What if I’d reviewed “Fantastical – the art of Janet Beckhouse” Hunter S. Thompson style? Drop a tab of acid. Run the gauntlet of election campaigners at the entrance to the all-white suggestion of a town hall. “I’m not here to vote.” Inside the Box Hill Town Hall, I located Artspace and started to look at the glazed stoneware sculptures as the first notes of Jimmie Hendrix’s Purple Haze play.
It would have been intense. When every other artist was going minimalist, Beckhouse went the other way. In her Master’s graduation piece, Grotto (1998) realistic lizards, poisonous frogs and fat caterpillars crawl amongst the glazed ceramic foliage. It is all alive and significant, vivaciously writhing with life.
A refined version of fantasy art for stoners with a gothic taste. A snake crawls out of the eye of a skull and worms from the mouth of a corpse buried in a garden. There is ambiguity, are those shells or leaves, worms or twigs. In The Mystery of Love, a woman auto-impales herself with a spike.
Beckhouse’s works are supported by two structures mythology and ceramic forms. Using these structures to compose. Mythology gives structure to her themes, just as ceramic forms structure her work. Some of the pieces look almost practical as vases and platters.
She knew that death is part of life, part of the symbolism of creative and destructive aspects of the feminine. Mythology gives depth and power to her work. The mother of all monsters dwells in the depths of the ocean. There are lots of references to the sea, coral and shells. Why have the flared nostrils of that person grown seashells?
It was then I saw the vase with the bats.
“My work and creative interest have become all-encompassing over the years. I realise I do not wish to do anything else. It gives me peace, comfort and meaning in my life, and to share it is a joy.” Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)
Beckhouse was Melbourne’s foremost ceramic artist until her sudden and unexpected death in 2020. This is her final exhibition, twenty pieces spanning her career as an artist.
Whitehorse City Council has bought two works for their collection of the work of Australian and international ceramic artists. Some of the collection is on permanent exhibition in a small adjoining gallery.
Beckhouse moulded the gods and demons out of the dust of the earth. Using alchemical processes and elemental forces, she turned base matter into lustrous gold. Creating ceramic sculptures seething with the neo-Baroque complexity, transformative drama, and the acid intensity of a Hendrix’s solo.