Anthony Morris - A gloriously imperfect journey

A new exhibition invites you on a journey through half a century of creativity by Matakana pioneer Anthony Morris. It’s a journey from New Zealand to Africa and Europe, Asia and America - through successes, challenges and new beginnings. 

Anthony Morris is one of the best-known names in New Zealand pottery, as the co-founder and visionary behind Morris & James. The exhibition A Gloriously Imperfect Journey is the first time some of Anthony’s work will be shown in public, including painting, glass, bronze, wood, poetry and of course clay.

The exhibition also marks the launch of a completely new body of work from Anthony Morris Studio. 

“Wherever you are with your work, you love what you're doing at that moment the most. The pieces I'm making now are the best I've ever made,” says Anthony.

“I've always wanted to make small pieces that you can take with you if you go overseas. Sweet little things from New Zealand that you can be proud to take home. The glazes I use are made for beauty, not for hard wearing, or for things you'd use every day.” 

The exhibition has been curated by renowned glass artist Elizabeth McClure. Elizabeth has rented a studio from Anthony since 2014 and over time the two artists became friends. The idea of marking the 40th anniversary of Morris & James Pottery, and Anthony’s 50th year of creating, gradually evolved between them.

“I came along a few years ago and started asking ‘have you ever shown this work?’ And Anthony said, ‘to very few’. We first planted the seed of an idea for the show about a year ago. Since then he’s made this whole exciting new body of ceramic work,” says Elizabeth.

She found it a challenge to select exhibition pieces from Anthony’s vast collection.

“He's been so prolific that there was way too much to choose from. I've tried to take just a few snapshots of different periods of work throughout the past 50 years,” says Elizabeth. 

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the Crete collection from 2001.

“One day, Anthony asked me ‘You haven't been to Crete, have you? Come here I want to show you something,’ and he opened a big sliding door into a dark shed and it was just the most amazing sight,” said Elizabeth. 

Anthony had been to Crete with his son, watching the potters there working on their traditional wheels, and being as enthusiastic and energetic as he is, he came back and said, “I want to try that!” 

He set about making the pots, assisted by Ian Foote, who is now the head potter at Morris & James. Anthony has fond memories of throwing the unusually tall, bespoke Crete pieces.

“Looking back, I can remember that these pieces brought me an enormous sense of satisfaction. Even though they are completely wrong compared to what I was trying to do! Years ago, I just threw them in the storage room, closed the door and didn't go back until now,” said Anthony. 

“All of those pieces were just sitting there for fifteen years, waiting to be rediscovered - it was like going into Aladdin's cave,” said Elizabeth.

Starting up the pottery business in Matakana, with then wife Sue James, wasn’t the original plan.

“We were moving back to Gisborne, because that's where I was born. My wife was from London, and as we flew into Gisborne on the plane she turned to me and said, ‘We're not going to stay here!’ So, within a week we were heading back up north. We decided that the best place for us was within a 100km of Auckland. We found the perfect clay here, and we loved it. The property was in a pretty bad state - but that meant no one else wanted it!” said Anthony.

Anthony sold the Morris & James business after a serious stroke in 2004, but he never stopped creating. 

“The shapes of the pieces become quite different when you only have the use of one hand. I can’t throw pottery any longer so there are no more mugs, but I can still make platters and other beautiful flat pieces. At first, I was a bit embarrassed. I thought ‘maybe I shouldn't be selling these’ but then I learned that it's ok to make things that are imperfect, with hand marks. They look imperfect from most potters' point of view, but for me they are perfection. A glorious imperfection.” 

The exhibition A Gloriously Imperfect Journey – Half a Century of Making will take place from November 3 to December 10 in the Collection Room at Morris & James Pottery in Matakana.
48 Tongue Farm Rd, Matakana