The Gallery has recently acquired a group of 50 highly accomplished ceramic works by Les Blakebrough, gifted by the artist. Blakebrough is one of Australia’s most experienced ceramic artists and brings to this group of works a distillation of a number of design themes that have characterised his work over the past five decades.
Blakebrough was born in Great Britain in 1929 and arrived in Australia in 1948. He was apprenticed to Ivan McMeekin at Sturt Pottery, Mittagong, and become its Director in 1964. He became Senior Lecturer of the Ceramics department at the Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania, in 1973. Later, he headed the department and, in 1990, he established the University’s Ceramic Research Unit.
While visually reductive, Blakebrough’s forms are strong and grounded in a precise and generous functionality, reflecting his finely honed design sensibility and a celebration of the science of craft. Developing and using his own ‘Southern Ice’ porcelain clay has encouraged him to explore its particular qualities of translucency and crystalline whiteness. The raised relief decoration on a number of the works was achieved by masking areas of the unfired clay surface with shellac before sponging away the background to a thinness that, once fired, allows the passage of light. The resulting effect has the subtlety of a watermark and a sense of transience and luminosity that one might expect from a coating of frost or ice on foliage or rocks.
The collection includes a group of Flora Tasmanica plates, decorated with Tasmanian flora subjects by Tasmanian botanical illustrator Lauren Black. Inspired by the famous Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory’s eighteenth-century Flora Danica service, these works elegantly illustrate native species and show the result of the artistic and technical collaboration between Blakebrough and Black.
Les Blakebrough’s generous gift provides the National Gallery of Australia with the most extensive national representation of this important artist’s work and is an authoritative addition to the Gallery’s collection of modern Australian decorative arts and design.
Robert Bell AM
Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 68, summer 2011