Blue Skies and Dusty Ground

Anna Culliton’s Real Deal Rodeo

After making a series of artworks in 2010 which captured the performance of a circus girl, Anna Culliton (1966-) was on the hunt for a new subject. It was during a visit to the Taralga Rodeo that inspiration struck the potter.

A nineteen-year-old quarter-horse rider was about to perform when his name was announced: Clay Bush. Thinking the coincidence was too perfect, Culliton dove into photographing her experiences with the rider and the country musicians, cowboy fashion, and working animals which make up the rodeo scene.

Real Deal Rodeo (2015), Culliton’s largest ceramic work, is one of the artworks she made in response to this experience. She notes that the masculinity of the subject matter and the combination of blue skies with dusty ground felt like a good contrast to her previous series which was more whimsical and feminine. Despite this difference, the work maintains the cheerful sincerity which exists in all her ceramic works.

Nowadays, Culliton questions whether she would present the rodeo with the same enthusiasm. A long-time lover of animals, she has since become a devoted conservationist working with native wildlife, particularly wombats suffering the effects of sarcoptic mange. Culliton now questions the ethics of wrangling broncos and calves for entertainment, though she can still see the connection between a rider and their horse as meaningful. This change is reflected in Culliton’s practice immediately after this exhibition, where native animals became a primary subject of her work.

Real Deal Rodeo is still intrinsically a celebration of rodeos but, with this in mind, the artwork also shows that an artist’s creative perspective is not stagnant. Culliton puts it this way:

‘Now I wouldn’t be making a guy leaping off a horse with a rope and pulling down a calf. I’d be making a guy cuddling a calf.’