We asked five questions of the five artists who participated in Northart’s very first exhibition in 1998 and have been invited back for ‘First Five’, one of two stunning shows celebrating Northart’s 20th anniversary (open daily until 27 November).

The final in our ‘First Five’ series is ceramic artist Merilyn Wiseman.

What media do you work in and what attracted you to it?

Ceramics has its own language and inherent laws, requiring a mastery of form and surface treatment and the welding of many elements into a unified whole. It is an art with a science affliction. Unlike most materials, clay is hands-on/hands-in stuff, a deceptively simple material with its own subtle ways of resisting mishandling. New ideas grow out of past work and from experimentation with ceramic materials. The unique structural and textural qualities of these materials, in combination, are infinite, and for me remain a constant source of fascination.

When did your interest in ceramics begin, and how has your practice developed over the years?

I completed a Preliminary Diploma at the Elam School of Art in 1959 and then continued my studies at Goldsmiths School of Art at the University of London. But it was while on a working holiday in a small country pottery in Ireland that I became more and more interested in working with clay. I'd spent three years at Goldsmiths specialising in painting; and then I watched someone throwing pots on a wheel – amorphous lumps of clay, two hands, a little water and a slowly turning wheel. It was like watching a dance in slow motion; I was hooked. I returned to New Zealand and in 1976 built a two chambered wood kiln at my home, and have worked as a professional ceramicist since that date. I’ve gradually moved away from the Anglo Oriental influenced style that dominated ceramics early in the contemporary craft movement in New Zealand, developing my own personal approach that has come to demonstrate a strong sense of place.

What artworks or achievements in the past 20 years are you most proud of?

In 2002 my work ‘Pacific Rim’ was featured in a special edition of stamps by New Zealand Post and Swedish Post, called ‘Art Meets Craft’, and in 2009 I was made an Arts Foundation Art Laureate. Although I have been incredibly fortunate with the awards I have received, these two milestones stand out as being extremely special to me.

How did you react to Wendy’s call inviting you to revisit the ‘5/100 New Zealand Craft Artists’ show for Northart’s 20th anniversary?

Wendy's invitation to revisit the 5/100 show reminded me of how delighted I was that Helen had included me in her 1998 book 100 New Zealand Craft Artists, on which the exhibition was based. It was hugely beneficial to all of us who were included.

Tells us about the works you have selected for ‘First Five’. Are any of them from the original Northart exhibition?

None of the pieces in ‘First Five’ are from the original Northart exhibition, though one was made in 1998. The work I have chosen to exhibit is from my own private collection and is a survey of work made in the past 20 years.

Merilyn Wiseman has worked as a professional ceramicist since 1976. She has received several QEII Arts Council grant and her work has been recognised with many awards, including the Fletcher Challenge Pottery Award and the Premiere Portage Ceramic Award in 2005 for Arctic Rim. Merilyn received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2007.  Her works are held in many national collections.