High Tide: New Work by John Crawford.
critic, Gabi Dewald
once compared Ngakawau to ‘paradise’,
an apt description for this stunning coastal
settlement located twenty-five minutes drive north of
1974 John and Anne Crawford settled in Ngakawau, a move which paved the
way for younger artists with similar aspirations. After many a battle
with conservative councillors, the Crawfords established their studio
and home, and later the Hector Pottery showroom directly opposite
Ngakawau beach. The couple’s combined fourteen years of experience,
acquired while training at Nelson’s Waimea Craft Pottery studio
under the guidance of influential
John Crawford thrives on isolation. Location is paramount and in the quiet of his studio, Crawford tests the boundaries of clay. From this retreat, Crawford observes the tide, surrounding bush and seasons. While many works are created in direct response to the environment, others stem from memory, in particular the artist’s childhood spent in Runanga; a small coal mining village and later years in Greymouth. Childhood toys and sinkers are just some of the non traditional forms that have evolved through this process. Place and identity are enduring themes; after all, the West Coast is Crawford’s turangawaewae; a metaphorical backbone.
the 1980s Crawford’s perspective seemed far removed from a
search for what he describes as ‘a
is a master of perception; his ability to evoke a sense of place,
even when exhibiting in a foreign context is admirable. Crawford
skilfully captures the extremities, characteristics, textures and
colours of the West Coast landscape and in doing so presents a distinct
years have passed since Crawford last exhibited in
I made it through the Arthur’s Pass, leaving the parched
arrival I joined the Crawfords for a stroll on the beach. Ngakawau
beach is by no means calm; the
The Hand-Line series is closely related to the sea. Fishing hooks and line are painted onto many of the forms. Crawford recalls line fishing with his father and the many hours he spent at the beach as a child. Lure with Ceramic Shells and Sinker, emphasise the artists’ relationship with the landscape. Woven kits and line reiterate Crawford’ s experience with the sea and on an aesthetic note, a new interest in weaving and alternative materials.
the meaning attached to certain motifs may seem obscure or perhaps
unrelated to the theme of place. Whereas generations of
Overall, colour is restricted to a minimum. Works are muted and at times the surfaces are weathered in appearance, as if left outside for long periods of time, exposed to the rain and sun. The artist’s palette is likened to the landscape; Pacific colours – earth tones reminiscent of tapa cloth (a sample seen pinned to Crawford’s studio notice board), brown hues similar to those of West Coast rocks and cliff faces, even fossils. Crawford’s signature style glazes have developed over a period of years. Works are fired at 1150 degrees centigrade. Matt slips and glaze are applied to the form and over painted with a reactive black stain. This technique softens the designs, many of which appear burnt into the surface of the work. Patterns bleed into the clay, smudged like charcoal; possibly a reference to the artist’s childhood in Runanga; his coal mining ancestry and the extraction of materials from the earth. The manual process of creation is often referenced both in the needlework imagery and the marks left on the surface of the clay. Fragile in appearance, each vessel is coiled and pinched to form a robust structure.
Crawford is as much an artist on paper and canvas as he is in clay. The illustrative qualities of the Hand-Line series have grown from his love of drawing, a passion instilled by his father and one which allows him to work quickly, a factor which he enjoys given the time it takes to create ceramics. Crawford has many sketch books stored in his studio. The correlation between his three dimensional works and drawings are indisputable. The Hand-Line series uses illustrative detail to great effect. Like Scrimshaw art, Crawford makes use of simple designs, motifs and scenes to communicate ideas and experiences.
 Gabi Dewald, ‘From the Water’s Edge’, Ceramics: Art and Perception, 20, 1995, p. 90.
Email to author.
 Dewald, p. 91.
Mirror’, Craft New