Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Walter Dexter by Jonathon Bancroft-Snell

One of Walter Dexter's amazing torso pots.  The author focuses on the emergence of them in Dexter's work.

You know how you put a book aside for a treat?  That's what I did with what I believe is Jonathon Bancroft-Snell's first book.  I saved this volume about ceramic artist Walter Dexter for my summer vacation when I would hopefully be relaxing and could absorb it with out too many distractions.  And I am happy to announce that it was the treat I was hoping for.  I won't be lending my copy anytime soon because I am afraid I would not get it back.  And I can't afford to pay $65 twice, which is the cover price.

But believe me it is worth every cent.  You know that expression "richly illustrated"?  This book has it in spades.  Luscious, luscious images, very sexy detail shots…I confess I stroked the pages.  The pots are done a tremendous service by both the photography and the book design.  Well-done lads!

A very happy Walter Dexter.  I believe this shot was taken just after he'd won the Bronfman.

The writing is very genuine too.  I could hear Jonathon's voice in my head the whole time I was reading the book.  He clearly loves his subject matter and knows his details.  I was curious to read the book because I'd had the honour of interviewing Walter after he had won the Bronfman award.  At the time I was struck by how modest a man he was.  His work in clay is so masterful but he had no ego about him, which was refreshing.  (Believe me, I've met my share of talented jerks over the years.)  Walter Dexter struck me as a genuinely nice guy who just happened to make great pots. 

The impression of Dexter the man and ceramic artist that comes across in the book could be summarized thusly:  as bold and confident the work was so is Dexter a quiet and gentle man.  It's almost like a study in opposites.  Bancroft-Snell also does a good job tying together abstract expressionist painting in Canada with Dexter's work in ceramics.  And for the record, I agree with that interpretation.  It's great that this has been published while Walter Dexter is still alive.

Jonathon is his gallery with its signature black walls.  Black sure makes the colours pop.

Walter Dexter's career is an interesting one filled with unlikely twists and turns.  Jonathon navigates them well and makes good sense of how Dexter got from one point to the other.  I think a lot of us in the Canadian ceramic crowd will learn from both the story of Walter Dexter as told by JB-S as well as the dynamite images of the pots.  I liked it when on page 38 Bancrof-Snell writes, "This is the story of Walter Dexter dictated to me through his vases."  I don't doubt it.  And it's nice to know that vases talk to him too.

My final verdict?  This book is worth your time and somebody's money.  Put it on your wish list.

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