Elizabeth Verschoyle's recent show at Q.P.A. gallery was a demonstration of faith in the value of working within the context of a formal, evolving process of exploring a medium. That the product of this exploratory process presents to the viewer as a layered, complex, unified collection of objects attests to this artist's success in reconciling an ancient tradition of work in a plastic medium with an innovative, experimental vision. The unity of this exhibition did not, of course, refer to the appearance, function or ornamental nature of the objects. Instead, the sense of an unified vision referred to the fact that generally, the artist used the volumetric form of pot, planter or figure, and the subtly dimensionalized form of the platters as simply a vehicle to carry the result of the process of mark-making. This mark-making or pattern of incident on the surface of the objects ranged from the strongly intuitive or randomly patterned, to the more formalized, regular, abstract compositions. In the former, the volumes of the pots were enhanced by the treatment of the surface, while the platters showed the abstraction of thought and process within the rounded rectangular, or more circular versions. That the pots and platters, functional, or should-be-functional objects, were not in the least truly utilitarian was simply a reinforcement of the artist's intention.
In the past the artist consistently produced work of unusual appearance and depth of meaning. Much of this work has displayed unique qualities of vision and commitment. Most of the work can be described as sculptural, formed wholly of clay, or of clay in combination with other materials. In 1983, small, hand-held objects with twisted pod-like, keeled and bulbous volumes, and hooked rounded points were shown. These objects were prophetic in a declaration of the style of things to come. Soon after, the so-called Wall Sculptures were completed and shown. Those objects were assemblages, articulately positioned against walls. The objects conveyed, in the variety and choice of accompanying textures and forms, a sense of votive or ritualistic function. In general, the artist's success with these objects appeared to derive from a proficiency in drawing as well as an acuity of vision. The spatial arrangement of parts in some of those objects was evidently the subject of the work. Some of those objects today still display an integrity of purpose undiminished by subsequent work. Elizabeth Verschoyle joins Stephanie OutridgeField, Margaret Dodds and Sue Barrow, amongst others, in some innovative building on the pottery tradition.
Although this artist's products are not functional in the conventional sense, the objects do carry out the function of serving as grounds for the mark-making process. It may be something of a dilemma to a potter to consciously create an object that has a similarity of appearance to that of a traditionally useful article; yet for that object to lack actual usefulness can be dangerous ground to tread. This artist unequivocally states her intention to move away from the traditional position of that of a potter working with clay and wheel. The abandoning of the wheel as a tool is indicative of her developing and changing stance. The artist's years of experience in working and showing are deposited as evidence in the skill and clarity of intention in the recent works. This work, although in transition, is an affirmation of present position. Certain platters displayed a complexity of thinking, a pattern of mark-making, inlaying, incising and sand-blasting, to be models of the art. On another plane of contemplation, certain platters contained the sense of complete design that a tightly woven haiku can speak with. Certain of the pots described a "gravitas" that referred right back to some proto-artistic model; The Octopus jars from Minoan culture, the blobular form emphasized by the sinuous arrangement of tentacles drawn on the pot. In Verschoyle's work, a large swollen pot-form was marked with oxides, underglazed and pinched-out from grogged clay. The markings were delightfully unselfconscious and had a "found" quality. Another pot was subtly marked with dulled spangles of vermiculate mixed into the clay. Many of the pots transcended the nature of function to be descriptive of a different vision, one which worked in an intuitive as well as conscious mode to put yet more questions to the medium.
Of the large "figure" pieces, the surprisingly soft appearance of Personality with Shadow reminded one of an elemental thing, a freshness, a natural phenomenon, like the soft direct gaze of an Andean vicuna. The pinkorange traces of colour, the slow turn of the neck/torso, and the eyes that looked out in several directions were successful in evoking sympathetic responses in the viewer. While this is open to conjecture, this piece had been invested with a very special degree of sensitivity to the synthesis of form and surface. Although not large, this piece projected a monumentally serene presence in an interior. This was in contrast to the three larger, grouped "figures" which projected a very different contrasting sensation. It was possible to see a feral, porcine quality in the knee-high smallest figure. The two larger figures appeared more "safe", less likely to snap, or track dirt in all over the carpet! The larger figures obviously referred back to the Brickworks project, mounted at Griffith University. That experience, where this artist, with others. worked on large-scale pieces fired in brick-kilns, clearly was the antecedent to the making of the two robust, haughty, larger "figures". Those figures, while admirable for technical solutions to the problem of work on that scale, were less affective than the sublime grace represented in the lovely Personality with Shadow.
Elizabeth Verschoyle, Personality with Shadow, 1987