It was chillier and a little bit drizzly when I set out on an October morning in Perth, Australia to meet-up with Graham Hay - International Guru of Paper Clay.
Graham Hay from 2019 Arts in Vincent Oral History Video.
Graham's spirit of generosity was evident far before landing in Perth. He gave me so much advice to plan my clay adventures in Perth and throughout Australia. His attention to detailed planning and guiding were well appreciated with notes of advice to manage things from jet-lag prevention to meeting times and dates.
Students put finishing touches on their pieces ending the day's class.
We met at his Robertson Park Artists Studio at 11am sharp on a Friday - just at the end of a class he was teaching as well as a time when he and the other Studio Artisans meet for morning tea. He told me to look for the white chairs under the gum tree; however, with a little rain we eventually retreated inside for morning tea and chat with some new artist friends.
Robertson Park Artists Studio.
Non-profit studio collective and teaching space.
In addition to teaching from this space, Graham also shares the independent self-funded, non-profit studio collective with professional Artisans: Carol Rowling, Frances Dennis, Sara Jane Marchant, Christopher McClelland, and Bethamy Linton. The amount of pure artistic genius and creativity across multiple mediums in a small space was truly an astounding national treasure.
I spoke with Frances Dennis while working on her series titled, "Old Crocks Choir", for an upcoming exhibit. She laughingly mentioned these works were inspired by a recent visit to a retirement community and made sure I understood what a "Crock" was in Australian terms (think "Old Fart" in American terms!):
The shared artist studio space was blocked in sections with each individual having their own space, but the ability to grow and transform for special projects such as some of Graham's larger installation preparations.
Although there are about 500 ceramicists in Western Australia, only a few are active full-time. Graham has been in this studio space for 20 years. He first arrived from New Zealand in 1982 and was introduced shortly after to Mike Kusnik (Author of Mike Kusnik's Guide to Ceramic Technology). Graham notes that Mike first introduced him to the notion of Paper Clay and he was hooked ever since. Graham notes: "It's fascinating how Paper Clay was invented simultaneously but not connected in any way in three global locations...There must have been a global event or change which stimulated similar thinking and experimenting in the late 1980's." Mike exhibited Paper Clay work and then gave a workshop in 1987. He introduced Graham to it in 1992, and Graham gave his first workshop in 1994. Simultaneously, in 1987 Carol Farrow of the UK and Jean-Pierre Béranger of France also documented their Paper Clay techniques in separate articles. Students of Graham's 1994 workshop introduced him to Rosette Gault's and Brian Gartside's articles experimenting with Paper Clay in the early 1990's. Graham sent them both descriptions of his techniques in 1994 and ultimate Graham's work was being used in Rosette's slideshows and books. Rosette Gault, who held the patent on Paper Clay in the USA from 1998-2015 until the patent's lifetime expired began to experiment with and then popularize Paper Clay in 1990 following experimentation with Brian Gartside at Banff Center for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada. In addition to the works represented across several of Rosette Gault's books, Graham's work can also be found in books by Paper Clay authors: Anne Lightwood, Astrid Sanger & Otakar Silva, and Liliane Tardio-Brise.
Having never really had much experience with Paper Clay other than the limited "make-your-own" for mending purposes workshop here and there in the US - I was a complete newbie! After just a short time with Graham, I felt I found the Holy Grail of ceramic mediums and met a devout monk in it's forms and practices who spoke its praises for decades. He showed me how easily two pieces of clay - one wet, one dry can be easily attached, worked, and with a resulting greenware strength that is hard to believe. We were able to work some Paper Clay hands-on, fix a student's bowl Graham broke in half for demonstration purposes (imagine my shock when he indicated he was about to break a student piece intentionally and fix it!), and he even sent some Paper Clay back to the hotel with me as his now Paper Clay apostle!
"Critical Mass" in process for 2017 Venice Biennale - by Graham Hay - Porcelain Paper Clay, Glaze, Steel. See video.
Here I'm holding just one of the hundreds of pieces in Graham's studio in 2019 that went into "Critical Mass". Each piece depicts a web address of a Western Australian Artist. At the show preview, the 'sacredness of objects' was challenged by guest participation in the destruction of "Critical Mass". As each guest took home a "souvenir" they enjoy an "art communion" of Prosecco from the vessel, and became an unofficial agent to the Western Australian artist kiln fired onto each piece. By the end of the exhibition rather than viewers feeling they have missed the party, the armature remains along with the connections created when viewers step inside and share photos of themselves.
So...you've heard of Paper Clay and you want to get started?! I learned so much in my one morning with Graham that the next part of this blog will include the many links, resources, and tips learned on this amazing day in Perth with Graham Hay along with more tidbits I've learned since!
To learn more about Graham, and his work - check out:
I also highly recommend you check out the ongoing traveling exhibition of International Paper Clay artists, including Graham, titled: "Particle & Wave". It spent the COVID-19 lock-down at Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan, Utah, and is planned to head to Massachusetts from October 17, 2020 through April 11, 2021. Thankfully, there is also a Virtual Tour of "Particle & Wave" available! In particular check out his piece on display via the virtual tour titled "Eeny menu many moe" - ceramic porcelain paper clay, FeCrAl wire - touring from 2019 to 2021 in the USA.
A huge "Thank You" to Graham and all of the Robertson Park Artists Studios artists and students for welcoming my visit in October 2019, and for a lovely morning tea! Another travel+clay dream-day I will never forget!