'Gerry Wedd, Kitschen (sic) Man' published in the Journal of Australian ceramics Vol 56 # 3, 2017

JamFactory ICON - Gerry Wedd ‘Kitschen Man’ – review of the 2016 touring exhibition.

Awarding the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan was always going to be controversial, but things really ramped up given his tardiness in formally accepting the award. He did eventually fulfil his obligations by having the banquet speech delivered on his behalf by the US ambassador to Sweden, and then by finally giving his Nobel lecture, via satellite, just a few days short of the deadline that would have seen him forfeit 1.2 million dollars in prizemoney (now that really would have been controversial …) It was all a bit unconventional, but the committee probably should have remembered that this was the guy who went from roots folk icon to rock ‘n roll at Newport in 1965, reacting to a shocked audience by telling the band to  … ‘play it fucking loud.’ At least he didn’t say that to the Nobel committee.

Both of Dylan’s speeches are now on the internet, and – again somewhat controversially – he is being accused of plagiarising some of the content from an online resource called Sparknotes, which should hardly be a surprise given that Dylan’s penchant for appropriation has underpinned a great deal of his recent output. The trick, and Gerry knows this better than most, is to borrow well, to do it in a way that pays back the debt.

I actually think that both of Dylan’s speeches are great insofar as they are very entertaining and, as an aside to the controversy surrounding his award, he does address the relative values that society places on art forms: high and low; the popular or the wilfully obscure; the good, the bad and the ugly.

In his banquet speech, Dylan says that he ‘  … began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things. “Who are the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” … and … “Where am I going to get a human skull?”’.

Dylan goes on to say that his own creative process is just as riddled with questions that are often about the nuts and bolts that underpin making art, and that he hasn’t really had the time to sit back and ask himself if what he did counted as literature, but if the Academy had reached that conclusion then it was OK with him and he was grateful.

Bob Dylan deputised Patti Smith to perform in his stead at the ceremony and she forgot the words to ‘A Hard Rains Gonna Fall’ half way through the performance. More controversy, or just a storm in a teacup? In twenty, thirty, fifty-year’s time people won’t be talking about this stuff but they will still be listening to Bob Dylan. Art’s like that.

Anyone who knows Gerry and has seen him work will immediately get, at least in a general sense, why I mention Dylan, in that whenever Gerry is making the music is playing, but the way Dylan talks about process is also interesting because, at least in my experience, what ends up driving artists is the process of making – it’s the doing and not the done.

Gerry is a maker through and through, who can blend the personal and the private, high and low art, with enough technique to make it work but not too much that it becomes inaccessible, cut off from daily life. If Dylan is criticized for appropriating content then Gerry absolutely revels in re-using and reinventing the images that soak our daily lives; images that, even if we don’t necessarily want them to, inform our histories.

His 2016 Henry Lee Pot, based on Nick Cave’s rendition of the ballad ‘Henry Lee’, addresses various plot themes in different versions of the song, which has previously been called ‘Young Hunting’, ‘Poor Henry’, ‘Love Henry’, ‘Earl Richard’, ‘The Proud Girl’ etc., etc., etc. Gerry says he draws on the ‘narrative aspect of folk music and its potential for constant revision and reconfiguration’ as well as referencing the actual illustrations from material like old record covers and magazines. In addition, he often uses a pictorial device where this imagery is deliberately drawn in a manner that suggests a crude woodcut or linocut, whereas of course it’s nothing of the sort.

We think of this borrowing as being modern, the result (firstly) of the recording arts – photography, then film and sound – and then of post-modernism, but ceramics has a long history of appropriation. The Istoriato painters of sixteenth-century Italy wandered the Umbrian countryside as journeyman ceramic’s decorators, copying imagery from the woodcuts that were taken from paintings and deftly applying it to faience wares.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching Gerry work as a decorator and he has the ability to do what those Istoriato painters did; mixing invention with repetition, drawing on an enormous vocabulary of fragments gleaned from a bewildering variety of sources, turning out the work, making dreadful puns (“thong cycle” anyone?) and listening to music - always listening to music.

In Gerry’s ceramics the dark shadows of colonial history are balanced by the twang of guitars and the glitter of sun on the surf. There’s salt and frangipani, humility and humanity, the feel of sand between your toes and the hint of blood in the water.

I’m lucky to have seen some of the major works, in this exhibition of Gerry’s, being made in the studio at the JamFactory, and I even own a couple of the minor ones, which I’ll get to enjoy one day - after they finish being on the road.

Damon Moon

Adelaide 2017