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From the Fire - Exhibition Opening Address

Louise van Niekerk
The Schreiner Gallery
22 June to 6 August 2006

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by Ben Temkin

Welcome all of you. My name is Ben Temkin. Some of you may know that I write. I am one of Louise van Niekerk's fellow artists and am also co-owner of a gallery in the sticks.

Louise's works have been exhibited in that gallery since it opened and so, there was a certain personal pride when I heard a while back that she had been invited to exhibit at the Tatham.

It was with an equal certain sense of privilege when she later invited me to open her show.

Louise van Niekerk's exhibition is entitled - as you know - From the Fire: An interaction of earth, fire and the potter's touch. This is a short summary of the introduction - the art of the potter, of course, combines all the four elements of nature - earth, fire, water and air. It's a fundamental form of art, only less old than rock art, perhaps, which didn't need fire.

If you think about it, pottery followed logically from the harnessing of fire by people. We began to cook food - we needed implements to cook the food and to eat from it.

In itself, a simple pot, no matter how often replicated, is much more than something useful, a utensil. The shape alone must have been created from appreciation. It is pleasing to look at, pleasing to see as well as useful.

Could that beautifully-shaped utensil, not then be used as a surface for colour and decoration? How long could people have resisted those surfaces? Not long, I suspect. I know that when children first make a simple pot, it's just a moment before they want to make their 'own', a pot that tells the world something of its maker.

Fire has to be controlled by people before they could make pots. They had to invent a wheel before they could throw a pot. You can make exquisite pots by coiling clay - but you can make extravagant pots by throwing them.

Louise van Niekerk' pot flaming in sawdust

This brings me back to Louise and this beautiful array of artistic pieces from earth, fire, water and air. To be able to do this require two things, expert skill at moulding the clay and artistry to imbue into those pieces her own unique vision.

Without this vision, the pots and other objects she makes would be no more special than the mass-produced crockery that fills the shelves of Mr. Price Home.

In his book, Art and Reality, the novelist Joyce Cary wrote that 'a punch on the nose is not an art, but the words with which we attempt to justify it are certainly art, they are words with which we attempt to persuade, to describe and convey our emotion, to communicate an idea'.

To make a pot is not an art form - it's a craft. To transform that pot into something that will be enjoyed by sight and feelings is indeed art.

Nor imagine for a moment that something has to be beautiful to be art. One of Picasso's most famous paintings is Guernica, which is also one of the most evocative pictures of the horrors of war. The painter Francis Bacon made few, if any, paintings whose beauty would evoke sighs. More likely is a feeling of horror, even disgust. But, you can, as I do return again and again to his work because it tells you much of the human spirit, its torments and its delights.

The work of Bacon and Picasso, of many tens of thousands of writers, painters, sculptors and potters, are art because they have been transformed by an intuition. We may recognise that intuition by naming it as talent. And we know that talent makes art. Well, we know how to use fire, earth, water and air to make a pot. But only artists, such as Louise, have the talent to transform those pots into art.

Louise learnt her craft both by herself and at college but her talent - the intuition to turn her work into art - is her own. I have known and appreciate her art for some five years. I have regularly been surprised and delighted with her work.

Those of you who are seeing her work here for the first time, will I am sure be astonished at her surprising virtuosity. Those of you, who are familiar with her work, will find new delights here.

Before officially opening the exhibition I would compliment all those involved in the Tatham, the director, the Board of Trustees and that whole body of people that keep the Gallery going. The Tatham is, in my view, a unique gallery in South Africa, almost entirely home-brewed, serving its community and showing and encouraging extraordinary art. I do not know of a single city or town in this country that has a gallery that has an equal successful purpose of community.

Thank you all of you.

I wish you much enjoyment from this exhibition and have no doubt many will take some of the treasures home.

From the Fire: An interaction of earth, fire and the potter's touch

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