Review / Moon’s ‘robust’ pots draw on foreign traditions

craft / “Milton Moon: A Potter’s Pilgrimage”, Watson Arts Centre. Until April 15. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.

THIS is a survey exhibition of the renowned potter, Milton Moon. His robust pots draw on British and Asian ceramic traditions in an individual and Australian manner.

Milton Moon Untitled Work 2017

Moon was born in Melbourne in 1926, trained in Brisbane and spent most of his successful career in Adelaide. With a solid, established reputation he became head of ceramics at the South Australian School of Art in 1965 where he remained until 1975. After retiring from the School of Art, he began potting full-time in the Adelaide Hills.

The exhibition is large, with over 100 works on display, the earliest dating from 1979 the most recent from 2018. It is not arranged chronologically, but brings works with similar qualities together: surface decoration, form and colours.

“Catalogue No. 74”, a large bowl with a representational image, is the earliest work (1979). Flowers in lavender and pinks rise from a dark ground – a garden perhaps – and is reminiscent of much of his work from this period. A bowl from c1985 has similar decoration. A pale, crackle glaze is decorated with blossoms on stems. Both works rise from a turned foot, which is something he seems to have abandoned in more recent works.

For me, the earlier works are the most appealing. Six plates from 1990, all titled “Golden Summer Plate” may have been part of a dinner service, but are displayed as separate works. The evocative surface decoration of these works is kept to one hemisphere and blurred splashes of glaze could be dandelion heads in the summer heat – a puff of wind might blow them away.

Milton Moon Untitled Pot 2016

Moon has always made large works, which is no mean feat. They are hard to manage when wet and firing often creates unpredicted problems. Catalogue No. 6 (1997) is a very large bowl – 61cm in diameter. The only surface decoration is splashes of glaze across the interior surface and an incised criss-cross pattern around the rim. This is a stunning work.

Few of the works have descriptive titles, however, No. 62, another large work – a platter – from 1997 is titled “Flight of the Finches”. It features a wide stripe of brightly coloured glazes runs from one edge to the other. The decoration is energetic and lively – you can almost hear the beating of the birds’ wings.

Moon visited Japan during and after World War II, and this has had a lasting influence on him and his work. On a study fellowship from the Myer Foundation in 1974, he spent a considerable amount of time studying the famous tea-bowls – “chawan” – in the collection of the temple in which he studied with a master potter and his led to significant and lasting cultural insights. There are several “chawans” included in the exhibition, dating from 2000, 2005 and 2017, and each bowl has its own special qualities. Generally they are simple and humble, rising from a foot, light to hold in two hands with the glaze forming the only subtle surface decoration. Books have been written about “chawans” and their significance in Japanese culture and they hold an important place in Moon’s body of work.

Milton Moon is a hero in the Australian ceramics scene and viewers are fortunate to see this major exhibition. It is not billed as a retrospective, but in effect it shows his work over almost forty years.

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