One of 250+ ceramicists featured in Commune, Brisbane-born artist Kathy Gardiner dedicates her memory vessel to the ‘playground of fun’ that shaped years of joyful memories for Brisbane’s youth. Hand-built in her home studio, ‘Feeling TOPS’ is an ode to the good old days when the Brisbane Myer Centre featured a playground called TOPS with a dragon rollercoaster ride included. We sat down with Kathy for a Q&A and discovered a story of artistic healing accented by creative play, dedication to a craft and nostalgic delight.
Echoes of sheer delight and memory spread through the Museum on the day you dropped off your memory vessel ‘Feeling TOPS’. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired this artwork?
‘Feeling TOPS’ is a nostalgic step back in time celebrating the heyday of TOPS in Brisbane’s Myer Centre and its most infamous Dragon Coaster ride. This stylised interpretation lends to the excitement and exhilaration of stepping into this iconic Brisbane precinct during the 1990s where jubilant screams and the thunderous rumble overhead could be heard from the food court below. Whether you were brave enough to take the ride or watch on, the Dragon Coaster and Tops were where dreams came true for Brissy kids, far and wide.
Why was this memory the one you wanted to immortalise in clay most? What made it relevant again?
I grew up on a property just outside of Brisbane and when we came to the city it was a big adventure in itself. My earliest memories of Brisbane City involved the bustling Queen Street Mall and exploring the much-loved Myer Centre. Whether it was screams of joy (or terror) being heard from above, TOPS had an alluring appeal for any visitor to the shopping precinct. These were my first memories of Brisbane as a young person, and my aim and hope in creating this vessel was to capture those joyful memories from a bygone era where fun and play were encouraged.
I commenced my research and initial design of this piece at the end of 2022, and I wanted to capture the exhilarating essence of the ride. In doing so, I went down a rabbit hole looking into the mysterious disappearance of the Dragon Coaster ride and the urban legends regaling its fate. After completing the piece, news of Myer’s move from the iconic Brisbane centre emerged and with it the Dragon Coaster miraculously materialised once again in the local news. This is my reinterpretation and dedication to the ‘playground of fun’ and the ride that created many joyful memories for the youth of Brisbane.
How did your journey with ceramics begin?
Illustration has always been my focus, however like many during the height of the pandemic I sought out new mediums to experiment with. The attraction of getting my hands dirty, literally and metaphorically was the appeal of clay for me, and more specifically in hand building. I personally suffer from a chronic condition called Lymphoedema in my dominant arm, so creating comes with its own challenges and the control of hand building over wheel throwing was appealing to my needs. I sought out the vibrant tutelage of prominent multidisciplinary artists and hand building ceramicists, Michelle Le Plastrier and Bonnie Hislop and became a regular student under their esteemed guidance at Dabbler Studio, where I was given the freedom to experiment within my own style. The appeal of creating functional and decorative illustrative ceramics as a canvas to my expression has evolved into the primary focus of my current works.
My pieces are both bold and vibrant, using a mix of colour play and illustration to form the narrative of my collections. Favouring painting with brush underglazes adds to the slow meticulous, and often repetitious practice, of producing works in this manner to achieve the eye popping, uplifting outcome, I strive for.
Are you a professional ceramicist? Are there any themes you explore in your practice?
Yes, I am. I create colourful illustrative ceramics using hand building techniques in my Brisbane home studio. Predominantly self-taught, I draw inspiration from the female form, nature, flora and fauna, fashion and the yesteryear. Described often as uplifting works, my pieces are united by simplified form, colour, pattern and line work. Specialising in surface design work, illustrations are skilfully applied using brush underglaze techniques. I focus on creating pieces bursting in colour that bring joy, wearability and functionality that brighten your day, and home.
With a long varied corporate and patient advocacy background, I returned to my love of artistic creation following a terminal cancer prognosis. As a strong voice for terminal patients, I continue to raise awareness and hope for cancer patients within Australia and beyond. My work echoes the healing nature of play, positivity and finding joy in simple pleasures. I am now thriving and living my creative passions beyond my prognosis.
Love Kathy’s work?
Kathy’s colourful, one-of-a-kind ceramics are available for purchase at MoB Shop. Browse the collection here.