Ros Auld’s intelligence and sense of herself as an artist encourages viewers to see her pottery and sculpture in the context of her life and the unforced way it has changed as she has changed over time. Her disciplined and unpretentious approach to making work and talking about it makes a visit to her studio a dream. ARTIST PROFILE visited her at Borenore, near Orange, NSW.
ROS AULD WAS BORN IN INVERELL AND FIRST STUDIED art teaching in Newcastle, on a teaching bond. There she majored in painting, was also taught the basics of sculpture and, thank goodness, went to a class in ceramics and “was hooked”. After teaching in secondary schools and studying pottery part-time she went full-time to East Sydney Tech (now the National Art School). Peter Rushforth was teaching there at the time: “He would show slides, we’d all rush to see them, he didn’t so much teach the Japanese aesthetic as show us,” says Auld. Bernard Sahm provided the elements of European technique. The 1970s, when Auld graduated, were a time of confidence, indeed exuberance, as Australians spoke to each other in a local accent across so many artistic genres: vernacular imagery in music, plays and painting took their place beside European classics. This mood resonated with the international influence of potter Bernard Leach, and the focus on the dignity of the maker and an immediate relationship with materials, a loyalty to the beauty of clay and natural forms, textures and colours. Auld travelled to England and worked in John Piper’s studio, and on returning to Australia she and her husband moved to the city of Orange in Central Western NSW, where enthusiasm for pottery brought hundreds of students to the local TAFE. Auld showed me work she made in this period, decoration inscribed on the pot, the interesting uncertainty of salt glazing. Her discussion of the technique revealed an informed professionalism, a happy engagement with the practicalities of the market and a capacity to follow her instincts and imagination. She and her husband found a sweet, small valley with a farmlet and sheds, and here they settled, remodelling the little house, the shelves and walls of which display the story of her work. As Orange began encouraging the food and wine industries, a friend suggested to Ros that she produce a line of cookware, and here are platters and bowls that heighten the pleasure of lunch. She began to introduce coloured glazes, especially on large platters; some of these gleam on the walls as we eat near the kitchen fire; it’s a cold day, and the clutter on the bench sits in front of a set of tiles decorated by a group of friends and installed by Auld. The Japanese delight in the imperfection of cracks and odd unexpected bubbles in the glaze, and Auld has understood this. Her expertise shapes, in every sense of that word, the things she makes, but she enjoys the unexpected. She has collaborated with painters such as John Olsen and Tim Winters, and has shown drawings, paintings, collages and sculptures; there’s a framed fired image, and its glass brings the outside in. She taught full- and part-time for some years, but as for all artists, there was a tension; pupils’ problems, helping them express their ideas distracted from her own. “It was not until I was alone in the studio with time that I was able to develop my own style,” she explains. It’s such a pleasure to be able to be in the history of the work, the most recent products of that time alone. In what she calls her vessels, one can see the training in painting and sculpture, and observation and experience of the landscape come together. They are mostly receptacles, so the sense of the maker being a potter remains. “I don’t want to focus on function, but I am interested in the inside/outside,” says Auld. The vessels’ textures and colours are those of a painter, and the forms sit in space as confidently as any sculpture. And there is somehow a sense of humour … are the little sturdy feet a gentle hint about keeping your feet on the ground? One set of shelves, cups plates and bowls stacked into a cheerful clutter look like records of another kind. They are records: a history of the maker, the family and friends who’ve carried them and put them on tables and handed them around, who over time have washed and dried them. These piles of objects are a material acknowledgement of relationship; between maker and clay, clay and glaze, colour, mass, volume, of the impulse of her pupils to learn, of shoppers to buy, of friends and teachers. Auld’s lovely objects reflect this contented acceptance of life. The textures and colours vary, they are both of the Australian landscape, its vistas and intimacies, and of its rocks and stones; one wants to caress the surface and look long at it. I asked to see some sculptures; the problem was that she recently had a sell-out show. Those she’s kept again meditate on art and on materials, using metal and clay, sitting beautifully in space. In the studio, looking back to the house, one can see how space and place contribute to Auld’s work. The house retains the soul of a cottage, the windows let in light and reveal the garden, but the spaces
are intimate and restful, contemplative rather than dramatic. The studio is the same, an adapted shed, a practical warm working space, and the window looks to the house and garden. But with all this, there’s nothing in the work that speaks of domesticity, of some feminine soft aesthetic. We only touch briefly on feminism, the historic “place” of women, when we are talking about Auld’s bronzes. Her father designed and made farm machinery, and sandcast metal, and as a girl then she wasn’t taught about that; but this is a wry, good-humoured nod at the past: Auld is concerned with the present. Her pieces have an intellectual rigour borne of discipline and technical expertise and an understanding of art movements and traditions. I ask who is her dealer. She shows and sells through public regional galleries, and it’s obvious that this is very successful. She’ll have work at the new Narek Galleries on the NSW South Coast, and at Form Gallery in Queanbeyan, but she doesn’t show with anyone in the metropolis. Often one wishes that regional dwellers could have access to the lively contemporary scene in the major cities. In the case of Ros Auld, the cities are missing out.