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Compulsive competitionist

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Madeleine Child is a ceramicist from Dunedin. Here, she talks about the ongoing conundrum of pricing work, celebrating the amateur, and her collection of coat hangers.

How have you developed your career?

I wouldn’t say I’ve developed one. I work hard at being lucky and I apply and enter for loads of things. I’m a compulsive competitionist – using the briefs and deadlines to shove work and ideas forward, or somewhere. I never tell anyone and immediately delete the untold ‘sorry to inform you’ emails.

Who are your biggest influences?

I can see the influences of Gillian Lowndes and Angus Suttie - my tutors from London - in my latest work. Messy things joined with Egyptian paste, ritual vessels. It’s taken me 30 years to mix or stir somehow into my own work. And anyone’s ceramics that makes me go ‘oh I didn’t know I was allowed to do that.’

My kids. They made a miniature clay hockey field.

How do you price your work?

It’s an ongoing conundrum. But one way is to imagine someone asks you to make another, or ten more work the same , for whatever sum you’ve set and see if you feel excited and happy at the prospect. If your heart sinks at the idea, it’s likely you’ve priced too low. Sometimes I sell stuff by the kilo weight which works pretty well. And sometimes I just add on more to a piece because I like it better.

What are you working on now?

More collected clods from the Hyde clay pit. Waiting for the unsold toggles to come back from an exhibition so I can break up and reconfigure into some new Bozzetti works – maquette for larger work which may or may not be made. Back flinging clay coils and blobs at the floor and walls, but bigger, and seeing what outs from that - taking Voulkos’ ‘you move, it moves’ about clay a bit extreme. More abstract, more disruptive I hope. And a friend has shown me how to do encaustic so I am dabbling with that.

Do you collect anything?

I have a collection of coat hangers, though I have recently taken loads back to the op-shop from whence they came, and given some to another collector. There’s such a mad wonderful variety - padded using old stockings and clothes, or matted dyed sheep skin; woven, knitted, crocheted, beaded; designer ones from bottle brush and egg whisk, inventive patent pending designs for traveling, for skirts, for pants; fold out, hinged, promotional, inflatable; bespoke, ready-made; with added pegs, clips or a minge-like clothes brush.

In 2 sentences teach us something we might not already know.

If you put leather hard clay into water it will stay in that state indefinitely and wont mush down. You have to dry it out completely and then it will absorb water quickly and turn to liquid slip.

What saying do you think is complete BS?

‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ Not BS, but just against how we were brought up. My father’s motto was ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’, and I’ve pretty much followed that. I searched it back to a C.K. Chesterton essay, explaining how we too often leave the ‘things worth doing’ to others, on the poor excuse that others might be able to do them better. It’s about celebrating the amateur, about doing something for the love of it.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

The discovery of the fossilised moa footprints in the Kyeburn River in the Maniototo – just up the road from where my family have had a holiday cottage for 50 years, and where we go swimming when the Taieri is too ‘dairyed’ to swim in... Millions of years ago a moa walked across some clay-y mud flat which took perfect impressions of its gait and feet.


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