1918 - 2009
A visit to Gold Coast arts identity Ivy Yock was always interesting and inspirational. Ivy was a pioneer in pottery and sculpture, a multi-disciplined artist who had a long and diverse history of working and excelling in a number of the visual and plastic arts. A visit to her home and studio was an event with the works on display representing more than 70 years of Ivy's creative life.
Born in Melbourne in 1916, Ivy always said she was born with a pencil in her hand. As a ten year old she won a drawing prize with the Melbourne newspaper, The Herald. Creating quite a buzz it was decided that, if taught properly, Ivy had the potential to become a well accomplished Australian artist. As a consequence, The Herald took responsibility for her arts education and she was trained at the Melbourne Technical College. As Ivy later said, "I spent many years training there until I opened my own studio and worked, at first, as a commercial artist." Throughout this period Ivy maintained a studio practice alongside producing commercial art for some of Melbourne's leading business houses.
During her mid twenties, dining out one evening with a friend, she looked across the restaurant and "saw an Anglo-Chinese man who was the most handsome man I had ever seen". He noticed her too, and Ivy remembered that for both of them "it was love at first sight". His name was Ron Yock. Ivy was forbidden to see the young man as her parents did not want their daughter to become involved with a man of even partial Asian parentage. Marriage between mixed ethnic groups was rare, and frowned upon. This attitude was very common in Australia and continued until well after Word War II. Such opposition however did not dissuade the young couple from meeting and their relationship continued to deepen.
Ron joined the Australian Air Force where he became a navigator in bombers and, following his demobilization in the mid 40s, took up residence in Brisbane. Ivy eloped from Melbourne and took the train to meet him, recalling, "It took the train two full days to travel from Melbourne to Brisbane".
Arriving in Brisbane, Ron was there waiting at the station and they married at the Primitive Methodist Church in the Fortitude Valley. As history would unfold the church is now home to Fusions Gallery, the centre for ceramic arts in Queensland.
Ivy recalled their wedding day, "We had no friends in Brisbane, so Ron approached two men in the hotel, asking them to be our witnesses at the wedding, offering to pay them for their time. The men embraced the spirit of the occasion and said they would be very happy to witness the event, but refused payment, saying that as a young married couple, we would "need the money"." And so a new life began for Ivy and Ron.
They returned to Melbourne and established a photographic business specialising in reproductions and the colouring of black and white photographs, a popular practice during this time. When colour film did come onto the market it was the end for Ivy and Ron's business.
Ivy continued with her own art practice exploring bark as a new medium. She recalled, "I enjoyed all the challenges which mastery of this medium demanded. Wherever we went I would examine the bark of as many different trees as I could find. I would gather the barks which had the most subtle variations of colour."
Ivy exhibited these works in Melbourne in1969; "Medusa's Head" is one of works from the exhibition.
They moved to the Gold Coast in 1971 when it was still a small coastal town. They built their house near Nerang River at Broadbeach. Ivy tells how she would often swim across the river to collect young trees which were growing there, and bring them back to plant in their driveway. They are now very beautiful and established old trees. Her art work flourished as she discovered and developed her love of, first pottery, and then, sculpture.
Ivy's personal art history is everywhere throughout her house, hanging on the walls and abundantly displayed in cabinets and in her studio. Some of her earliest works include "Nymphs Playing", a beautiful Art Nouveau drawing which still carries considerable impact both for its technical skill and strong sense of design.
Ivy also used this drawing as the cartoon for other interpretations of the same subject, using copper as her medium. Also testimony to this period of her work is the beautiful Art Deco copper bed head which adorned the bed in which she slept.
Ivy was a founding member of the Gold Coast Potters Association where she developed her ceramics in new and highly individual directions. For many potters, the surfaces of their works and the glazes they use become the most important aspect of their work, but for Ivy, the surfaces of her pots became in a sense, the canvases upon which she created pictorial images.
Although Ivy used a wide range of coloured glazes, these were secondary to the images which she carved into the clay. Through carving, she would create intricate designs and landscapes which ran all the way around her pot's surfaces. "Sandy Pot" is a classic example of this technique where trees run around the entire top half of the pot, while beneath them is the undergrowth of a rainforest. "The surfaces of the pots were always there for me to work on, to make floral patterns and landscapes", she would state.
Ivy always loved the difference between Ron's Asian culture and her own. Hanging on the wall was a picture of Ron's grandparents in traditional 19th Century clothing, depicting the romantic image of Chinese citizens seen in classical literature and in films of that era.
The dragon is a symbol of good fortune and the work, "Dragon Pot", is an excellent example of Ivy's interpretation and expression of Chinese culture. The pot depicts a blood red dragon carved in relief on the gray surface. Ivy picks up the red again to decorate the pot's interior where she has carved a design of overlapping rows of scallops alluding to the dragon's scales.
Ivy always enjoyed the medium of clay, and making clay pots. However, it was also the use of clay that inspired her sculptural works, which she has perhaps become best known for.
Ivy expertly made busts of family member then moved into sculpting Australian birds and animals, which she made for more than four decades. Ivy continued to be a major figure at sculpture exhibitions throughout Queensland, and was the winner of major awards. It would be quite fitting for this article to say that she had excelled in the making of some particular bird or animal, but in fact Ivy sculpted virtually any and all creatures from the natural world.
She always retained her skill in sculpting the human figure, and enjoyed both drawing and painting the female form. "Spirit of the Tree" is a good example of this where we see a female nude melding into the trunk of a large and spectacular tree. In a lighter vein is "Sunday Barbecue", where, as Ivy said, "We see a very Australian subject made on two separate base pieces. In one all the women are talking to each other around the barbecue, while in the second, we see all the men gathered together in a group around a keg of beer."
Sadly, Ivy suffered a stroke and passed away in 2009. She was 91 years old.
The writer of this article wishes to make this a celebration of her life and her work, most of which will continue to be appreciated long after all of us have left the building.
Gordon Foulds worked in theatre and television both in UK and Australia as dancer/singer actor, and was a foundation student at Flinders University in 1966, graduating with a degree in Languages and Fine Arts. Gordon worked for the Education Deptartment of South Australia where he introduced both Drama and Dance with full subject status. Invalided out of work in 1984 he has worked in art galleries and as theatre and art critic/writer since that time. He writes regularly for arts magazines. Despite serious illness, has lived a charmed life, a life lived entirely in the Arts.
Ivy Yock, Dragon Pot
Example of Ivy's interpretation and expression of Chinese culture
Ivy Yock, Carved Vase
Ivy Yock, Fish Vase
Ivy continued to sculpt creatures from the natural world for over four decades
Ivy Yock, Possum
Ivy Yock, Medusa's Head
Exhibited in Melbourne in 1969
Exploration of bark as a new medium
Ivy Yock, Art Deco copper bed head