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Last night was one of those cold wet Melbourne winter nights, when the most appealing thing is to snuggle up beside the fire.  I did think about not going to the Red Chair Event at Montsalvat. But Chris Pittard, winner of the 2010 Nillumbik Art Prize, was the speaker and I’ve been wanting to meet him ever since his win was announced last year.  So I wrapped myself up in a scarf, coat and hat and braved the weather.  I’m so glad I did.  Chris is a very engaging speaker. He skillfully navigated around a history of his work. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that he began his artist life painting in oils. He loves it.  Had he not met and married potter, Mary-Lou, he may never have moved into the area of ceramics.  He freely admits that she taught him everything he knows.

His larger works are more often than not, coiled pots. He allows the process to determine the shape. Once complete the painting can begin. That’s where Chris’s first love really kicks in. He won the Nillumbik prize with a large pot painted with a circus theme. The details of some of the pots shown here also explore that theme. The painting encourages the eye to move right around the pot. There are often surprises painted in the interior of the pot or bowl.

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He says that winning the prize in itself didn’t alter his work, but what happened as a result did.  In his case, the prize meant that a trip to Perugia in Italy was possible. While there, a visit to Deruta’s museum of the history of ceramics in the area, is an experience still reverberating through his work.  He showed a work he had painted depicting the tower at Kangaroo Ground and I swear that when I first saw it, I thought he must have done it in Italy, so strong is the influence.

Chris and Mary-Lou have a studio and gallery in Eltham.  They are part of the Nillumbik Artists Open Studio’s Program so will be open to the public again in November. Both Chris and Mary-Lou participated in the Mudka exhibition earlier this year.

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Red Chair event is gaining momentum.  There are regular attendees, who organizer Irene Pagram suggests are guilded on to the seats.  Last night saw lots of new faces eager to ‘hear from the artist himself’.  It’s a great initiative by a local council that truly values its artistic roots.  Red Chair Event takes place on the first Wednesday of every month. For details of upcoming speakers go to the Nillumbik Shire website