This week’s Perceval’s Angels blog post comes courtesy of ceramic artist Pamela Irving, who in 1987 interviewed John Perceval about his angels for her Master of Arts research paper on the angel imagery of Arthur Boyd, John Perceval and Mirka Mora. The interview wasn’t recorded, but notes from their conversation were included as an appendix in the paper. Pamela has kindly allowed us to reproduce the interview here.
Interview with John Perceval and Pamela Irving
Thursday, 12th February, 1987
PI: Were the angels made and intended as angels or was that a title they were given later?
JP: The angels were just little clay figures which were automatically called angels. I was inspired to make the angels after seeing a painting of a red angel.
(He could not remember the artist’s name.)
JP: I used the sang de bouffe glaze as I thought it was too good just to be used on the ceramic pots. The way I came to finding that glaze is documented in Margaret Plant’s book, but briefly, I was burning some old linoleum in the incinerator which had a greed ashtray in it, after the fire, the green turned red.
I took forty angels to England and they instantly received acclaim. When in England I visited Hornsby Pottery.
PI: I believe Max Nicholson would go out to “Open Country” and read to you and Arthur Boyd?
JP: Oh yes! He read Kafka, Doestoevsky …
We were all well trained, had university minds.
PI: Did any of the readings affect the kind of imagery you made?
JP: Education is a thing in its own right, it didn’t change the imagery. Max was responsible for our education and is still educating us. Both Max and Merric Boyd read the bible aloud. I found myself very interested in the bible, as you can see in the quasi religious flavour of my work. I read the bible to fulfill my education. I found the Old Testament most difficult, especially Abraham. I don’t think I believe in it.
PI: Do the angels bear any family resemblance?
JP: I don’t think they do. Do you know my angels at Monash University?
PI: Yes, I do.
JP: Astronaut angels they were, inspired by Leonardo’s drawings. It is not surprising my angels looked like children as we were surrounded by children at Murrumbeena. I was married quite young and had children and there were Arthur’s children and Gus Boyd’s children, therefore the angels could not help but have mischevious faces.
PI: In Plant’s book it says that you looked at della Robia’s angels.
JP: Yes I did, but was not very impressed.
PI: Why is that?
JP: Because I thought that I was better.
PI: Were you and Arthur an influence on one another?
JP: No, I don’t think that we influenced each other at all.
PI: When did you first meet Mirka Mora?
JP: I met her before she had Mirka’s cafe.
Boyd and I just painted, we didn’t talk about it.
Did you know that Korea has the greatest pottery in the world?
The closest work to my ceramic sculpture is Bob Dickerson’s work. He painted children with big heads and large eyes. He used to visit Murubeena.
I used to throw large bowls for the head, and cut holes for eyes. It was the most logical way of producing them, the same affect as the Greeks, with the pupils inserted. I would make a hollow so that they stared outwards. I cut a slit for the mouth.
PI: Were you concerned about the hierarchy of angels and colours attributed to angels?
JP: No, they are angels and that’s the end of the discussion. They didn’t need any explanation.
I was inspired by Michaelangelo’s work, especially his unfinished marble statues. The fact that they were unfinished is what makes them good.
I looked at Brueghel and it is said that Arthur and I get our aerial perspective from him.
I used the State Library for reference books. I have never seen an original Brueghel.
PI: Why didn’t you make more angels?
JP: Well I fininshed my work and that’s why I never went on.
PI: Have the angels got anything to do with the Korean war? I have heard it said they were war conscious children?
JP: Well, I made Aboriginal children with flies on their eyes. I have always been conscious of people suffering, so I guess I was conscious of the Korean war and people suffering.
The Koreans make the finest pottery in the world, especially from that time. I know their pottery only from books.
That was the end of the discussion. Perceval then invited me to sit and drink lemonade with him.
Pamela Irving, ‘Appendix 9, Notes of Discussion, Pamela Irving and John Perceval. February 12th 1987’, The Angel Imagery of Arthur Boyd, John Perceval and Mirka Mora, Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Masters of Arts by research, Melbourne College of Advanced Education, 1989, pp. 206-208