Clay Gulgong 2016: a novice guide (part 1)
I’ve been sitting here, huddled under mounds of grey knit & cradling a motivational cup of coffee (inscribed with ‘don’t fucking procrastinate’ it couldn’t be anything but) for several hours, pondering how best to relay the events of the past week.
In that time I’ve addressed the hot-mess that was my email in-box and my motivational coffee has gone cold but I’m still at a loss at how best to capture a time so saturated with (a) information and (b) alcohol.
To so own a cliché, the best starting place is probably the beginning. That would be last Sunday which saw a very kind friend from my law-degree days driving me to the School of Art as the first rays of heatless-gold broke the horizon. (Oh Canberra I am so looking forward to your winter.)
Our conversation on the drive in went something like this:
“Where are you going?”
cue Google Maps interlude. For reference, Gulgong is a small town near-ish to Mudgee about 4.5 hours west over the Blue Mountains from Sydney.
“…oh. Why would you go there?”
“Clay… conference.” (Conference is a word with which lawyers are intimately familiar).
“…that’s a thing?”
“What will you do there?”
“…not entirely sure.”
“You’re certain it’s not some sort of arty-hippie orgy?” (Lawyers)
“….I don’t think so. It didn’t say that on the confirmation email.”
Had I not been so overwhelmed by the wash of (to me) unfamiliar names on a quick flick through the program (bringing home my abundant ceramic ignorance), I definitely could have found out more information ahead of time. But where’s the fun without mystery?
And so it was with very little knowledge and even less camping equipment (it may surprise you that I’m more prone to glamping than it’s c-word cousin) that I boarded the ANU chartered bus to Gulgong via Cowra. Via Cowra because our esteemed leader (technical title: Head of School)-cum-bus-driver Greg Daly kindly offered to show us round his studio on route.
Greg is a ceramicist well known – actually, very well known (an attestable fact now that I have witnessed dozens of strangers approach him with reverent air) - for his lustre glazes. Lustre glazes are best described as what would happen if you fed a youth an abundance of metallic colours and then handed them a pot. It’s very bight, very beautiful and very intense. It’s also apparently very hard to do but I’m still swimming in a sea of practical ignorance on that score.
Walking into Greg’s studio, then, is best likened to Aladdin’s cave or perhaps, for those more Tolkien inclined, Smaug’s horde. There are endless shelves upon which sit numerous rows of uncountable pots and vessels in all the sizes and shapes that the wheel can spin; gleaming deeply through ample dust coatings.
The glint and shimmer of the works befuddle the mind so that, almost without realizing, it you end up picking a piece from the gloaming of the back shelves and rubbing away the dust to unveil the most fantastical glitter of colour. Dangers of handling aside, the process of gradually revealing a form to your gaze (and for your gaze alone) is so romantic it is hard not to fall in love with what you unearth.
This is equally true of what you can uncover outside the studio, where there is a ceramic cemetery of those forsaken and forgotten in the red dust. A giant platter, festooned in crimson and violet swirls, lies half submerged by gum leaves. Nearby a cracked but luminescent green pitcher rests on its side while trails of ants traverse its glazed surface.
With gentle slopes and golden light it’s a place you could happily linger, disinterring buried treasures among the gum trees. Luckily for the progression of the week, Greg is more inured to its charms than most, so we were soon back on the (dirt) track. Australian road trips being by nature both beautiful and protracted, it was a short 6 hours later that we arrived in the thriving metropolis of Gulgong (pop. 1866), where the party up on Red Hill was just beginning.
The conference presence was hard to miss, signalled as it was by the stylishly monochrome Clay Gulgong 2016 lanyards that began, post-registration, to throng the main street and peer into the many shopfronts that had been transformed to showcase a wondrous assortment of ceramic works.
It would be a lie to say that I grasped the opening night proceedings in their entirety. But that says less about their obscurity than my freshman ignorance. But what I did fully comprehend, somewhat to my regret, was the rather limited wine list at the pub, post-proceedings.
A five-dolla house red is always a goer.