Barbara Campbell-Allen: Elemental Presence

Celebrated ceramic artist Barbara Campbell-Allen OAM, with a practice spanning over 40 years, pushes the use of natural materials and elements to explore the rich possibilities of form, texture and colour. Her exhibition ‘Elemental Presence’ at Rochfort Gallery in Sydney engages the inherent synergies of the manual labour of her craft, making and firing, with landforms that take us on a sensory journey through the splendour of natural landscapes.

Campbell-Allen is renowned for her innovative practice, which explores the possibilities of ceramics and stoneware, afforded by her contemporary approach to traditional wood-firing techniques. Sculptures handcrafted by clay and painted by the ashy deposits of Black Wattle, Pine or Eucalypt which form a naturally generated glaze, or firing raw metals such as copper in the high ember zone, showcase the artist’s ability to manipulate the element of fire to create tactile works which are innately organic.

Barbara Campbell-Allen, Snow Flurries II & III (pair), 2019, buff stoneware with earthenware slip brushwork, 44 x 43 x 16cm, 46 x 47 x 18.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Rochfort Gallery, Sydney

Sculptures such as Deluge (2019) highlight Campbell-Allen’s use of natural ash glaze. By feeding wood through the stroke hole of the kiln, painterly strokes of sediment form and these tracks are fused by the glaze. Contrastingly, in pieces such as Runnels II (2019), created with manganese clay and shino glaze, the artists’ hand is present, with intricate line-markings raked across the ceramic’s exterior. The resulting surface by both methods is evocative of Australia’s vast natural landscape – from the exposed red dirt creek beds, with cracks forming from the months of drought; the ebb and flow of sandy dunes; to resplendent pools of water, rippling after the rains.

Barbara Campbell-Allen, Deluge, 2019, buff stoneware, flashing slip, natural ash glaze, 59 x 43 x 21cm. Courtesy the artist and Rochfort Gallery, Sydney

Campbell-Allen is undoubtedly a skilled craftsperson who masters the technical challenges of making sculptures from natural materials and processes. She patiently builds her sculptures, layer by layer, over a series of days before preparing the surface, buffed or smoothed with a rubber kidney and sparingly painted with a slip or porcelain. This brushwork application in works including Ice Scape I (2020) crosses our voyage of natural landscapes into the ethereal cryosphere. The position in the kiln is then carefully considered, an informed decision based on the structure and desired aesthetic outcome. Once the kiln is fired up, skills are met head-on with luck.

Barbara Campbell-Allen, Ice Scape I, 2020, manganese/iron stoneware with porcelain brushwork, 44 x 37 x 18cm. Courtesy the artist and Rochfort Gallery, Sydney

The unpredictability of the kiln does not deter Campbell-Allen. She explains, ‘My favourite time to work the kiln is the morning shift from 3am to midday. This is when I watch the moon setting and the sun rising. This is when I read the flame and feed it every ten minutes, building up the embers and studying colour within the white heat. I know that I am essentially experimental, and I accept a high rate of failure because I am taking clay to it’s extreme.’

Rochfort Gallery
1 October to 22 November 2020
Opening weekend 3-4 October
Sydney