a humour and sexuality rare in New Zealand craft or art. From the 1950s, with his friend and mentor Len Castle, Brickell became a central figure in Auckland’s pottery scene, leading the development of a distinctive indigenous ceramic style. Alongside the early commissions he received for domestic pots, mugs and jugs from local artists and bohemians, he became well known for his unusual sculptural forms and his use of coarse local clays (notoriously stolen in night raids from various sites around Auckland) and salt glazes. And as his reputation as potter and kiln-master grew, so too did his homegrown narrow-gauge railway at Driving Creek in the Coromandel, which with its sculpted hillsides and human detritus, remains his largest and most powerful work. In essays by David Craig and Gregory O’Brien and with both newly commissioned photographs by Haru Sameshima and historic images, His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell charts Brickell’s career in its entirety and in the context of his life and times, timed to coincide with a survey exhibition of the same name at The Dowse Art Museum. To begin, an essay by David Craig sketches out Brickell’s history and career, then takes us through crucial themes, preoccupations and forms in his work, from sustaining domesticware to the influences of the medieval grotesque and Pacific and Sepik motifs; from realistic murals to bodily ‘morphs’. Here Brickell’s personal preoccupations with energy and engineering, the body and conservation, are made clear. His most well-known forms, for example, the ‘spiromorphs’, are large-scale spiral creations built from coiled clay, which twist and unfold in curves that parallel the spirals of his railway. Driving Creek has been a crucial landscape for Brickell’s work, as Gregory O’Brien then examines in his tour of Brickell’s fellows, influences and milieu. Artists and craftspeople from Deidre Airey to Tony Fomison, Nigel Brown to Fatu Fe‘u, Michael Illingworth to Peter Lange all washed up at the Creek; and Brickell’s own journeys took him visiting others, including Yvonne Rust, Toss Woollaston and Ralph Hotere. Images by Marti Friedlander, Gil Hanly, Eric Lee-Johnson and Robin Morrison document the scope of this artistic exchange. The book concludes with a comprehensive chronology that further illuminates the fascinating body of work by this truly unique New Zealand thinker and craftsman. Guided by his ‘not the thing, but how’ mantra, Barry Brickell has always striven for an ‘animated and vernacular’, indigenous body of work on his own terms and under his own steam. While vividly illustrating the work and the ‘thing’, His Own Steam also illuminates the ‘how’ that is still the vital impulse in Brickell’s work and
"This study of Barry Brickell, who at the age of 77 is one of New Zealand's most iconic artists/craftsmen, also conservationist and railway enthusiast, is timely, and as a consequence of it his work is sure to gain the wider recognition it deserves." --Robert Sanderson, "The Log Book"
David Craig is a sociologist at the Universities of Auckland and of Otago with an interest in New Zealand art and culture and a long association with Barry Brickell. Gregory O’Brien is a writer, curator and painter whose most recent art book projects are Hanly (Ron Sang, 2012), A Micronaut in the Wide World (AUP, 2011) and Euan Macleod (Piper Press, 2010). Haru Sameshima is an award-winning freelance and art photographer, based in Auckland, whose work has illustrated books including Cone Ten Down: Studio Pottery in New Zealand 1945–1980 and The Carver and the Artist: Maori Art in the Twentieth Century.