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Tessa Laird


Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Fields of assorted and varicoloured objects are attentively placed by Tessa Laird. Selected collections are built up, consisting of branching candelabras, books piled high and raucously-printed paper. Similar to the history of art itself, the subject matter of Laird’s practice spans from ancient civilisations to the present day, from Sumerian clay tablets and ancient edifices to modern typography, classic book design and cheery commercial art.

Playful, captivating and ever-aspirational Laird’s ceramics strive upwards. Libraries of books, bibliographies re-created in fired and painted clay are stacked high. Facsimiles of the covers of these books are painted with loving detail, true to the spirit of the originals, some of the book covers sprout with figurines of their inhabitants or subject matter whether it be rainbows, insects, jungle-like vegetation, mythical characters or gentleman scholars. Evoking shrine cultures, sacred

statuary and architecture, Laird also constructs Babel-like towers, Babylonian ziggurats and Mayan temples. Ruins of ancient civilisations are rebuilt on a miniature scale, some now acting as planters, literally sprouting small succulent plants. Laird’s printed matter pays homage to the delights of more recent design, particularly the psychedelic aesthetics of late 1960s and early 1970s. Repeating classic book covers with their clever typographical designs Laird also re-visits Indian match-box art, Chinese fire-cracker labels and even the lurid designs of fruit boxes.

Arresting prints faithfully repeat prior designs, self-consciously re-investing them with the care and techniques of fine print-making processes such as lino-cutting or screen-printing. The resulting garish, often high-key colours and inky, idiosyncratic shapes can be seen steeped into creamy paper in Laird’s prints. The somewhat pop sensibility of her prints is continued in Laird’s ceramic practice. Book covers have been lovingly rendered in baked clay and paint, hand- drawn, slightly crooked yet faithful. These imperfect and tender objects are sometimes brightly coloured, sometimes subdued and pastel. Stacks of books evolve into stacked pyramids or candelabras melding familiar sculptural forms with architecture or the function of candle sticks. There is a play between utility and obsolescence, or the usefulness of a vessel, book or pot and the delightful frivolity of figurines and ornamentation.

Animated, all of Laird’s images and objects radiate colour and fun. Her practice acts as a kind of translation, a manipulation of the visual and literary into new forms of paper or clay. There is a sense of acquisitiveness as Laird utilises a breadth of scholarship to find pointed combinations of text, image or significant form and boils these down to their visual and political essentials. These are then permuted or filtered through her unique process of creation into myriad works of art. Sharp and quick-witted, Laird makes literal the fecundity of books as magical objects, realising the

acquisition of knowledge as transformative, blossoming or fructifying. Accordingly books might become gardens, menorahs or stepped pyramids, they might sprout microcosms populated by cacti, bats, goddesses, frogs or rainbows.


Tessa Laird (b. 1971) completed her Doctorate in Fine Arts at Elam, the University of Auckland in 2012. Living and working in Melbourne, Laird has exhibited works locally and nationally in artist-run spaces, private galleries as well as public art institutions. Laird has also exhibited within curated exhibitions and group shows such as: Five by Five: New Conversations with Clay (Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Titirangi, 2015), House of Bats (Corbans Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, 2014), We Are But Dust and Shadow with Richard Orjis and Tiffany Singh (Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland, 2014),Slip Cast(The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, 2014), Freedom Farmers: New Zealand Artists Growing Ideas (Auckland Art Gallery, 2013-2014), Reading Room with Peter Lange (Objectspace, Auckland, 2012) and the Portage Ceramic Awards (Lopdell House, Titirangi, 2012). Work by Laird was recently featured in Art News New Zealand and additionally she has published her own artist books both with Clouds publications: A Rainbow Reader (2014) and Shards of the Jealous Potter (2006).

For additional information and a complete CV please contact the gallery.