WHEN Hiroe Swen came to Australia in 1968 she brought a more sophisticated and contemporary interpretation of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Those Australian potters who were familiar with Bernard Leach and the Japanese influence on his work were steeped in simple, domestic ware.
Swen’s work has always been concerned with movement, balance and space, both in form and surface decoration. The natural environment is a constant reference, but without obvious imitation. She does not push any particular political point or make any overt statement and there is no ephemeral humour. Hers are pots made with sensitivity and confidence and control of the medium. The forms are poetic and lyrical, in perfect harmony with the surface ornamentation. Through her personal expression, Swen seeks the dual ideals of truth and beauty, conveyed through material, shape, colour and pattern.
The pots on exhibit are based in the vessel form, with its obvious link to function, although they are rarely deliberately functional. She believes function includes touch and engagement, with the responsive feeling of pleasure in use.
In selecting work for this exhibition, Swen chose 50 from more than 100 completed works. Stylised birds swoop and soar across the creamy surface, creating movement and tension, on many different forms. The forms are elegant, spare and the ornamentation, similarly spare, draws the eye to circle the form, perhaps following the birds.
Swen has revisited forms and surface ornamentation in this exhibition, but refined and altered them. The walls of oval forms fold towards the centre, others are finished with a crisp, beveled edge. The walls of many forms are soft and rounded, while others are sharply defined. In several bowls she has carved depressions in the bases, almost an understated landscape.
Some works are decorated with an abstracted leafless tree motif – the colours are different and golden birds flit across their face with the branches deep in the background.
In addition to the pale glazed works are a number of dark, rectangular forms. The surface is carved with Gang Gang parrots whipping themselves into a frenzy.
The number of works displayed in this exhibition is exactly the right for this space. It is not crowded and I could see a variety of forms and glazes.
This exhibition, delivered by a senior, experienced artist who lives and works in Canberra, is outstanding.