Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Insite 27 Summer 2010 Contents UP CLOSE artisan
zircon doesn’t have the lovely, warm, soft, desirable feel that tin has.
Tile manufacturing became impersonal and lost that crafty, arty,
handmade feeling. It became predictable,” he says.
Robert’s work is anything but predictable and this is what people
love. What he’s created in Medina is unique. For one thing, he’s the
only commercial tile manufacturer in WA – of any kind. And in
terms of the processes and what he offers, he knows of no one else
doing the same thing. Adding to the appeal of this tile hub is that
anyone can work here, using Robert’s tiles and expertise to create
their own artisan pieces. If required, he gives a $100 crash course
in basic techniques of mosaic. “I love the interaction with people
coming and working in this space, and I love helping them bring
to fruition what they imagine,” he says.
Robert came up with the name Labyrinth with his daughters
Sarah and Emma. “It means journey, and without expanding too
much, that’s definitely what I’ve been on.” Robert keeps his journey
to himself – it’s more suited to a book than a small article – but
suffice to say he’s overcome many challenges in his life and while his
lows have been low, his highs have f uelled his creative passion.
Working in the building trade as a teenager, there was
always an underlying creative potential. He found an interest in
refractory brick laying – basically anything to do with kilns and
heat containment – and from there he left the building industry,
discovered clay, and moved to Pemberton where he became a potter.
Robert became interested in saggar firing – housing his pots
in ceramic, box-like containers (saggars) in a kiln to create a
different atmosphere, and often including seaweed or sawdust to
produce dramatic ma rkings on the pots. Working from painter and
ceramicist Guy Grey-Smith’s studio in Pemberton (“thanks to his
wife, Helen”), Robert became the Pemberton Potter and opened a
studio shop called Terrapotta Art Line. He also had a shop of the same
name in Cottesloe, and was featured in the inaugural exhibition of
Claremont’s Bay Gallery. And his work sta rted to be recognised.
After a few moves, including to Bridgetown and back to the big
smoke, it was in his Leake Street Pottery premises in Fremantle that,
by default, he started making floor tiles. “I was making square slab
pots and I realised the sides were potentially floor tiles.” It came at
a time when he couldn’t compete with imported pots flooding the
market. “My commercial pottery had to stop – the only viable thing
to continue was the art line... It made me change course into tiles.”
Robert bought a house in Kwinana and started manufacturing
tiles in the backyard, ultimately leading to what can be seen at
Labyrinth Mosaics. It’s been a process of “original discovery” for
100 INSITE SUMMER 2010
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