‘Rich, complex and fascinating,’ Janet DeBoos retrospective

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THIS exhibition celebrates the achievements of one of Australia’s most influential and leading ceramic artists.

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Janet DeBoos has been working in the art of ceramics since the 1960s. Trained originally as a scientist, DeBoos wrote one of the first Australian books about glazes. “Glazes for Australian Potters”, first published in 1978 and reprinted in 1983, it is still considered to be a bible for glazes for Australian materials.

Two elements – surfaces and forms – have characterised her work from the beginning. This exhibition is a chronology of her ceramic life, and it skips around, referring back to early work, leading the viewer to more recent work , and between quite distinct periods in her productive life. The earliest works are from the late 1960s – luscious honey glazed, simple forms.

Surface ornamentation has generally been minimal, although since the late 1990s she has used a variety of methods to create rich, complex and fascinating surfaces – glazes, overglazes, decals and enamels – in addition to manipulation of the form so the surfaces take the glazes differently.

The comprehensive catalogue to the exhibition includes a quote from the UK ceramicist, Edmund de Waal which alludes to the sense of ambiguity and constant reinvention “ … that is the market for art”.

DeBoos’ exhibition spans the range of functional to decorative objects. But we must never forget the function and purpose of beauty. A handmade cup or bowl that is used daily gives as much pleasure to the user as a vase which might never be intended to hold flowers.

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Jacques Kaufman from Hangzhou, President of the International Academy of Ceramics speaks of DeBoos’ poetics of daily living, the quietness of her objects and the intimate exchange between maker and her materials.

DeBoos’ forms speak to each other. Catalogue 22, titled “Large Vase”, is made up of numerous small vases or bottles nestled between each other on a flat tray. The bottles are carefully arranged and refer in form and surfaces to each other. Singly they would not have the breath-taking beauty that they have together.

Catalogue 23, “Solitary Pleasures”, is similar. The objects on the tray allude to the comfort and joy one can have in sipping a cup of tea – without the competing noise of others.

The white, glazed porcelain and bone china, and celadon objects have an inner strength and are in startling juxtaposition with the heavily ornamented work, developed through DeBoos’ visits and work in China. Carved surfaces that reveal the white glaze, the contrast of black and white, brightly coloured decals all jostle with each other. But the surfaces are in complete harmony – there is no sense of confusion.

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This is a beautifully resolved exhibition and will be one of the outstanding exhibitions of 2015. Peter Haynes has written a full catalogue essay, which traces the artist’s ceramic life. The exhibition has been well laid out narrating the stories of DeBoos’ influences and the periods in her life that have led to her most recent work.

For anyone interested in ceramics, this is one of the ‘must see’ exhibitions.

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