It was sometime in 2010 that I purchased my first Alan Constable ceramic camera - I forget exactly when. All I remember is that I was immediately taken with the object and its wonderful form, complex glaze and quirky lean. I was surprised the camera that finally spoke to me was not one of Constable's signature SLR cameras. In fact, it's perhaps not even a camera at all.
Ever since I started working at Arts Project Australia in 2008, I have yearned to own a Constable camera. So tactile and weighty, his ceramic objects reveal the mark of the maker in the surface of the material. The traces of finger marks that Constable leaves is an integral part of the object. Each is a unique sculptural form that communicates something quite intimate and very human. Ceramic artist and curator Katie Jacobs noted that Constable's cameras "can be viewed as extensions of the body, as much as sculptural representations of an object". Jacobs observation is insightful, and I would go as far as to say that this series is an extension of the artist and his desire to explore and see the world around him.
As well as being an accomplished ceramicist, Alan Constable began his artistic career as a painter. He has exhibited in Australia and overseas and been a finalist in a number of mainstream art awards, including the 27th Goldcoast International Ceramic Art Award and in the 2010 Hobart Art Prize. Constable's adept treatment of colour and form enhance his innate ability to create intriguing compositions in his paintings and excentuate idiosyncrasies found in cameras that inspire him.
As well as being widely exhibited, Constable is widely collected in Australia and his clay cameras are particularly sought after artworks. This became most evident to me when they were exhibited alongside the work of prominent national and international artists at the Melbourne Art Fair in 2010 and acquired by The Museum of Everything, UK. People can't get enough of them. Then in 2011, Constable was featured in a major survey exhibition titled Viewfinder of more than 60 artworks celebrating his work over 20 years as a practicing professional artist in Melbourne. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Cheryl Daye and gave a comprehensive insight into Constable’s accomplished art practice.
David Hurlston, Curator of Australia Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, wrote that “A camera’s ability to act as an extension to our eyes and to capture and preserve images renders it a potent instrument. In the case of Alan Constable, and his compelling ceramic reinterpretations of the camera, this has particular resonance and added poignancy. Living with a profound vision impairment, Constable’s hand-modelled sculptural versions of this device, which is sometimes itself referred to as the “invented eye”, possess an altogether more powerful presence.” He went on to say that Constable's cameras stood out 'as his unique contribution [to contemporary art practice]'.
This is particularly noteworthy given Alan Constable is also hearing impaired and doesn't speak. In this way, Constable'spaintings, ceramic cameras as well as his dedication to the creation of art for over 20 years is something to be admired and reminds me how important art is to the way we interpret and make sense of the world.
Image: Alan Constable Untitled 2010 ceramic 22 x 35 x 13cm