Form is of utmost importance to Chris Weaver. He makes clay tableware that is generally devoid of surface decoration-the last thing he wants is for any embellishment to hide the form. They are strong forms that reflect their functionalism, but they are never sterile, are superbly made and sensitively detailed. His work has won many national awards and is exhibited from his local co-operative in Hokitika to international exhibitions in Japan. He has consistently exhibited at the Fletcher Challenge Ceramics Award.
When Weaver started working with clay he made stoneware finished with traditional glazes in the Bernard leach tradition. Pit firing became popular and he developed a personal style of low-temperature salt-fumed pieces on which surface decoration was a product of the flame. His interest in form was already apparent, but it was not until 1993 that his work moved to a direction that truly expressed his individuality as well as his expertise.
Using a white high-firing clay he created a number of teapots based on an old cast pressing iron. He threw the components on the wheel, then altered and assembled them. He covered the teapot with a simple black glaze which had the characteristic of breaking slightly on the edges of the clay to reveal the material underneath. The laminated handles and tiny details, all meticulously turned to fit perfectly, were of heart rimu. The resulting works had a crispness of definition and a slightly industrial appearance. Precise edges were defined by the breaking glaze. The teapot became the starting point for a range of tableware always based on a single solid colour.
Weaver has been interested in ancient Iranian ceramics for many years, and has admired the work of sculptors Henry Moore and Jean Arp. In 1995, on a Creative New Zealand travel and study grant, he visited USA, UK and Ireland. His interest in sculpture was heightened by seeing the stone sculptures of Henry Moore as well as many stone vessels. The sculptural aspect and the presence of the Moore sculptures-their mass, surfaces and solidity-were qualities he wanted in his functional ware.
Recently Weaver has started a new series using clay alone. He is emulating the white surfaces and sculptural quality of the stone works he admired. His aim is to be true to the material and to allow it to reveal its qualities. There is still an element of precision, but there is also a new looseness and a greater acknowledgement of the qualities of clay. The pieces are gentler and more curvaceous, inviting caress. His process has not changed to any great extent, but now he alters the components while they are still wet rather than waiting until they are leather-hard as in the past. There are more 'accidents' as a result, small details that communicate the process.
More than ever, through intuitive handling of clay, Weaver is expressing himself with integrity. He always works directly rather than drawing first, and the clay reveals itself as he works. He repeatedly reworks the clay, perfecting the body before adding details of spouts and handles, and the beautiful pieces reflect his love of the material and process.
100 New Zealand Craft Artists
By Helen Schamroth
Godwit (Random House)
Craft Revival (selected text)
New Zealand culture has a nice way of illustrating its affection for objects (and materials) just when they seem obsolete. In 1993 a seminal work of twentieth-century New Zealand design emerged unexpectedly from the hands of a studio potter. Chris Weaver's Teapot (1993) was a functional teapot that took as its reference point the little black flatiron common in New Zealand homes during the nineteenth century. These irons, long since obsolete, had proved indestructible, and were used as doorstops or abandoned in garages and sheds across the country. They were one of those objects that most New Zealanders knew, but seldom thought about. At a time when New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori, were re-examining their joint colonial past and not always liking what they saw, Weaver's teapot seemed to reach back into the past and pull out something unexpected, something stoic, and something symbolic of survival and eventual revival.
Weaver's teapot was exactly what New Zealand ceramics needed. It was sculptural rather than a sculpture. It was local but deeply respectful of Japanese aesthetics, the pursuit of which had dominated the studio pottery movement. It was craft but it looked like design. Its wooden handle gave it a tactile quality. It was in a fashionable shade of black. It was authentically witty in its references. It worked well but at the same time had a spiritual quality that made drinking tea a more satisfactory process. It belonged at home, and in the home. What all this illustrated, once again, was that the New Zealand house was the natural homeland of ceramics. New Zealanders just required ceramics that could keep up with changing ideas about the living environment. Moving with the times had been the solution suggested to studio potters a decade earlier. Weaver now illustrated once more how that strategy worked.
From Pages 297 – 298
A Century of New Zealand Design
By Douglas Lloyd Jenkins
Godwit (Random House)
Teapots and more
The teapot is black – a semi-matt, rich, iron black that takes on an edgy gleam where an incised spiral sweeps dynamically up and around the form echoing the making process - for this is a wheel-thrown teapot despite its oval configuration. The spiral leads the eye upwards as does the silhouette – wide at the base, the tapering sweep of clay is continued up to the smoothness of the solid, curved, wooden handle that loops over and is anchored by small matching pegs. The spout is architecturally angled and perfectly aligned with the flat top – you just know that it wouldn’t dare drip. It’s sturdy, solid and oddly comforting. That comfort largely coming from the realisation that here is an entirely efficient implement.
The maker, Chris Weaver, based the concept on his great-grandmother’s flat-irons – remarkably heavy, pointy-ended, oval, cast iron numbers that were heated on the kitchen coal range and which crushed and pressed Victorian starched cottons into submission while maintaining a cool hand, for the users, with the wooden handles. Victorian households usually kept several, replacing them on to the stove top once they had cooled and a fresh one taken up. Weaver thought them comfortable and well balanced and the satisfying functionality appealed to his design sense.
A television arts programme called the teapot ‘a masterpiece…and one of the great icons of New Zealand design – a classic that references our colonial past’. For Weaver this has meant that he has had great difficulty supplying all the folk who somehow tracked him down in his fairly remote studio, in former gold mining country on the South Island’s West Coast, to request ‘just one more.’ Now, realising that these demands are restricting more interesting directions he has decided that it is time to move on.
A graduate of Otago Polytechnic Fine and Applied Arts course with an extra year in ceramic design, Weaver has, in the ten years since he made that first iron-inspired teapot, established himself as New Zealand’s most successful maker of soundly and strongly designed functional ware. Success has come in the form of many Awards – he has won something major in most competitions – sometimes more than once. While the accolades have been a great boost – psychologically as well as financially, his greatest satisfaction has come from his development of handsome, inventive and appropriately functional tableware.
The flat-iron teapot gave rise to a family of jugs and mugs, serving dishes and variations on the teapot theme that all used the oval format and many, the wooden handles and pegs. He played with variables like rocking bases and raised feet - which softened the metal references. He pierced the clay handles - which magnified them. His eye turned to other metal archetypal forms and another series of serving dishes cited the elegance of ancient Chinese bronze vessels and the tall, stilted legs, again in oiled wood, elevate these to celebratory status for dinner party rituals.
Such signature works have not happened overnight but have evolved, over time, from a considered design process that solves many of the problems before committing clay to the wheel-head yet leaves elements open for exploration during the making process. Towards this end he has made for himself a set of handsome tools from driftwood washed ashore on the turbulent coast near his home. Sea bleached colours cover a range of softly greyed browns and creams that display streaks of grain and the occasional knot. Ribs and scribers, brushes, and even knives and turning tools have all been carefully fashioned. Their handles, in places swollen and fat, in others slender and curved are smoothly finished offering the eye a haptic knowing of the pleasure there would be in their use.
Weaver extends this satisfaction in making to the formation of the handles for his teapots. The round early handles were laminated from twelve strips and clamped to bend. The strips all came from the same piece of timber and were glued together in order so that the grain continued, which gave the appearance of being steam-bent from one piece, like the handles on the irons. They were dried then routed for a round profile and then given a sanding finish. Small pegs that maintained the attachment within the clay sockets anchored them. A highly labour intensive process but the only way Weaver could effect the outcome he wanted.
Later teapots have flat handles that are laminated and sprung, some even inlaid with differently coloured wood. Their inherent tension holds them in place against incorporated clay projections. This latter development was simpler, and a more elegant solution to the constantly intriguing and evolving problem solving that is entailed when teapot making. Weaver posits a willingness to farm out tasks such as handle making but his satisfaction in process and in simply making something work well, plus a streak of perfectionism, backs up his assertion that he just cannot find anyone to make them as he would wish. He learned the basics from a furniture-making friend living near-by, and remains self-sufficient.
Weaver has now left metal forms, as primary inspiration, far behind. Instead he embarked upon an exploration of other properties he enjoys in clay – its impressionability, pliability, malleability… all those plastic characteristics that intrigue and appeal to makers in the first place – before the intellect takes over.
Keeping within the disciplines of functional ware, Weaver has, still in his steady increments, developed an entirely new cluster of pieces.
On the way there he revelled in sessions of sophisticated play as pieces were forming and still on the wheel-head. Lengthening, widening, extending and expanding, a slice with a rib here, a flick up from the base with a scriber there, turn the freshly thrown pot on its side and re-cut the back with twisted wire, stretch and fold, and then partly unfold. But nuance rather than statement while all the time watching, most carefully, for the possibilities as they evidence and for that point where the exploration has to pause or be mute. Further refinements once the clay has firmed a little, for crisper lines and sharper edges. Again, being vigilant to just what’s happening and using experience and gut instinct to judge what further changes might be wrought by the heat of the kiln.
The new work has an immediacy that was not there in the metal form-based pieces. Yet they retain vestigial traces of those early developments in the way the laminated handles are attached and in some of the appendices such as the spouts. But these works push through to a softness of surface; a freshness and energy that was not in such evidence before.
I can only liken them to Takeshi Yasuda’s new work. While Weaver’s work manifests differently, there are cross-links where there is such apparent revelry in process and delight in boundary stretching that has resulted in an entirely new body of work which relates to what has gone before but is, when thought about, a distinctly unique approach with no precedents.
Weaver takes the pouring vessel form and literally turns it on its side so that the exaggerated throwing corrugations produce something akin to an unfolding concertina and the sprung handle seems to encourage further outward thrust through the tensions evident across the mid-section. It’s almost a surprise to touch and find the body hard rather than still springy.
There are others that are much like those puffy-plump Oriental dumplings – fat and bulgy with smaller creased dumplings as lids and sexy side handles. The expectation of red bean paste inside is almost overwhelming. But they function best for green tea.
As always, decoration is restricted to a choice of glaze that complements the surface quietly while it highlights the defining details. Apart from the black there is an occidental shino, a stone-like warm white, salted cobalt or iron slip. Nothing intemperate to detract from the form.
So he continues, challenging himself at regular intervals so that his attitude maintains freshness and the interest factor is kept high. Setting up problems and then finding a solution, both practical and elegant, one discovery setting up a channel of engagement for the next.
He travels regularly giving workshops, relishing the change from the isolation of the South Island’s moody west coast where thick mists swirl in between the protective hills and headlands are lashed by great rolling waves that have had an uninterrupted run from deep in the Southern Ocean. He welcomes the break but returns with much appreciation to his quiet studio and warming pot-belly stove where it’s protected by enclosing bush and overhanging blackwood trees. There he can listen to his favourite Norwegian electronic jazz music and reflect on the next developments in the series.
Pages 84 – 87
Ceramics Art and Perception
Article by Moyra Elliott
Potter Chris Weaver has been working from his home studio near Hokitika on the West Coast for the past 30 years. He enjoys the isolation because it enables him to work without interruption. 'The West Coast sort of gets a hold on you. It's really hard to leave,' he says. An old gold dredge went through the land back in the fifties so his studio is surrounded by tailings, but the rugged West Coast bush is slowly regenerating, and from his 1.2 hectare property he has a wonderful view of the Southern Alps.
Chris specialises in domestic ware. In 1975 he completed a Diploma of Fine and Applied Arts at Otago Polytechnic with Distinction in Design and Sculpture, and he has applied these elements to his ceramics. Form and function are of primary importance to him. 'I like producing tableware because I like things to have a purpose, but also to have a sculptural element to them.' He is well known for his teapots, which he says were inspired by the shape of an old pressing iron - the type that was heated on a coal range. Like most of his work these teapots have a satisfyingly simple form and show his attention to fine detail. Chris no longer decorates his pots. 'Any decoration is what comes from the making,' he says. His new style of teapot is wheel-thrown on its side, then cut from the wheel using twisted wire and turned upright, leaving a pattern on its spout side. Pieces are then put together to construct the final object.
As well as his indoor electric kiln, Chris has a small diesel-fired salt-glaze kiln in the garden. His glazes are often simple black or white, but he also enjoys the effects of salt glazing - particularly the way the glazes break on the edges as they melt.
The wooden handles of his teapots are handmade from solid rimu, or sometimes laminated strips. For Chris, handling wood is an enjoyable contrast to throwing clay. He has made a series of wooden tools from collected driftwood, which he uses to shape the clay while turning it. 'When I need a particular tool I need it right away,' he says. 'And being so far from ceramic tool suppliers, I decided to use driftwood from the local beach and make my own. I use rata, which is very hard. Its roots have been broken up by the sea and twisted, and they fit my hand perfectly.'
Chris studied ceramics under noted potter Michael Trumic in Dunedin, whose teaching was based on the Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada traditions, but later he saw work by Hans Coper, a Viennese potter living in London. 'His simple, strong forms were a real inspiration to me,' Chris says. The work of Scandinavian designers and the solidity of Henry Moore's sculptures have also left their mark on him, as has the simplicity of Japanese traditional crafts and packaging.
He is developing new work all the time. 'While I'm finishing one piece, I'm already thinking about another one,' he says. 'I often carry design elements from one work to the next. Certain things recur, like the wooden pins I use on handles, for instance, which used to be clay pins on earlier works.' If he is happy with a new design he will do a run of that particular piece, but he says each one differs slightly, with variations in the making or an alteration in the glaze.
Chris produces new work for at least one exhibition every year, and his work has been exhibited throughout New Zealand and in Australia, Germany, the USA and Japan. He has won a number of major awards here, and his pieces have been selected for several international ceramic award exhibitions. He is also part of the local craft co-op - the Hokitika Craft Gallery - a group of studio craftspeople that has been operating for 20 years, and he says this is still his best outlet, as tourists come through regularly asking for his tableware. 'I am always experimenting, but the experiments are usually with form,' he says. 'My work is process driven. If something happens in the clay accidentally and I like it, I will use this again later.' For example, one day he was manipulating a solid, enclosed clay form when he dropped it and it buckled. 'It had a line on the surface and the line rippled. The unfinished piece sat on a shelf for eight years, then one day I decided to use the form and build on it.' He says he will continue to experiment with form and is driven by the mystery of what he will discover along the way.
Pages 177 – 179
Crafted by Design
By Jeanette Cook
Godwit (Random House)
Growing up in a family of five boys, you learned quickly that if you wanted something you had to make it with what you had, or go without. This often meant you had to make the tools first in order to be able to make that something that you wanted.
I built myself a potter’s wheel while at high school and taught myself to make pots. While I was an art student in Dunedin in the early seventies, I made my first throwing tools and what began as a necessity has become a passion.
I live on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand which is a fairly isolated part of the country and it helps to be resourceful. The nearest ceramic supply store is three hours’ drive away over the Southern Alps and phone or internet orders mean a wait of a couple of days at least. As I made new work in the early days, I was often not able to find anything suitable to use - I found the generic tools available uncomfortable and unsympathetic. I began finding and using drift-wood to make my own tools from the wood that had been swept down the flooded rivers and washed up on local beaches. The driftwood pieces that I found were quite sculptural and fitted my hands comfortably. The pleasure that I got from making and using these tools just added to the pleasure of making pots.
I’ve discovered that the best pieces of wood are found close to the high-tide mark but it is usually the shapes that first attract me. What I look for are the hardwoods that just invite you to pick them up to be handled. I bring an armful home following a visit to the beach and add them to my supply drying in the shed.
Often when developing a new series of work, rather than be limited by what I have at hand, I'll make new tools if I need them. I know precisely what I want it for before I start so from the pile I'll pick a dry piece that suits my needs and feels comfortable to hold. The flow and twist of the grain has a bearing on the final outcome but I treat each piece as a sculptural object and work on it until I’m satisfied, often reworking it over and over until it feels right. I rough them out first with a motorised disc and drum-sander and hand-sand to finish. Because the wood-fibres swell when wet I finish the pieces with wet and dry sandpaper in water before use. After I first began using my new throwing tools, I quickly became so dissatisfied with my brushes, knives and turning tools that I made replacements for them too.
Earlier this year, I collaborated with a furniture- designer, Tim Wigmore. Tim had earlier commissioned me to make one of my tools for a project he was working on. Then he asked for a wood and ceramic tool that was relevant to my work to exhibit in one of six custom-made native timber cabinets he would construct from the same species of wood as the contents. I chose to make a cutting-wire attached to Rimu ends with porcelain plugs. For the wire I used a guitar string from the local music store twisted up with an electric drill and a vice.
I use these tools not as replacement for, but as an extension of my fingers and they allow me to do more than my fingers. They also offer an excuse to indulge in my passion for making in another material other than clay.
The Journal of Australian Ceramics
Editor, Vicki Grima
Cover illustration by Hugo Muecke
“The teapot as a form of expression satisfies me most. I am able to explore form, meaning and function with this one object”
Throughout the second half of the 20th century and into this century the teapot, like the vessel, has become a touchstone for non-functional experimentation. Interestingly, in the light of such developments, New Zealand-based ceramist Chris Weaver has steadfastly kept his interest in functionality, creating small-scaled domestic ware by altering wheel-thrown forms, then exquisitely glazing them. He states: “I can’t make anything that is whimsical or decorative. Tableware offers me the design challenges that I enjoy solving when developing new work.”
In the light of current movements and shifts in world ceramics, massive scaled ceramic works and the conceptual framework associated with much of today’s ceramics practice, it is significant in Weaver’s case that his domestic teapots are selected for major contemporary shows. In 2011, his Made to Measure Teapots 1 & 2, a pair of elegantly crafted teapots with iron stained cream glaze had imprinted graphs on the exterior that read “one cup, two cups, three cups” and “1, 2, 3” won the Runner Up Award in The Portage, New Zealand’s premier ceramics award. Each year an internationally respected ceramist or academic working within the field selects the finalnal exhibition entries and the award winners.
The presentation of Weaver’s most recent series of ceramic teapots was not a traditional affair. In sharp contrast to conventional gallery or museum environments with their controlled lighting, plinths and associated histories, his line-up of seven teapots, each titled Preserve-ware, was installed outdoors. Resting on a stand-alone mantelpiece against a backdrop of a wooden colonial homestead, Weaver’s latest teapots resonated in surprising and unexpected ways.
As part of Sculpture on the Peninsula, an annual fundraising event held on a rural farm setting on the edge of a dormant volcanic harbour near Christchurch, Weaver’s teapots could easily have appeared insignificant, somewhat incongruous or out of place. Yet, in an exhibition dominated by an eclectic mix of outdoor sculpture of all forms – realist to highly conceptual – and executed in materials as diverse as bronze, wood, stone, metal, clay and ephemera, Weaver’s ceramics held their own.
The most innovative and intriguing aspect of Weaver’s entry was the use of transparent glass Agee jars (traditionally used for preserving fruit) and here forming the ‘container’ of his ceramic teapots. By gluing a screw-section of the jars existing metal lids (hidden from view in the final work) to the ceramic component and attaching this to the Agee jar, Weaver achieves a functioning teapot. The conjunction, however, of glass and ceramics was arresting, conceptually exploratory and, perhaps more importantly, evidence of Weaver’s ongoing desire to find new forms of expression in a traditional domestic object. The results challenged many viewers’ perceptions as to what constituted a teapot and the relevant importance of functionality to any ceramic-based artwork.
On closer observation the sculptural aspect of Weaver’s Preserve-ware also carried weight. His care for detail in the construction and glazing, in this case a cream-coloured glaze with pale green coming through, was clearly evident. The structural, architectural components of the teapots were directly related to a body of experimental anagama fired teapots and pourers Weaver produced at Mittagong in Australia in July. The results appeared bolder, less refined than previous series, and more exploratory.
Weaver’s first visit to Sturt Pottery in Mittagong Australia was in 2010 as Artist-in-Residence and this year he returned with a group of Australian and New Zealand ceramics artists who had been part of the Fuping Chinese Residency in 2007. The series of pots Weaver produced at Sturt this July, in an anagama firing that took four days, resulted in teapots and pourers with random areas of a rich orange on their exterior surfaces.
Compared to the spouts and handles on Weaver’s earlier teapots, both spout and handle initially appear curiously interchangeable; sturdy, simplified tapering cylindrical forms. Overall the teapots are squatter and feel more grounded, similar to the feelings generated in his earlier Iron series, based on his grandmother’s pressing iron. Spouts and handles are positioned either at 90 degrees to each other or on a horizontal axis while other handles stand vertical, or diagonally reaching skyward. In some teapots lids are non-existent revealing unadorned circular openings. The form of the teapot as a whole takes on an exciting, charged ambiguity.
The forms evident in Housework, the first body of works made since his time in Sturt this year, reflect similar shapes to those Weaver created in Mittagong. One teapot contains a removable infuser – a perfectly formed small perforated sculpture in its own right. For well more than 10 years Weaver has experimented with wood in his domestic ware in the form of feet and handles. Perhaps the most notable, a signature statement, are the handles in his teapots, fashioned out of heart Rimu and evident in various incarnations in the series such as Leaf, Iron, Pillow, Cut.
Several of Weaver’s 2011 and 2012 teapots in his Made to Measure series are rather Scandinavian looking in terms of balance and design. Cleverly the title directly refers to his use of old rulers – splicing,curving and gluing them to make the handles (some have business names, street addresses and even telephone numbers), adding a quirky link to bygone days. In some teapots the handles are attached inside a raised rim allowing them to be neatly folded down. A matching pair of finger-sized cuts in the rim offer easy access to lift the handles back to a vertical position. The lids themselves are carefully crafted works of art with inverted rims.
Weaver’s earlier solo show, Slice, held in a dealer gallery in Dunedin in 2009, is worthy of mention for its innovation in using found display stands. In this instance more than 30 pieces of small domestic ware – cups, plates, platters, sugar bowls, milk jugs and teapots – were ‘staged’ on old wooden tables, trunks and stools. Against the wooden floor of the gallery the installation breathed a sense of nostalgia and the contemporary, a casual but intriguing presence almost harking back to a rural New Zealand when studio pottery was in its infancy. Residue of flaking paint on one table created a weathered colonial setting.
Although Weaver travels internationally and gains much from shared experiences with other ceramists, both locally and internationally, he also lists ceramics artists Josef Benyon, Byron Temple, Walter Keeler and Takeshi Yasuda as inspirational for “their clarity of form and attention to detail”.
Although he now acknowledges the benefits of the Internet, Weaver has lived and worked in his remote studio in Hokitika on the West Coast of the South Island since the late 1970s. When asked about working in such an isolated place he commented
“I used to think. . . I was disadvantaged by living in isolation but I now think it has been to my benefit. I have become more resourceful and I am not so influenced by what others are doing which has been important in developing my own work. I probably saw more good ceramics because I only had books and when I did travel and could go to museums and galleries, I saw only the best.”
Undoubtedly an informed dialogue occurs when viewing a series of Weaver’s teapots together, particularly evident in Preserve-ware where he has taken greater risks and the results have moved his practice forward. Perhaps his time in Mittagong was a key factor in this, or a desire to experiment away from the rigours of making a living out of domestic ware.
Ultimately one is left wondering if any owners of Chris Weaver’s teapots in fact use them as functional items? I suspect many, including myself, place them in view (perhaps on the mantle piece) where they can be scrutinised, handled, returned and appreciated as works of art that go beyond function.
Pages 3 - 7
Ceramics Art and Perception
Article by Grant Banbury