A pair of far-flung moments in history set the conditions for the present exhibition, Tender Brick: The Material Epiphanies of Peter Hawkesby. The first was when Picasso used glue to make constructions that irrevocably altered the conception of sculpture as a form of ‘carving’ or ‘modelling’ of a singular form. The second is the audacious choice Hawkesby made during the mid 1970s to entirely dispense with the potter’s wheel and make ceramics by any other means.

In seeking sudden relief from the wheel’s tyranny of symmetry, Hawkesby gave credence to clay as a means of expression, rather than ceramics as a discipline. From here, the artist has consistently defied the strictures prescribing his medium, and in doing so has fashioned an individual approach to the making of craft within the context of Aotearoa, unlike anything encountered previously.

The exhibition’s title salutes Gertrude Stein’s 1914 publication, Tender Buttons, a work considered a triumph of unorthodox Modernist experiment on one hand and decried as pretentious posturing on the other. Academic roadkill or scholarly redemption, the polarisation around Stein’s achievement compares to the reception Hawkesby’s ceramic art has received over the years. Stein’s insistence on the primacy of ‘looking’ unencumbered by the preconceptions of language is consistent with Hawkesby’s insistence on the incomparability of ‘touch’. The exhibition Tender Brick tracks the range and depth of Hawkesby’s ceramic production since his return to full-time making in 2016.

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Peter Hawkesby’s ceramic career dates to the 1970s where he taught himself pottery north of Auckland. In 1977 he moved to Auckland city looking to work with someone whose relationship with clay wasn’t based on domesticware, which he found in a fruitful working partnership with Dennis  O’Connor on Waiheke Island. Work from this period was acquired by Auckland Museum, the Dowse Art Museum and many private collections. In 1980, Hawkesby was included in Denis Cohn Gallery's Five by Five exhibition along with the work of Denis O'Connor, Warren Tippett, Bronwynne Cornish and John Parker.

From the mid 1980s, Hawkesby lived in Tokyo. Upon returning to Auckland in 1994 he spent two decades as proprietor of the iconic café, Alleluja in St Kevin's Arcade.

In 2015 Hawkesby resumed working fuIl-time in ceramics. His solo exhibition, Scratch a Cenotaph opened at Anna Miles Gallery in May 2018, followed by MNVWZ ANTICKS, in October 2019. Hawkesby’s work was included in Dirty Ceramics, Dowse Art Museum October 2019 —  March 2020.

Peter Hawkesby, Hayakawa Garden I and Hayakawa Garden II, 2019. Photographer: Samuel Hartnett. Images courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery.

Peter Hawkesby. Photographer: Samuel Hartnett. Image courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery.