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  • Anette Frisch

Surf & Turf

Gerry Wedd is an awarded ceramist and has been a South Australian Surf champion for several times. You can see his wonderfull oceanic pottery currently at Gallery Zink in Waldkirchen. Together with artist Karl Fritsch his works are shown in the exhibition"Surf & Turf" from 2nd of July until 9th of October 2022. I am very happy of two reasons: Gerry had the time to answer my questions. Second: His wife is a daily ocean swimmer. So I kind feel connected not only to Gerrys art but also to his life partner.

You see the pottery of Gerry Wedd. For expample pots and vases where Gerry Wedd drew waves, mythical figures or oceanic sealife with very fines lines in cobalt blue.
The photo shows a view of the exhibiton at Galerie Zink in Waldkrichen. © Erich Spahn

You are a passionate surfer. What do you experience when you are so strongly connected to the energy of the ocean?

Gerry Wedd: Simply put, the ocean and surfing have always been an escape valve for as long as I can remember. I like the solitary aspect and the act of surfing. I also love being immersed in the elements and hearing nothing but the sound of the water and the occasional gull. Every surf at some stage the world drops away.

You've been working with clay for more than 40 years. A very different material to water. The fluid and the earthy, solid material. And yet, are these two elements connected for you? Or is it the opposite that touches you? 

Working with clay was a result of an interest/passion in the visual arts from a very early age. My mother was a hobby potter who sold some of her work. I suppose she was a role model and showed me a way of making a living on my own terms and times. All I really wanted to do was surf, so saw pottery making as a viable career. I have never considered the relationship between clay and water in terms of materiality. Relationships can be drawn between the two but it might be the solitary aspect of the two activities that appeals to me.

You see flip flops in ceramic with wonderfull oceanic illustrations.
Flip-Flops made of clay by Gerry Wedd. © Erich Spahn

In an interview you said that working with clay was anachronistic, opposed to the digital world. Isn't it rather the case that, due to the fleetingness of the digital, the material gains in importance?

I was referring to the activity of carefully making utilitarian pots at great expense when the world has been taken over by companies like Ikea who produce reasonably well designed ceramics which are very cheap. I understand the value of the hand made and of the virtues and rewards in the tactile aspects of making but I sometimes despondent about the activity I am engaged in. I think it is worth considering these things.

Your love for cobalt blue, where does it come from?

For thirty years I made colourful ceramics covered in sgraffitoed drawings scratched into the surface of my pots. There are some pots in the exhibition that are decorated in this way. At some point I decorated a piece with cobalt oxide and became interested in the idea of a limited palette and the challenges and rewards in working that way. There is an aspect of my work that is driven by research into past historical models. Cobalt has been an important material over the centuries particularly in regard to ceramics. I am intrigued in the way that the use of it in blue and white ceramics has ricocheted around the world, beginning in Basra in the Middle East.

In front you see more pottery by Gerry Wedd, in the back a colourful painting of a skeleton by Karl Fritsch.
Another exhibition view: In front pottery by Gerry Wedd, in the back a painting by Karl Fritsch. © Erich Spahn

The drawings on your work are so detailed that one can almost feel how deeply you dive into these stories that your sculptures tell. How does the narrative of your work come about? In the process of creation or do you have an idea beforehand that you follow? 

I’ve always drawn on pots. These drawings were originally copied from historical models. At some stage I became interested in pots that told stories and began illustrating song lyrics and poems in my work. There is an underlying love of language in the work. Work starts in different ways. Sometimes the work is quite planned. Other works are more spontaneous. And the decoration grows as I am working. I have drawn on thousands of pots and so have a kind of lexicon of images to draw from.

When working with clay, but especially with glazes, you never know what will come out in the end. There is always a gap between the idea and the result. What does this tension mean to you?

I work in a fairly controlled way. I am not that interested in ‘happy mistakes’ though I enjoy the way the nature of the glaze melting can pull on the line work. I am always a bit bored by the work if there is no evidence of the process in the finished object. 

You see a vase, where you see heads of many people, on the right side a boat, people sitting in. The bottom of the vase show big waves.
The work "migration jar" by Gerry Wedd. © Gerry Wedd

Some works are carried by humour, make reference to pop culture and there are political-social aspects that you take up. Can you say what themes are currently guiding or inspiring you in your work?

In the midst of failing latter day capitalism it is hard to be terribly positive about these ‘interesting times’. Sometimes the themes I use are light and escapist and at other times I use the work as a sounding board for what I am thinking about or trying to think through. Of late, the pandemic and how we deal with it has cropped up in my work as well as ideas about social justice particularly in relation too the way Australia deals with refugees and our deplorable treatment of the traditional custodians.

I would like to come to the theme of repetition. When you surf, it's also a repetitive process: you swim out, wait for a good wave, take it, ride it, and then start all over again to the point of deep exhaustion. You say you feel the same way about pottery. Could that also be your connection between surfing and pottery? 

That is interesting. There is something great about doing something well with confidence. This happens when you are ‘in flow’, not thinking about the next step but just moving through the process. Sometimes (not all that often) this happens when I am in the midst of throwing and decorating cups. A similar thing used to occur when I was much better at surfing.

You see vases, jars and plates decorated with waves and surfers.
Rise up! Rise up! You great surf of Kahiki, you mighty breaking waves. Rise up with the chant. Rise up! Long, wild surf. (Hawain chant) © Erich Spahn

Finally, could you describe your most beautiful work situation in a sensual way, so that we can take a seat in your imagination in your shed for a moment? Is there music playing? Is it quiet? Can you hear the sea where you sit, or passing cars …

I work in a shed at the back of my house next to my printmaking wife’s grand studio. (My wife is an almost daily ocean swimmer). The work areas are in a relatively lush garden which is filled with large trees and hence many birds. There is little outside noise. We are situated in a small coastal town in South Australia called Port Elliot. I always look at the weather and surf reports to plan my day around. Depending on the work I am making I might listen to the radio for an hour to know what is happening in the world or play some music. I am a big fan of songs and like interesting lyrics. After a while my concentration dips in and out of the music and it becomes kind of white noise. One morning I was decorating pots and listening to Joni Mitchell. Noticed something in my peripheral vision and a large magpie was at my feet , tilting it’s head to better hear the singing.

Gerry Wedd in front of a wall with tiles he decorated with cobalt blue. There's an abreviated songtext by the british Band "The Smiths": "Knows I'm miseralbe now.
Gerry Wedd, standing in his installation "Songs for a Room", 2018. © Sam Roberts

Gerry Wedd (born 1957) is a potter and a surfer. He has a Degree in Visual Arts and obtained a Masters in Fine Art from UNISA in 2005. He has been making pots for forty years which has been his main means for survival. Gerry has exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally, including Havana Bienal, JamFactory, Ian Potter Museum of Art and The Victoria and Albert Museum. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Hobart Art Prize or the Sidney Myer Fund International Ceramics Award. With his striking installation "Song for a Room" he won the Don Dunstan Award in 2018. Gerry Wedd is represented in major public collections around the country. His association with JAC (then Pottery In Australia) began while still at art school in the 1980’s. Wedd, who was first addicted to surfing and then to ceramics, lives on the cold south coast of Australia. He was South Australian surf champion several times in a row.


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