Guest Voices: Richard Parker – A Personal Observation

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director
This is our third post in our 'Guest Voices' series: short pieces by creative people we've welcomed into The Dowse.

Today’s post is by Anna Hesp. Anna will be well-known to many in Wellington from her time at Avid Gallery, which is where I first met her. She is a passionate and knowledgable supporter of New Zealand jewellers and ceramicists. I invited Anna out to visit The Dowse, and we spent a delightful couple of hours poring first over our The Cabinets exhibition and then more of the cabinets out back in collection storage.

In particular, Anna homed in on our collection of Richard Parker’s work, and told me about her first introduction to him, more than two decades earlier, when she was working at The Villas Gallery. This memory prompted her Guest Voices piece.

Check out the previous Guest Voices posts:

Catherine Field-Dodgson – Project Sunshine
Rachel O’Neill – Sketching a screenplay

Richard Parker – A personal observation

The Villas Gallery was a small, purpose designed and built gallery set up by Edith Ryan and Anne McKinnon in the early 1980s to give artists working in the applied arts a voice and a specific gallery space. Many of the great New Zealand artists working today had early exhibitions at The Villas Gallery. This gallery had a reputation for showing excellence in craft design and in its time showed many beautiful, exciting and revolutionary works. Both Anne McKinnon and Edith Ryan worked tirelessly for the promotion of New Zealand craft artists. The artists who exhibited at The Villas Gallery were truly cared for in every way with their work being presented in the best possible circumstances. On a personal level, they were shown amazing hospitality by Anne and Edith, being taken into their home where they were wined, dined and entertained with extraordinary generosity.

Richard Parker, Spotted Dish. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

Richard Parker, Spotted Dish. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

In 1985 I was truly fortunate to be employed by Anne and Edith to assist with the running of the gallery and this proved to be the most exciting work experience of my life. Having had an interest in the arts from a youngish age I was suddenly submerged and surrounded by beautiful objects on a daily basis – heaven!! It was here that I was introduced to the ceramics of Richard Parker and it was here that I ‘fell in love’ with his work and began to collect it.

My first response to Richard’s work was immediate and positive. During my years at The Villas I saw many inspired works by the work of Richard Parker gave me such a powerful visceral response and I continued to experience this feeling many times in my association with Richard’s ceramics over the next 25 years. His ceramics have a presence that insists you look at them ‘with different eyes’. To those who perceive his work for the first time, it is probably the elemental power of the work that provokes a response, whereas the intrinsic beauty of the pots can come upon one gradually. To those familiar with the work, there is a counterblast, an excitement and most of all a ‘recognition’ that here is an artist who understands his practice and has raised the profile of clay as an art form.

Richard Parker, Ochre Vase. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

Richard Parker, Ochre Vase. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

Objectspace was insightful in making Richard Parker a Master of Craft; the title was well deserved as Richard has a deep knowledge and understanding of his practice and has mastered all aspects of it. The exhibition that followed meant that the works lent by collectors (and institutions) would be toured for two years. I found it quite difficult to live without my lovely Richard Parker pieces as I was always aware of the spaces waiting for the work to come home.

The late great James Mack (Galvin McNamara) said ‘Edith [Ryan] and I had not the slightest doubt that New Zealand ceramicists were saying vital things about our culture in clay; that ceramics artists had cracked through the Eurocentric influence that dominated contemporary painting. We felt strongly that ceramics artists were speaking in a vital new voice that was born of this land. A voice that linked us to something ancient and universal’. Richard’s work reflected this change of attitude which allowed New Zealand artists to ‘listen’ to their own voice and create works that evolved from their own cultural experience.

Richard Parker, Dish. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

Richard Parker, Dish. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum.

Richard Parker, Master of Craft, gifted ceramic artist, creative teacher and generous kind friend, greatly deserves every recognition and accolade that comes his way; tireless and uncompromising he continues to make wonderful innovative pieces at once new and exciting but at the same time imbued with a strong sense of the ancient. I believe his wonderful works will be among the treasured antiques of the future. It has been my great pleasure and privilege and an absolute joy to help promote the work of Richard Parker over the past 25 years.

Anna Hesp

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