‘Painted with thick black text, the white glazed pottery plate reads,” Don’t buy these, why not make your own useless copies”!
This work by painter, potter and installation artist, Martin Poppelwell immediately challenges the viewer to a dual of subliminal discomfort. Is this a work of pottery or ceramics and therefore craft, or is this a work of fine art that one can ponder and place on the wall?
It seems to Poppelwell, (a renowned New Zealand artist for over 20 years) that the question and the answer appear insignificant. He is used to darting between the edges of high and low art for most of his career, poking a stick at the “rules’ that have been applied within the art world, questioning, rummaging, contemplating, throwing our a cheeky question here and there, using everything within his means to make a work of art that satisfies. This is what makes him an artist of delight, intrigue, and drive. Just when you think you have pinned him down to a particular genre, again he is on the move.
Beginning his career at Elam School of Fine Art in the early 1990’s, Poppelwell later studied with one of New Zealand’s most renowned potters, Ross Mitchell- Anyon, gaining a Diploma of Ceramic Design and Production at Wanganui Polytechnic.
After gathering these creative tools, Poppelwell ‘hit the ground running’. He began to produce New Zealand pottery of a different kind. His cups and bowls, jugs and domestic ware, (although still ‘functional’) sat alongside along side his other clay work of art that had no utilitarian purpose. Items such as a clay nose, cat, swan, skull, rabbit, ruler; all these objects were often placed together, rather as the work of an art installation.
Poppelwell’s clay works are often glazed with the same black and white graphic line and tinged with green. The texts written on them reflected all aspects of popular and high culture. A line from writer Katherine Mansfield, or a simple phrase ‘not again’ can be all used as a representation of the everyday New Zealand culture. This is a potter who knows about the lineage of modern and post- modern art world and isn’t afraid to upend it.
If we look closely at Poppelwell’s work one can see that everything begins with ‘the line’. Poppelwell is a prolific and adept graphic mark maker. He states: “I’m interested in marking my thought” and also talks of ‘building” works on paper and using “objects” as diagrams.
This graphic line transforms into lustrous text seen in his pottery work, but also wanders through his grid paintings, (which Poppelwell describes as “an infinite document…my unwritten theory”). Again his drawing is displayed in his colourful ‘patchwork paintings’, which are in rich colour and mark ideas from high and low culture, to become a riot of colour, form, line and text.
Says Poppelwell, I string things up, kick things out and about, smash, destroy and wreck ...then piece them back together”.
Poppelwell has also worked within the mediums of printmaking, design, film, fashion, and textiles.
Born in 1968 and lives in and works in Napier,New Zealand. He has exhibited extensively in New Zealand public and private art institutions, including: ‘Index: Martin Poppelwell’, Hastings City Art Gallery, 2016.
His work is in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, NZ MTG, Hawkes Bay, NZ Lawrence B. Benenson Collection, New York, USA, Reydan Weiss Collection, NZ/ Germany and Reverand Ian Brown Collection, Australia.