Clay, as a Flugelmetaphor

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Clay, as a Flugelmetaphor by

Donald Brook Donald Brook (1927-2018) was a highly regarded Australian artist, theorist, philosopher, scholar, art critic and teacher. He was both colleague and life-long friend of Bert Flugelman, following their meeting in the late 1960s. This essay was especially written by Donald for this exhibition, and we also gratefully acknowledge his further contribution in providing the exhibition title – Wry Artificer.

I find it hard not to think of Bert as a potter, despite the determinedly upmarket assurance of art gallery curators that he was (among many other sorts of things) a ceramic sculptor. My daily reminder of him is a big fat terracotta lady who stands beside my doorway, and it was through an international trail of fabricated clay that I first came to shake the good hand that wrought this erotically capacious pot.

It went like this. Hans Coper, who insisted on being called a potter, had told me in Hertfordshire more than half a century ago that if I was going to London I must meet his friend Lucie Rie, who was also a potter. Lucie made it unambiguously clear to me what she considered teacups ought to look like, and in return I tried unsuccessfully to teach her how to drive a car. She told me that if I really intended to go to Canberra, I must meet her friend Margaret Frankel who made teapots.

Margaret insisted one day that as I was about to drive to Sydney via Mittagong I must meet her friend Les 1

Blakebrough, who made plates. Les was busy at the time building a climbing kiln, but he supplied me with a lifetime of credible plates off the shelf and insisted that I must deviate through Oyster Bay in order to meet his friend Bert Flugelman, who made everything. When I finally showed up on Bert’s evening workshop doorstep, it turned out that what he had most recently made was a costume of mediaeval armour with a matching hobby horse and a lance.

He was wearing or riding or brandishing all of these things in the midst of a riotous party that had erupted in the studio that was later burnt down – as I remember it – by an overzealous pottery kiln. He welcomed me by prancing his infirm steed around the fulcrum of his good leg into a sufficiently confronting posture, charging at me from across the room with his terrifying weapon tucked under his good arm. Of course, he fell over. Entirely unembarrassed, and with his visor fallen askew, he started from the floor a vigorous conversation that continued with only occasional interruptions for the next half century.


He showed me how to make big figures out of fired clay by coiling and hand-moulding, and I showed him how to cast big architectural relief panels in fibreglass and 2-part resin instead of the solid concrete that had previously tested his lifting resources to their limit. Technical discovery and innovation were his joy. He was a pioneer of the trick of cutting into solid blocks of polystyrene foam with an electrically heated wire so that the resultant carving could be coated with a refractory outer mould. When hot liquid metal was then poured into this mould, the interior foam would instantly evaporate and be dispersed as gas, to be replaced by whatever scrap metal had been available for melting. He made a tall cast iron horse in this way, and his preferred lifting machine when it needed to be moved – my own back – was so unequal to the task of elevating one end of it that a chronic pain survives to this day. He himself, having survived the evaporated cyanide gas, had taken the heavy end and immodestly raised it one-handed.

There was nothing that he could not make under challenge, and no material too obdurate to be subdued. The time came


when he had to confess that his bad leg was by now his good leg; but that did not stop him. Whether it crossed his mind that he really needed a polycarbonate aircraft carrier or a porcelain dinner set, he would find a way to do it. Just as is occasionally alleged about the original Creator, everything that came to hand was clay.


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