James Greig: Defying Gravity
10 Dec 2016 – 12 Mar 2017
“Living forms inhabit a different space from the physical, not bound to gravity”
— James Greig
Defying Gravity brings together a lifetime of sculptural works by potter James Greig.
Greig’s study of European philosophy, Japanese culture, modernist architecture, the natural sciences and his love of the New Zealand landscape fuelled a practice that went far beyond the realm of domestic ceramics.
From early in his career Greig created vessels based on land and plant forms, water and the human body. He cultivated an understanding of the physical qualities of clay by moulding and building sculptural forms, sometimes too big for him to move alone. Exploring the dynamic nature of the medium, he melded slabs together to create almost impossible structures. Expressing his values through clay, he brought life and movement to inert objects.
Born in 1936, Greig began studying architecture in the late 1950s. He came across the work of potter Len Castle one afternoon when passing by a shop front. Awestruck by how these works reminded him of water rushing around the Devonport ferry, Greig sought Castle out in order to learn from him. After periods working in Northland and the Manawatū, Greig and his family settled in the Wairarapa.
As an established potter, Greig took several opportunities to research, work and show in Japan, developing a particularly strong connection with the work of Kawai Kanjirō. By the 1980s he had become a well-known figure in the international ceramics world, and a New Zealand cultural ambassador in Japan.
In 1986, Greig’s career was cut short when he died of a heart attack in Kyoto. As a result of his untimely death, Greig remains something of an unsung figure in New Zealand art and ceramics history, best known to connoisseurs and historians. Defying Gravity seeks to unpack Greig’s practice, share his vision and work with today’s audience, and acknowledge his unique approach which reconfigured the boundaries between ceramics and sculpture.
From the reviewers
"Defying Gravity deserves to gain James Greig wider national recognition. Beautifully presented by the Dowse, Greig’s work is exhibited in communion in its best gallery space, with bowls, platters and vessels on cubic modular tables surrounding a number of his last large major works, from the standing stone-like series ‘Transformation’. In the next door entrance exhibition space early work, influences and documentation are well presented to provide a strong context for the experience.
For all the cultural influences however natural influences strike me more—the work impresses for its singularity. The objects crystallise our appreciation of the fluidity of the natural forces of life. Vases, platters and bowls have a beautiful formal clarity. They act as cradles for motion, holding competing forces in harmony. They fly, turn and flow in form. They undulate in pleasing unexpected ways, capturing as visual statements the transformative power of nature."
Mark Amery, Free Flying and Flowing, The Big Idea, 17 January 2017
James Greig artist website
Combining culture and landscapes, Sian van Dyk discusses Defying Gravity on Radio New Zealand, 21 December 2016
Emily Norman, 'Potter's work heading to Te Papa', Wairarapa Times-Age, 9 August 2016
The Pantograph Punch, 'A Feeling for Form: James Greig at The Dowse'