The National Art School Fellowship acknowledges the achievements of eminent visual artists, arts administrators, writers, advocates and academics who have made outstanding contributions to the visual arts community in Australia. The Fellowship is an honorary award for exceptional achievement and / or service within the professional domain, awarded annually by the National Art School.
The 2021 recipients of National Art School Fellowships have been announced, with the honour bestowed upon Les Blakebrough AM and Margaret Fink.
The 2021 Fellows were honoured at a celebratory dinner on Thursday 13 May 2021, held at the National Art School in a gallery space that was once the studio of celebrated Australian sculptor and NAS teacher, Rayner Hoff.
Presented at the annual Graduation ceremony alongside completing Bachelor and Master of Fine Art students, the Fellowship is the School’s highest award.
Les Blakebrough AM is one of Australia’s leading ceramic artists. He is represented in many galleries in Australia and overseas including every Australian state gallery, the National Gallery of Australia and the Royal Palace Collection in Denmark. He has held dozens of solo exhibitions throughout Australia and is the recipient of numerous awards including a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Ceramic Art, Faenza, Italy; Senior Tasmanian of the Year in 2008; and an AM in the Queen’s Birthday 2013 Honours List.
Blakebrough is an esteemed NAS alumnus who studied here from 1955 to 1957. British-born, he migrated to Australia in 1948 at the age of 18 and, after studying ceramics at NAS, went to an apprenticeship at Sturt Pottery at Mittagong. In 1963 he studied with Takeichi and Kanjiro Kawai in Japan before returning to Australia to become Director of the Sturt Workshops. From 1972 to 2010 he was Principal
Research Fellow of the Ceramic Research Unit at the University of Tasmania, which formed a company to manufacture and market his products. In 2011 he relocated his personal ceramics studio to Coledale, NSW.
Blakebrough says, “Before finding my way into the Ceramics studio at NAS I had spent three or four years unsuccessfully trying to become a painter. A chance conversation with an artist friend led to me approaching Peter Rushforth and persuading him to let me enter his course part way through the year. There I found an immediate affinity with one of my fellow students, Col Levy, and I joined forces with him in attempting to make classical Chinese glazes. As I remember it, we were the only two young men among a group of perhaps 15 female students. We would cause mayhem in the kiln room by throwing balls of napthalene into the white-hot furnace, releasing clouds of acrid smoke, to the consternation of everyone around us: Those boys are at it again!”
Of his practice he says, “My local environment in Coledale NSW informs what I do; the brooding presence of the sandstone escarpment; the energetic forces of the ocean and the beautiful lines of the waves rising and falling; the dune grasses that move against the vividness of sky. This part of the Illawarra is a narrow strip of coast, bordered by a high sandstone escarpment and the Pacific Ocean. Forest, cliff and sea are always in sight. “All my work since 2000 uses Southern Ice Porcelain, a material I developed and that I particularly value for its cool whiteness and its capacity for translucency. One of the processes – and there are many – that I have adopted to work with porcelain is that of carving back into the unglazed outer wall of the work, in this case to represent the fluid lines of the ocean.”
Margaret Fink first walked through the doors of the National Art School to do art classes as a child aged seven. “I have a vivid memory of going through the gate off Forbes Street to enrol in Saturday morning art classes, which had been initiated by Frank Medworth who was then running what was called East Sydney Tech.” After matriculating from Sydney Girls High School she won a Teacher Training scholarship to East Sydney Technical College which she attended from 1950–52. She taught art in Sydney high schools for ten years, and was part of the influential group of artists and thinkers known as the Push.
In 1952 she saw Jean Renoir’s film The River and decided she wanted to make films. “It wasn’t the narrative, it was the medium, another visual art.” Margaret was a key figure in the re-emergence of Australian cinema in the 1970s, beginning with The Removalists (1974), followed by My Brilliant Career (1979), adapted from Miles Franklin’s novel, a landmark film which launched the careers of actors Judy Davis and Sam Neill and director Gillian Armstrong. In 1985 Margaret produced For Love Alone, based on the novel by Christina Stead, and in 1988 the television series Edens Lost. Candy, 2006, starred Heath Ledger in his final Australian film.
A favourite memory from her time at NAS is attending Monday film nights held in The Chapel by librarian John Kaplan. “They would be foreign films or art films like Metropolis, so that was a very important film education for me.” Her lecturers included Peter Rushforth and Phyllis Shillito, and she made lifelong friends including Wallace Thornton, Patrick Russell, and Sharn Rose.