Exhibition review: Shadow of the Moon

Blue and white porcelain works inspired by artist Gus Clutterbuck's Chinese residencies.
Shadow of the Moon

An essay accompanying Gus Clutterbuck’s latest exhibition, Shadow of the Moon, describes the Adelaide artist as a bowerbird: a collector and observer who is just as likely to find inspiration in the broken detritus of everyday life as in the finely crafted beauty of traditional art techniques. The ceramic pieces on display at the Newmarch Gallery this month exemplify this approach. 

Clutterbuck, having made annual pilgrimages to Jingdezhen in the past decade to learn the techniques of qīng-huā (blue-and-white porcelain), here brings his own influences and perspective to this artform. Central to the exhibition is his relationship with mentor and collaborator, Huang Fei. Several of their joint works are on display alongside Clutterbuck’s solo pieces. 

It is clear that Clutterbuck approaches qīng-huā – both its rich history and its continued development today – with humility and keen interest. Shadow of the Moon gives visitors the chance to see some historic examples of Chinese porcelain styles that have inspired him. It is fascinating, for instance, to study a c. 1615 dish from Fujian province alongside Clutterbuck’s Judy in Panama (2016), a dish done in a similar style but featuring local flora and fauna. 

At first glance, many of Clutterbuck’s pieces conform to the recognisable aesthetic and motifs of traditional Chinese porcelain. His imagery, however, includes personal touches (family members feature frequently) and uniquely Australian details.

In works such as Blanford Street as a Teahouse, Anhui Province (2016) and The Great Wall My Stepfather Built (2018), he takes places and figures from his memories, translating them into new settings with strokes of cobalt. Among the blue and white, his love of the Australian landscape is vividly represented by the occasional dashes of earthy red and yellow that sweep through these scenes, appearing as paths to another world or bridges between past and present. 

While Clutterbuck’s work can act as portals to idealised landscapes and moments of tranquil beauty, it also grapples with challenging and mundane experiences. His haunting installation Sticks and Stones (2021/22) was a highlight of the Adelaide exhibition Neoteric earlier this year, where it was included alongside the work of other mid-career artists. Featuring gumtree twigs reimagined as delicately painted and glazed ceramic branches suspended above piles of bones, the piece speaks to a difficult period of helping a loved one through an eating disorder. It is even more striking here, seen in the context of Clutterbuck’s journey with ceramics.

Another installation, titled Home is Where the Heart Is (2016), appears to be pile of broken pieces of white porcelain. A closer look reveals the outlines of plastic bottles and cartons, forks, pill packets, and other debris. Clutterbuck memorialises the everyday alongside the transcendental. 

Read: Performance review: Hundreds + Thousands

Shadow of the Moon is a movingly personal exhibition, but it is far from a solitary one. Clutterbuck himself notes that his most productive moments ‘have been the result of shared experiences through art’. The joy of his partnership with Huang Fei and their evident mutual admiration enlivens this exhibition. It is a true celebration of the value of creative collaboration. 

Shadow of the Moon
Gus Clutterbuck
Newmarch Gallery

Shadow of the Moon will be on display until 29 October 2022.

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University.