Sites of Transformation

By Anna Dowd

When visual artist David Tucker was introduced to ceramics 20 years ago, something about the direct contact between clay and hands just felt right.

“I’d worked with a number of materials including wax cast to bronze, cast polyurethane and wood, and found myself in overalls, gloves, facemasks, goggles and earmuffs wielding sharp, noisy, smelly dangerous tools.”

“Not good for the body and isolating for me from the material and the world.”

With clay, Tucker used both hands, no other tools were required and he could work from a room in his house, listening to music.

“I need a kiln to make the work go hard, but that’s all. Clay is a natural material, it is the earth.”

It’s these connections between the clay, the body, nature and creativity that are explored in his upcoming exhibition Sites of Transformation at Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery.

The award winning ceramicist says the human body has been a mainstay of his work for a long time, a subject that has a long lineage in sculpture, but in this exhibition, he extends his exploration.

“Some people might still see the body in these works, and I think that’s true, but they also relate to what humans make.

“Clay into pots, pots heated to make them hard, grain fermented in pots to make beer, water heated to make steam, the making of engines. Making is part of who we are, without our even noticing.”

The striking complimentary terracotta and ultramarine blue running through the pieces represent different levels of making.

“Terracotta is one of the ancient materials, and some of these pieces may relate to something archaeological we dig up but don’t know what it might be used for.

“The blue seems to relate to a different level of making, perhaps industrial, or maybe something to do with the mind.”

The alchemy involved in human creativity and indeed all natural processes is for Tucker well represented by forms like the humble leech, which during the wet summers on his property at Dundurrabin west of Coffs Harbour, are plentiful.

“They are such a minimalist life form, a sleek muscular tube really. Something goes in. Something happens, change occurs. Something comes out,” he points out.

“The leech is a stripped down metaphor for how existence  transforms something other than itself, into its own separate reality.”

The metaphors nature gives us for change and transformation map readily onto human artistic practice, something Tucker knows intimately as a dedicated visual artist of 40 years, and explores in these works.

“Something may catch our eye and or mind, which when sifted through a memory that surfaces, or something we’ve read or something someone has said, might, if we’re lucky morph into something that’s its own thing, that has its own simple but layered resonance.”