If you Google Peter Thompson, you’ll get lots about a renowned golf champion and a great Australian broadcaster, but not much about Peter the Far North Queensland artist.
Peter Thompson has what’s called a small digital footprint, and he probably likes it that way, given his aversion to publicity and promotion.
But his is a remarkable story of skill and humility, wonderfully told in a new book, Clay & Spirit Peter Thompson by local visual arts teacher, Ian Whittaker.
Peter is a potter who has been making high temperature wood-fired ceramics at his workshop in Kuranda, where he’s lived since the early 1970s.
“He’s an Aussie bush larrikin,” Ian told Tropic.
“But he’s also got strong Buddhist philosophies. He’s in to a very meditative, contemplative approach to life.
Over fifty years, Peter drew on international traditions to produce pots, figurines, sculpture, and artefacts that put him on the cutting edge of contemporary Australian ceramics.
“It’s a tradition where people do work in isolation. He bases what he does very strongly on Eastern traditions, on Japan and China, and Korean traditions.
“In those traditions, if you want to learn this stuff, you’ve got to go and apprentice yourself to a master and learn direct from the source.”
Peter grew up on Sydney’s northern beaches, where his parents ran a delicatessen.
He became a shipwright, a trade that eventually brought him to Weipa in the late 1960s, then to Machans Beach and Yorkeys Knob.
Ian says Peter found a home among kindred spirits at Holloways Beach.
“People were living on the council land along the beach, and crocodile shooters and hippies and lots of people who were really interested in building their own houses and living a very earthy kind of lifestyle.
“He ended up, at some point, living next door to a guy called Ray Harrison, who was teaching ceramics. He did a few classes with Ray and decided ‘this is my thing’.”
Peter bought land in the rainforest at Kuranda in 1972, where he built a home and, later, his Five Treasures Workshop, named for the five elements of Taoist philosophy, earth, wind, fire, water, and the void.
He devoted himself to his craft, and studied to postgraduate level in China, America, and Australia, despite leaving high school with poor literacy.
Ian said Peter became a gifted ceramicist, producing a remarkable body of work.
“He’s developed very much in isolation in the rainforest.
“There is a very small international community of wood-firing potters, and he would be on par with anyone in the world in terms of the people who really specialise in that.
“He’s got this small community of people who would know about him.
“There’s plenty of people in Kuranda and Cairns who are aware of him, but not really in the sense that the quality of his work deserves.
“I just felt like he’s achieved something remarkable. Somebody needs to record what we can of that to understand his practice and how he works.
“There are others who will find that inspiring and it will feed into their artistic development.”
Clay & Spirit Peter Thompson is rightly a celebration of an artist’s work rather than a biography.
It is beautifully illustrated with photos of Peter’s pottery, inspired by many traditions and made here in the Far North.
Starting conversations in Cairns and the Tropical North. Independent, free-to-read, and always local.
New book celebrates the work of FNQ artist – TropicNow