Marea Gazzard

'Home,' currently exhibiting at Utopia Art, is built from pieces that one of Australia's most significant sculptors, ceramicists, and feminist artists kept in her apartment before her death. Marea Gazzard, as this work attests, was a truly studious, contemplative, and devoted artist, committed to the technicality and materiality of her craft, as to the age-deep meanings into which her forms convey audiences.

Bindu (white), 1995-2005, stands at one end of the space at Utopia. ‘Stands’ is an important descriptor here, rather than just a functional verb: these forms feel alive, resolute, and eloquent even in their obvious restraint and subtlety. They hold their stand; they ask us to stand to attention. This gathering of rectangular vessels in white, grey, and eggshell, rising to waist height, feels like a chorus of sorts – like voices and bodies speaking, softly, together. But this work, like all of Gazzard’s, works in neither of the genres we might expect to find a chorus in. It’s not comic, nor tragic, but something more still and contemplative than that. 

Gazzard (1928-2013) is one of Australia’s most significant artists; within this claim is also the claim that she is one of our significant women artists, and one of our significant ceramicists. She forged through collaboration, institutional involvement, and a lot of hard work,  a new profile for kinds of artmaking that had, erstwhile, been relegated to the ‘secondary’ tier of craft. Having trained in Sydney and London, she became a noted ceramicist in Britain through the 1950s, before returning to Australia in 1960. In 1973, with Mona Hessing, she exhibited ‘Clay and Fibre’ at the National Gallery of Victoria,  which represented a watershed moment in the acceptance of ceramics and textiles as important artistic disciplines. From here, she would go on to hold the the first Chair of the Crafts Board at the Australia Council, as well as the Presidency at the world Crafts Council from 1980-84. Her works of public art include Mingarri: The Little Olgas, 1988, at Parliament House. Throughout these periods of institutional activity and public engagement, Gazzard’s devotion to form, and to her chosen material, clay, endured. David Malouf, cited in the exhibition text at Utopia, recognises this. ‘Everything Marea Gazzard does,’ he writes, ‘every move she makes into new areas of practice and reference, belongs to a single sensibility and consciousness, a single vision of what a life and a body of work, when completed and seen whole, might be.’ 

In this show, we see this wholeness of Gazzard’s body of work which Malouf gestures to. This wholeness is triple, really. There is, firstly, the way that each work emerges from a long process both of research and of tactile effort: the manipulation of materials under the hand, whose prints and marks we can still see even in the bronze casts made of many of the pieces. This kind of wholeness might also be called studiousness.  Then, there is also the conceptual ‘wholeness’ with which many of the works engage. Sometimes this is expressed in Bindu’s status as the ‘sacred symbol of the universe,’ in Gazzard’s words, and at other times it’s evident in  the way that works such as Milos IV, 1990s, stretch formally across resemblances to the human, the organic, and the perfectly mathematical at once. The third kind of wholeness to Gazzard’s ouevre, though, is the way that works from different periods of her life echo and call to each other subtly. The square window at the centre of Kythera, 2004, for example, might be seen also in Zabuton, 1997, though the works are from entirely different series, and respond to different ideas. Amongst all this ‘wholeness,’ however, there is never a sense of sameness, or of needless repetition. Everything Gazzard does is thought and worked through intensely. Attention to particulars, variations, and the slightly off-kilter animates her artmaking.

What we also see in this show is the closeness of Gazzard’s work to her everyday life – given, especially, that the works displayed are predominantly taken from her apartment. This is an intimate look at the creative life of a woman at the forefront, and in the foreground, of sculptural practice through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It speaks, like the sculptures themselves, seriously and in detail about a life lived deeply attached to art. 

Marea Gazzard: Home
5-26 June 2021
Utopia Art, Sydney

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