Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Alexander William (Lex) Dickson (1951–2008)

by Peter Pinson

Lex Dickson was a significant figure in the revolution that shook up the crafts in Australia in the late 20th century. In the early 1960s, the glazed objects that were fired in kilns were called "pottery". They could be ornamental or functional. But by the 1980s, all changed.

Glazed objects might take the form of ironic sculptures of FJ Holdens or be flamboyant utensils decorated with political messages. The discipline was now "ceramics", and many practitioners, such as Dickson, saw themselves as artists rather than craftspeople.

Alexander William Dickson was born in Marton, a rural town in the lower North Island of New Zealand, the older son of Ian and Jill Dickson. He grew up with an abiding interest in the Maori artefacts he found around him. His first contact with ceramics was through the mother of a school friend who was a conventional potter Lex helped during his school holidays.

His initial employment was as an architectural draftsman but his passion lay in surfing. In 1972 he set off for Africa to test the beaches and waves. During a three-month pause in Sydney, he met Sharon Ward and they maintained a correspondence during his African travels. He worked (and surfed) for 18 months in Africa, living in Zululand, Kenya and Nigeria. He was struck by the colours and patterns of the clothing, and the adornments of indigenous Africans. Indirectly, the boldness of African design would later find its way into his ceramics.

Returning to Australia, he and Sharon got married, and began a ceramics TAFE course taught by Richard Brooks. Dickson immediately knew he had found his calling. He began working with Brooks and later with the potter Andrew Halford who had studied for five years in Japan, and he and Brooks introduced Dickson to the Eastern-influenced pots of Bernard Leach, the 17th- to 18th-century Japanese potter Kenzan Ogata and to the Japanese aesthetic tradition.

In 1983 Dickson went to Japan to work under the master potter Tamura Goro in the remote town of Hagi in south-west Honshu. He began working in a large workshop with other artisans, producing hundreds of vessels at a time for everyday use.

Later, he made pieces that would be suitable for tea ceremonies and special occasions. Goro took him to the house of an old lady who was a venerated master of the tea ceremony. He visited her regularly, enthralled by her performing the ceremony, and examining her collection of rough, imperfect but prized tea ceremony vessels.

Dickson was intrigued with the Japanese tradition of presenting fine ceramic objects in boxes. In Australia, he began making sets of bowls, four or six, that were placed in a compartmentalised wooden box. Each compartment would house one bowl. Each bowl would be similar in size, but different to its neighbours in shape, colour and pattern.

These sets became sought after but he would always accompany his more familiar pieces with other works that challenged one's expectations of what ceramics might do.

Over the past five years Dickson's work evolved to include a number of ceramic totems, influenced by Maori ancestral totems, but also inspired by prayer wheels he had seen in Nepal in 1976.

Dickson was also an accomplished cook, especially with regional Japanese cuisine. He would serve the food on plates he had made, choosing the plate that would make the most striking visual impact.

He was also influenced by painters, and admired the scarred textures and expressive brushmarks of the painters Elwyn Lynn and Antoni Tapies.

Dickson had been invited to exhibit at the Museum of Ceramics in Barcelona next year, which selects only one international artist every two years for such an exhibition. He had intended to exhibit his totems and other works. His death, from cancer, makes it unlikely this exhibition will proceed.

Lex Dickson is survived by his parents, Sharon, and children Cooper and Marni. His brother, Brian, died 10 years ago.

Original publication

Citation details

Peter Pinson, 'Dickson, Alexander William (Lex) (1951–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


Marton, New Zealand


25 February, 2008 (aged ~ 57)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.