Christo­pher Allen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

For ce­ramists, and even for those merely in­ter­ested in the an­cient art of the pot­ter and its var­i­ous con­tem­po­rary man­i­fes­ta­tions, Clay Gul­gong is a great plea­sure. An in­ter­na­tional festival set up orig­i­nally as a three-yearly event by Janet Mans­field, it has been car­ried on since her death by her son Neil and daugh­ter-in-law Ber­nadette Mans­field, and is now held ev­ery two years. The pic­turesque lit­tle NSW town of Gul­gong, near Mudgee, is taken over for a week by a con­ge­nial crowd of ce­ramic artists and, apart from the for­mal ex­hi­bi­tions, al­most ev­ery shopfront is filled with dis­plays of work by most of Aus­tralia’s best prac­ti­tion­ers.

Two years ago I was in­vited to Gul­gong to give a talk about the his­tory of the pot­ter’s wheel as a lit­er­ary metaphor; this time I was there to take part in a writ­ers panel. There were many other talks by artists, writ­ers and deal­ers, but the most fas­ci­nat­ing part of the event was wan­der­ing around the tents set up on the hill, watch­ing mas­ter ce­ramists from across the world demon­strat­ing their art and an­swer­ing ques­tions from the pub­lic. Af­ter­wards ev­ery­one con­gre­gates in one of the nu­mer­ous pubs, so close to­gether that from the door­way of any of them you can see at least one other.

From Gul­gong it seemed like a good idea to visit Or­ange, rel­a­tively close by, stop­ping on the way at Hill End, al­most for­got­ten when dis­cov­ered by Don­ald Friend and Rus­sell Drys­dale in 1947 and now an ex­cep­tion­ally charm­ing place filled with old houses and beau­ti­ful trees, half a liv­ing mu­seum, but still an ac­tive artists’ colony. The aim of vis­it­ing Or­ange was to see an exhibition of paint­ings of in­te­ri­ors, which coin­ci­den­tally turned out to in­clude many pic­tures painted in Hill End.

Leav­ing Hill End in the direction of Bathurst, we had only driven 10km or 20km when we found the road blocked by a road ac­ci­dent that had oc­curred mo­ments ear­lier. A mo­tor­cy­clist had over­taken a util­ity at great speed — as its shaken driver ex­plained to us — then lost con­trol of his bike and struck a small tree with such vi­o­lence that he had felled it. The rider had been killed al­most in­stantly. It was a grim spec­ta­cle, and it also be­came ap­par­ent that we would not be al­lowed to con­tinue on our way, as var­i­ous of­fi­cials ap­peared and de­clared that the site was now a crime scene.

So we had to drive back to Hill End, where we dis­cov­ered that there was no al­ter­na­tive road to the south. We would have to make our way back to Mudgee and then around by a long route to Bathurst. Start­ing back to­wards the north, how­ever, we soon came to a cross­coun­try short­cut, driv­ing south­west to­wards Or­ange. As the crow flies, the dis­tance was In­te­ri­ors Or­ange Re­gional Gallery, Or­ange, NSW. Un­til June 24.

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