Ceramic artist Christine Boswijk looks forward to retirement
Charles Anderson – The Nelson Mail
Along the gravel road on the way out to the coast, past glimpses of steadfast mountains overlooking ever shifting tidal water, you will find Christine Boswijk, sitting in her studio, contemplating the nature of clay, trying to be one with nature and preparing for the idea of retirement.
“It feels a bit strange,” she admits.
Over the past 40 years she has grown into one of the country’s foremost and respected ceramic artists. She has metamorphosed from a frustrated dental nurse, shaping beautifully sculpted silver amalgams, into a fully fledged creator, contemplating only what she sees as the big questions of life. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Love.
Part of that journey ends this weekend as Boswijk puts on her final exhibition. It will be private and run for one day only. She says it is a chance to thank all the people that supported her through the years. It will be a chance to display works that exemplify how she has come to view her own creative process. It will be time to move on, she says.
“When you are doing what you’re passionate about it’s like a carrot that you are always reaching for. But there is a time when you should step back.”
For years Boswijk would go through a morning routine of making the short walk from her house to the studio. There would be an idea faintly out there – fuzzy, and blurred in the distance. It would be a question. Then she would research it. Then she would start working with her hands. It would be intuitive and, at its essence, out of her control. She would create something, fire it in the kiln and eventually whatever came out of it would be her answer.
“I’ll work with the material but the material has its own life too,” Boswijk says. “I’m not totally in charge.”
As that frustrated dental nurse she felt there was always something missing in her life. But when she began working with clay she began to find that piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
“Clay is seemingly inert and inanimate but it is the mother of everything in the world.”
As she worked more with the medium she found it teaching her not only about artistic technique but about herself
“If you think about the variables of the material its infinite – it supplies us with everything. We come from it we go back to it.”
It made her think about her place within her environment and how humanity is integral to nature.
“The comforting thing is that you are part of the cycle of life. You can’t run away from it.”
That cycle has seen Boswijk honoured for her work. There are pieces held at Te Papa, at the Bishop Suter Gallery, and myriad other institutions across the world. In 2004, she was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to ceramic arts.
“Looking back the work has never been perfect,” Boswijk says. “It’s never been smart or clever but it has been really elemental and I hope really accessible to people.”
She says that work and that process has allowed her to discover herself. In some ways she feels like she is fearless, in other ways she feels she is a wimp.
“I think when I look at my work from the last 40 years I’ve stopped that search within myself. I’ve reached a comfortable place and therefore I can give it up.”
She has been driven by that work but now she wants to live her life a little more randomly and not be under the stress of meeting expectations.
“I just want to calm down, pull the gate closed and weed my garden and paint and play house and have time for family and friends.”
The sign with her name at the bottom of her Hoddy Rd driveway has long since grown over. It represents a time when she primarily made her income from homewares and studio visits. They were tough years – busy with people. Busy being an entertainer.
“After a while you think ‘what am I doing here?” she says. “Am I here as an entertainer or as an artist searching for answers.”
Boswijk is not the sort of person who gets out photo albums and reminisces on times gone by. She doesn’t look at past works and remembers who she was when she created it. She works in the moment. Also, she says, there just isn’t time to look back.
“I’m always thinking about what I’m doing right now.”
When she started studying art at Otago Polytechnic in 1977 she says she wasn’t particularly confident. She was never a great academic success. But she was good with her hands. However, one of her tutors once told her that she would never make it as an artist. She was like a banana, he said – soft and easily peeled.
“You need to be like a coconut,” he said. “Hard on the outside and soft in the middle.”
Boswijk set out to prove him wrong.
She wanted to get good at something. Her work and dedication to the craft was never about being looked up to, it was a part of who she was.
“It took me years and years before I felt good at what I did.”
When she was given a Creative New Zealand grant to study in Sydney she says she felt like a fraud. She spent the first six months stressing that she would be found out. It was during that time that her creative voice started to coagulate.
She thought about what she was good at. She was a good cook, a good dressmaker, a good nurturer. She looked back to New Zealand’s landscape as she always thought that was her spiritual home. Sydney was the home of glitter and surface. But she wanted to look below and through all that. She looked around her classmates and for the first time in her life she thought about her age.
The works that eventuated, and can be seen permeating her creative process even now, are geological. They are feminine. They undulate in the female form but are rough and volatile like the surface of the earth’s crust. They are weathered and worn. They have seen life.
But now that outlet which was such a part of Boswijk’s personal philosophy will be replaced by something else.
She wants to create a garden.
“If you can make a garden in your life it’s one of the best things you can leave behind,” she says. “It’s not weighing down the world. It’s not landfill. It’s leaving the earth in a better healthier position. I want to be as immersed in that as I have in this.”
So today, when she opens the doors to her studio, she will welcome dozens of admirers, supporters and friends through the doors. She will be an entertainer one last time. She will tell stories and give thanks. She will be a coconut and a banana. Then she will say goodbye and shut the studio doors. Besides, there is much work to be done. It’s her garden’s turn for attention.