Two students from The Learning Connexion – Gorgery Cheung and Sophie Arbuckle – are among the 29 finalists in the 2021 Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award, run by the Rick Rudd Foundation. An award of $12,000 is up for grabs for emerging artists making studio ceramics.
The finalists' works will be exhibited at the Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics in Whanganui. The Award is to encourage, foster and promote excellence by emerging makers of studio ceramics in all forms, from tableware to sculpture and from traditional to the avant-garde. It is open to artists practicing clay for less than five years.
We had a chat with the two TLC artists.
Gorgery Cheung – New Zealand Certificate in Creativity (Level 4)
Gorgery Cheung is a storyteller. It’s just that his stories are told with clay. The stories are fantastical and weird, pulsating with themes of supernatural power, the paranormal, monsters, magic, biological science and artificial intelligence.
Originally discovering ceramics at Vincents Art Workshop in Wellington, Gorgery secured a scholarship to study at The Learning Connexion in 2021. He worked on his entry for the Award onsite at TLC, after being encouraged to enter by one of his tutors from Vincents.
Using a fellow student as model, he asked them to think about their favourite fantasy characters from their youth. “I used (the student’s face) as the portrait foundation of the sculpture and built at the top of his head, painting those characters around his face.” The resulting work is a patchwork of fantastical characters including a magician Lego man, Demogorgon the flower monster from Stranger Things, Cyberman from Doctor Who, Thomas the Tank Engine – and even the iconic Buzzy Bee.
Gorgery says the overall idea is based on themes from the film Ex Machina which explores the massive creative potential of humans in an advanced technological society. “Once the person obtains the "close to God'' creating power, does it mean he becomes God?”
He utilised all his ceramic skillset to complete the project, including hand sculpture, throwing, portrait sculpting, slabbing, illustration on clay surface with hand drawing, carving and glazing.
A member of the Wellington Potters’ Association, Gorgery wants people to value ceramic work for more than just excellent craftsmanship, but the deeper meaning behind it. “I always think ceramic art is not simply just a handcrafted ‘thing’. For me, if the ceramic is designed with a deep meaning and idea, it should be treated as a valuable art piece,” says Gorgery.
He has previously won originality awards for his ceramic works at Dunedin’s Gallery on Blueskin. In 2020 one of his ceramic works was selected for the Wellington Regional Arts Review.
“TLC gave me such a great opportunity to complete the piece and be a finalist of the competition. I would like to thank TLC, which is such a beautiful and amazing place for making people's dreams come true.”
Sophie Arbuckle – New Zealand Diploma in Creativity (Level 5)
Sophie Arbuckle enjoys playing with deep, rich textures and colours that convey the passing of time. They reveal a love of the ocean, and also an appreciation of history that has been fostered through international travel.
Her piece entitled ‘Cordelia Amphora’ – selected as a finalist in the 2021 Emerging Practitioner in Clay Award – has those influences embedded in its creation.
“It encourages thought and imagination, and shows underlying history and a story,” says Sophie. “A lot of my works are greatly influenced by my love of the ocean, and also my admiration for the rich history I got to see while traveling. I like playing with rich deep colours and glazes, and using textures and a variety of techniques to show age.
TLC mentor Justine Turnbull says she is delighted with Sophie’s progress. “Sophie has found her own style, working with themes of the effects of time on materials and objects under the sea, recreating textures and colours to hint at the unknown eerie qualities of the depths.”
Sophie began working with clay just over two years ago while living in London. “Once returning to New Zealand I became a member at the Wellington Potters’ Association, and began studying ceramics at TLC this year.”
She says she enrolled at TLC to “assist and broaden my skills and further develop my personal style in ceramic arts”, and hopes to one day teach pottery. She says she is honoured to be selected as one of the 29 finalists for the Award.