THE GREATEST SHOW: Warren Tippett's pots from a life less ordinary
02 December 2005 - 21 January 2006
Warren Tippett is a seminal figure in the history of New Zealand studio ceramics because his works and lifestyle connect up key moments and significant local and international studio ceramics dynamics. In the words of curator Moyra Elliott, "Tippett helped reform the canon of ceramics in New Zealand." Tippet started potting in Invercargill in the late 1950s. By the 1970s, and living in Coromandel, he was recognized as an important second generation figure in the ranks of potters working within the Anglo-Oriental tradition. This school of thought derives from the writings of English potter Bernard Leach which drew inspiration from medieval English and traditional Japanese and Korean pots which emphasised material, a quiet decoration and the spontaneity of the firing process. The philosophy engendered a vocational, workshop centred, pottery making life.
It was this approach that informed most New Zealand studio ceramics production of the time. Moyra Elliott has pinpointed the time around the 1978 exhibition at Auckland's New Vision Gallery and the 1980 Five by Five show at the Denis Cohn Gallery as a pivotal time in Tippett's practice which "condense shifts in New Zealand clay practice, which actually took more than a decade, into a little over a year. The shift revolves around notions of function and diversity....there was a repositioning beyond function and into the decorative." Changes in Tippett's lifestyle were reflected in his work. As his interest moved from form to surface his work embraced the colourful and vibrant influences of his own Auckland and Sydney environments, the traditions of decorated Oriental and Mediterranean ceramics and contemporary international developments that located ceramics as part of a wider dynamic visual culture.
In making a series of innovations within his own practice he "overturned an entrenched blueprint on how to make pots and what kind of pots to make. By embracing the formerly scorned earthenware and aesthetics more associated with pop culture, Polynesia and carnival-ware he opened the doors to a healthier diversity." Moyra Elliott and Objectspace acknowledge the support provided by Creative New Zealand which assisted with research for The Greatest Show: Warren Tippett's pots from a life less ordinary and the accompanying publication.