Most people in the ceramics world know Janet Mansfield, and if they do not know her, they know about her. She has been and is everywhere.
In this sense Janet is the quintessential Australian—no one has told her that she can’t do everything and if they had she would not have believed them. Whenever she has had a good idea relating to advancing the cause of ceramic art in Australia and the wider world, she has put that idea into practise with enthusiasm and gusto.
As a result Janet presently edits two of the world’s major ceramics journals, plays a central role in many international ceramic art conferences, workshops and symposiums, manges her own international clay-fest in her home town of Gulgong in rural New South Wales, and continues to practise as one of Australia’s most celebrated potters.
Unfortunately for those of us who have appreciated her wood-fired pots, Janet’s life as a whirlwind has meant that we all too infrequently see significant selections of her work at the one time and in the one place. Although she has held and participated in more than 40 solo and group, Australian and international exhibitions, this is her first solo exhibition in Australia for well over a decade.
The work Janet has selected for the exhibition are in many senses a metaphor for her own character. As she herself says, Janet loves to take her pots to the limits of ceramic tolerance, firing her pieces in a tough and uncompromising kiln. Her pots are thus exposed to intense temperatures and stress which combine to buckle, warp, crack and even tear the forms, while simultaneously forming a new synthesis with the natural ash deposits glazes.
The resultant pots are typically strong and have a certain dignity and presence in the company of other pots. How could we better describe Janet?
In this exhibition there is a range of the forms we have come to associate with Janet Mansfield: large storage jars, lidded water jars, tall cylindrical vases, tea bowls and particularly, her signature bell shaped vases.
At all times the call of the functional is strong, with for example, an obviously functional storage jar having the vestiges of a jug handle and spout applied to the shoulder.
Typically, the pieces are gesturally scored, occasionally dimpled as in her teapot, and always resonant with a rich and varied template of natural ash glaze deposits. More occasionally Janet has used multiple faceting to enhance the form of a vessel.
Together, the vessels present a clear statement about the nature of ceramics. As is frequently the case, the pots which at first glance do not have the symmetrical evenness and superficial attractiveness—the pots which are harder to love at first glance—are the ones which demand that we take a second and third look. They demand that we consider them: their creation, their form and their presence. And they retain that capacity over time—we do not tire from looking at them and using them.
For these and many other reasons, it is an honour to have known Janet for the past decade and a half, an honour to be able to run a gallery which was until recently hers, and a particular honour to host what is a major exhibition of the potter’s art.