Book review: A Barry Brickell Reader edited by Gregory O'Brien

by Sam Finnemore / 22 June, 2017

Brickell’s last verses reinvent the language. 

As a pioneering ceramicist, sculptor and engineer, Driving Creek creator Barry Brickell enjoyed wide acclaim, but he was the least likely sort of artist to seek or accept official recognition. “Nottapotter, not an engineer, not an artist, nottawriter’’, as he put it, but “a wrerter, a ceramiccissist, mudslinger and an oddity.”

Brickell the self-made wordsmith sits front and centre here, in Gregory O’Brien’s selection from a parcel of verse passed along by Brickell just before his death in early 2016. In his last years, Brickell transferred much of his full-tilt enthusiasm from steel and clay towards the written word, devoting himself to “wrerting”, an individual form of poetry matching his self-directed, anarchic approach to ceramics, railway-building and nature conservation. The wrertings put words under heavy load – he shunted and twisted them together, or folded them in on themselves, creating new forms as individual as anything that he sculpted or built.

A series of evocative photographs from Haru Sameshima give essential context, along with brief opening and closing essays from O’Brien, Sameshima and David Craig.

Longtime aficionados will find this an essential final statement from the artist and a complement to previous retrospectives. Newcomers to Brickell will probably still find the wrertings mystifying – but they’re joyful mysteries, thrumming with energy and humour.

Puzzled fascination is a response Brickell would no doubt have approved of.

A BARRY BRICKELL READER, edited by Gregory O’Brien (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, $29)

This article was first published in the May 27, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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