Celebrating Ceramics: Geoff Crispin

Geoff Crispen

Could you give a brief description of your current practice and the number of years you have been involved in ceramics?

2019 is 50 years in ceramics for me. I have continued to make pots utilising local raw materials as much as possible and firing with wood. This has remained my main endeavour to this day along with a number of diversions working with indigenous peoples all around the world.


When and why did you move to the Northern Rivers of NSW?

Me (b 1951) and my father (b 1928), grandfather (b 1880), great grandfather (b 1849), were all born in Grafton. I went to school in Grafton. Moved to Sydney to go to University in 1969. I bought land at Whiteman Creek in 1978 after searching for a place with soul. I moved back to the Northern Rivers permanently in late 1979.

Whilst this was the era of counter culture relocation from urban areas to the Northern Rivers (Nimbin, Bellingen) my main aim was to pursue my dream of operating my own pottery. It also revolved around cost. It was not possible for me to build and develop my wood firing and local raw materials ceramics in an urban environment.


What part(s) of the Northern Rivers have you worked in and can you tell us about the type of work you have delivered? 

My home has always been at Whiteman Creek Pottery. I trained three apprentices in the early years, a system that no longer really seems to exist. I have lectured at many tertiary institutions over the years all around Australia and internationally. This has included a number of stints with Kerry Selwood at Lismore TAFE, Grafton TAFE and Armidale TAFE.

I have written many articles over the years about my practice published in Pottery in Australia and many other ceramic publications in Australia and internationally. In the early days a number of articles were published in “Periphery.” A publication focused on regional arts activities edited by Geoff Levitus. I have curated and co curated exhibitions based on Northern Rivers arts practitioners based on ceramics, wood fired ceramics and other related arts activities. These have travelled locally on the coast as well as nationally.


Has living and working in a regional area defined your arts practice parameters? Have you considered your location restricting or motivating?

Working in a regional area has allowed me to pursue my dream. I’m inspired by classical studio ceramics: Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, Ivan McMeekin and many other unnamed crafts people from many differing cultural environments. Wood firing utilising local materials is really a regional activity. Urban restrictions could limit what I have been trying to do. It has always struck me that these local materials have helped to define a ceramic idiom.

The varied styles of ceramics have evolved from what was available to local people. From alkaline glazed old Egyptian ceramics, dung fired ceramics in Ethiopia, coiled and carved quick fired seasonal pots in the Sepik River valley in PNG and many others too many to mention. An idiom evolved that represented the culture expressed with techniques that allowed local resources to be utilised.

There has always been an issue with urban dominance v regional arts activities. The idea that all that is important comes from urban environments still seems to be a dominant norm. The reality is that regional based arts practice has always contributed to cultural parameters. The Northern Rivers has been a prime example of this especially now the age of the internet has made some barriers redundant. Touring exhibitions has been one way to gain the recognition of regional based arts activities. “ConVerge” developed by Arts Northern Rivers was one such touring ceramic show that toured eastern states.


Has your practice undertaken major changes/challenges in your more mature years? 

My life has become “dichotomous” over many years. Working with indigenous people around the world and my own ceramic work. Both activities require similar parameters; A strong sense of yourself, ability to function effectively in a different cultural environments and identifying pathways that allow your goals to be reached. Now due to physical restraints I have had to cut back on my worldwide travels and slow down my own making to accommodate the process of aging.

The physical limitations also means that I have had to recognise that I can’t physically do what I did 20 years ago. This means whilst I still make all my own clay and glazes I use some commercially available materials mixed with local materials. It also means that I fire my wood kiln only once a year now where as in the past this may have been 2-3. I do have a webpage (www.geoffcrispin.com.au) but it is for documentation purposes rather than operational.


How have you maintained your passion for your practice over the years?

I am continuously inspired by the ceramic expression of culture in many different places in Australia and around the world. A recent visit to South America allowed me to see for the first time ceramics from many cultural communities in situ rather than just pictures in books.


Do you use social media platforms as a useful resource for your work as an artist?

Not much of a social media user. I have a documentation webpage and use the internet mainly through email. I still prefer to talk to people directly rather than have an electronic connection although the internet does allow me to keep in contact with people around the world.


Are you concerned about sharing your skills and knowledge with the next generation of artists in your field?

Yes. I think that the skills and knowledge I have acquired over the years will disappear. The reliance on tertiary qualifications through institutions that have academic restrictions on their courses do not allow for the acquiring of many skills and knowledge. Paper qualifications do provide a base but I feel there is no substitute for a skill base that once acquired allows you to expand and develop where you want to go with your own work.


How do you see the future development of your arts practice?

Slow. Age does slow me down although I like to think that I work a lot smarter these days. I don’t really want to start firing gas kilns and electric kilns so it may well be when I can no longer deal with the physicality of the work I have pursued for 50 years it may all come to an end. A reality we all have to face up to eventually unless life ends in an unforeseen way. I have recently given away my ceramic library as it seemed to just be gathering dust and would be best being utilised by that learning about ceramics. I have also been looking for a home for my eclectic ceramic collection and my collection of indigenous artworks. Hopefully they will be kept together in each way as they tell the story of my ceramic and life experiences.


Any other comments you would like to make?

I have a many requests to put my life experiences in a book form. So far the opportunity to do so has not come my way.

For more information visit www.geoffcrispin.com.au