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The paradox of the Palace

Rashington Palace ll

Let me introduce you to the delightful Rashington Palace lI, a recent addition to the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection.

An aspiring title because at first glance this palace seems to have been designed by an overly ambitious architect, an eccentric building that fell into disrepair before it was quite complete.

This piece is actually made by ceramic artist Peter Hawkesby and with its luscious colours and unapologetically decorative forms, has plenty of bougee charm.

In truth any aspirational pretext afforded by the title is completely undone by the visible honesty with which the work is made. Squeezed, twisted, squashed and rolled, you can virtually see Hawkesby hand building the work. There is a transparency there – the antithesis of pretention, which inevitably undoes the lofty heights its title might aspire to.

Hawkesby’s works are full of such paradoxes. They are a line that Hawkesby navigates like a highwire walker- impossibly balancing grandeur with the everyday, imagination with the real, ornate with plain and proud with the fallen.

Yet for all this complexity there is a sense of the spontaneous, perhaps even disregard – an idea that this dishevelled assemblage of elements, each jostling for position, may feel rather forgotten.

But Hawkesby, ever gracious and with an egalitarian hand, has lavished each and every one of them with luscious colour and an attentiveness to their arrangement.

For that, this colourful entourage appear deeply loyal to Hawkesby, they have become his constant vocabulary – his lexicon. This language of loops and tubes, twists and coils…tiles and bends – like loyal foot soldiers they are at his service and Hawkesby will draw on them from time to time, bringing them back into play in different configurations all the while growing his collective of motifs.

But let’s not get too carried away with martial metaphors, Hawkesby is a ceramic artist, his work is rich in references to his craft and to the history of material culture. He draws on a great array of influences so richly woven together that it is often difficult to disentangle them.

Born in Auckland in 1950 Hawkesby quickly gained prominence as a ceramicist in the 1970s and building a reputation as an innovator in the ceramic world. Eschewing the potter’s wheel, Hawkesby leant more heavily on the tradition of assemblage, dating back to the early constructions of the Cubists.

Hawkesby disappeared from the art world for a time, becoming the proprietor of a well-loved café in Auckland’s K Rd for over twenty years. Eventually Hawkesby moved on from the café. Within weeks rumours abounded that he had been seen using kilns across Auckland to ‘fire some pieces’ and before you could say ‘boo’ he was the subject of a huge solo show at the premier object gallery in Aotearoa – Objectspace. Hawkesby now lives and works in Ōtepoti, and is intensely productive. We are very lucky to own this and three other wonderful pieces by Hawkesby which you can see on MTG Hawke’s Bay’s website online collection.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper 19 November 2022 and written by Toni MacKinnon, Curator Fine Arts at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image credit: Rashington Palace ll by Peter Hawkesby. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi. Photo by Sam Hartnett.

23 November 2022

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