by Helen Schamroth


Chester Nealie likes to engage with the elements when he creates his pots-it is an empathy for the craft philosophy that developed in the 1960's and 70's. After teaching science at secondary school he became lecturer in ceramics at North Shore Teachers' College from 1972-75. Since then he has had an impressive career as a full-time potter. This includes grants, and many residencies and awards, notably the Premier Award at the Fletcher Challenge Award in 1982 and 1987. His work has been widely exhibited in New Zealand and internationally, and is held in many collections. In 1992 he was a member of the Artists in the Sub-Antarctic expedition to the Auckland Islands, and he participated in the subsequent exhibition as well as in Treasures of the Underworld at World Expo in Seville. In 1993 he was a Research Fellow at Monash University.

Len Castle was a great inspiration to Nealie, helping him to understand the freedom of clay. Like Castle, he looked to Chinese and Korean pots and to Japanese process. He admired the work of the Japanese potters Toyoza Arakawa and Toyo Kaneshige, and took inspiration from a small photograph of Arakawa's wood-fired anagama kiln buttressed by boulders. Developing a personal philosophy was encouraged by visiting English potter Michael Cardew.

Nealie's organic forms are thrown on a slow-turning wheel and reveal the essence of making-the finger indentations, the gentle squeeze and the pressure of applying a lug or handle. The pieces need to be strong to withstand the rigours of his firing process. The sensuality of clay is translated into slightly waisted forms evocative of human torsos-pieces that beg to be hand-held. His vessels are infused with emotion, and are personal in their evocation of antiquity and ritual. He has no desire to follow trends but has worked for long enough to observe the cyclical nature of aesthetics.

Although the wood-firing process is to a great extent unpredictable and there is an element of alchemy, Nealie has developed considerable control over the variables. He has learned the painter's skill of layering colours, and Chinese Soung pots have taught him that chips, cracks and scars expose the soul which has little to do with symmetry and predictability. The wads of clay and shell he uses to separate pots during firing act as windows to fluxed layers of ash deposits. Prising them off exposes layers of time and colour, as well as scars and fossil-like imprints-a narrative akin to the weathering of rock.

In 1991 Nealie moved to Australia where he has a group of peers who share his philosophy and aesthetics. He maintains links with New Zealand, and frequently conducts workshops and exhibits on his return. His palette has altered to include the burnt, dry and dusty hues of his new environment, but there is still a place for the subtle tones developed from his New Zealand experience of living with the mangroves of the Kaipara Harbour. He now feels more confident to express these roots, and recognizes the subliminal effects of wandering the shorelines-the colours of limpets and anemones, rocks, pebbles, shells, sea and seaweed. His placement of shells when he seperates pots in the kiln is a considered action-it reflects his sense of being a person of the Pacific.

100 New Zealand Craft Artists, by Helen Schamroth-Random House, NZ 1998