John Chalke RCA


Directions Of His Own

Known for his alchemic ability with both clay and glaze, works are from the artist’s estate and other collections. The array of subject, texture and form span Chalke’s career and provide insight into his distinct interests and directions.

This selection involves works from the 1960s through to 2014, encompassing both fine art sculptures as well as function ware. There are large wall chargers, early stoneware sculptures, glaze encrusted plates where the artist explored his ideas on Alberta as well as a number of his test plates – every firing of this artist included glaze tests – called Incredibowls. Chalke was an alchemist with glaze and clay, often singled out for his unusual surfaces. The works in this exhibition, actually the remaining pieces from his estate, offer up incredible color as well as textures and forms that defy your understanding of how they were achieved. He inspires us to think about degrees of understanding and momentary points in our history, about naturalism and theatricality in ceramics, about empathy and collective mindsets – and about extreme measures of communication through visual images and objects and how we relate to them. Whatever one believes, or whatever direction your understanding is coming from, John Chalke’s works have presence. They remain in your mind and in your physical memory.

John Chalke visually and intellectually challenged ceramics for almost 50 years. He excelled in the three-dimensionality of ceramics; he loved material as well as mark, and the push-pull interaction between artistic concept and utilitarian reference. When not making, he was a constant researcher into glazes, clays, kilns, others who work or have worked in clay. John Chalke is considered one of the “most influential and important ceramists” of the last 70 years. His work is found in many private and public collections and is represented in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England (one of only five Canadians honored in that collection).

Prairie Museum by E.D. Blodgett

..................You want to hold
the solitude of smiles, Riel's pipe,
to find solitude itself beneath
the letter s, whole as an apple, as
one would seek sod and slough and skull,
silence and Saskatchewan, filed
the way one files breath, each ex-
halation gone and coming back restored-
a pot of John Chalke, to hold the air
of all loss in place, the loss of all
but things unsaid, the silence never made...

(E.D. Blodgett, "Prairie Museum", Arché/Elegies. Edmonton, AB: Longspoon Press, 1983:38)

TEMMOKU - Far Eastern iron-brown glazes that fire to black or dark brown with a surface that resembles oil spots and has flashes of light brown on rims and edges. The Japanese term was originally applied to stoneware tea bowls that were imported from China (where the glaze was known an Jian) and may be named after the T'ien Mu mountain temple in which the tea ceremony originated (De Waal, Edmund. The Pot Book. Phaidon, 2015).

Artist's Statement on his "The Shape I'm In Series"

At different times we’re all aware of some boundary or other: our back yard, our street, our kitchen. These are places we have learned about physically through simple exploration by eye and foot, for they are small places and easily encompassed. By comparison the province of Alberta, a mere small portion of this country, is huge, greater than the British Isles that I came from. I’ve undergone such a compelling time in my forty years here, a whole range of feelings, from tears to sheer wonder and edges of disbelief.

It used to be that I would pay cultural homage to the places where my favorite pots and kilns came from. Japan and Korea were foremost on the list. Those places don’t play the same part in my seeking anymore. It’s time to close the circle. Probably it’s only because I’ve traveled a lot that I can reasonably say it doesn’t matter how far you go, the back door now nourished by memory and comparison is far enough.

The outline of Alberta is not pretty, nor better than other shapes, merely familiar. Sometimes it looks better on its back, or upside down. It’s a symbol, a metaphor, a device from the past and a constantly unfolding future that serves as my set of art pictographs on my own obscure rock wall. I’m content to be contained by its shape. It’s about the rise of the sun and the slant of the rain. Like a plant it’s where I grow.

– John Chalke, 2009

"...Chalke challenges the pot in a significantly different way. Chalke is the punster potter, the craftsman still challenging his craft in exploratory directions....more deferential to an oriental-cum funky approach to his material and surfaces, curiously alternating obeisance and denial of an illustrious tradition."

Ricardo Gomez. "Western Canadian Ceramic Sculpture: A Ten Year Perspective." Issues in Clay: Western Canadian Sculpture. Edmonton: Latitude 53 Society of Artists, 1982:14.

"The real reason for making art, I think, is because it didn't work out, and then you go back to square one or square three or some square..."
John Chalke (Collins, 9)

SPRIGGING - a decorating technique whereby prepared relief-moulded ornament is applied to the surface of a pot when it is leather hard. The reliefs are usually pressed in moulds and fixed to the vessel with slip. Wedgewood's Jasperwares feature reliefs of antique scenes, figures and stylized flowers and foliage (De Waal, Edmund. The Pot Book. Phaidon, 2015).