I fell in love with Ian Garrett’s work when I first saw it 6 months ago. Ian coil builds each pot, in itself a lengthy process but when you see the scale of some of his works, that in and of itself is stunning. Ian uses the simplist of tools, much like early peoples that he so admires. With these simple tools he integrates a lot of surface texture in his pots using the edge of a mussel shell. In his monochromatic work that texture is intertwined with areas of burnished clay, made by rubbing agate pebbles across the clay surface. His ability to control and separate these areas of high texture from smooth burnished areas of a pot are another reason to celebrate his work. Ian’s process is very methodical, any yet his designs are lyrical, fun and visually compelling. I love the combination – just love it.
JW: Will you describe your creative process and how that may have changed over time?
IG: My creative process begins with an idea for the size and shape vessel I wish to build next. All my work is coil-built. Coils with lots of pinching and scraping. I like to alternate between large and small pieces and a variety of shapes to keep my inspiration fresh. While the building process is underway I start to sketch pattern and motif ideas for the surface.
I try to draw intuitively, allowing ideas to flow out of my subconsciousness with no preconceived subject-matter in mind (titles for pieces only come at the end). It usually takes a while to refine my ideas and settle on what lines, shapes and patterns to use.
My working process of applying colour and texture is extremely slow and laborious, so that ideas for future pieces (variations of pattern/motif etc) usually start to form in my mind at this stage. This has been the on-going work cycle throughout my career and hasn’t changed over time.
JW: Your work is sometimes very large. Almost monumental at times. When did you start making such large vessels? What was the impetus to work on such a large scale?
IG: From the start of my career, c1997 to 2017, all of my work was either saggar-fired or pit-fired. I was therefore limited to working to a size that could survive the thermal shock of pit-firing or would fit inside my saggar/kiln. I found these constraints frustrating, as I was technically competent at building much larger pieces than I could fire. Since starting to work with coloured clays/slips I’m now firing in oxidation and can enjoy exploring work on a much bigger scale.
JW: Your work tends to be monochromatic or at least limited to a few hues. Is there a reason that you limit your palette?
IG: I have about 50 different coloured slips, some natural clays and others that I’ve blended/ tinted with oxides. For each piece I select a specific “colour way”, choosing hues and tones to evoke a mood I wish to convey. Some harmoniously muted, calm or serene, some vibrant and joyous, others intriguing and unexpected. I take delight in exploiting optical mixing or the way colours appear to influence each other when placed side-by-side.
JW: You employ a lot of texture – and the absence of texture – through intertwining patterns and burnished areas. Do you plan these patterns out beforehand, or do they come to you as you start working on a pot?
IG: Carefully planned out, as answered above in question 2. I like to play with the way one’s eye can switch between reading shapes as either positive or negative motifs/spaces.
I’ve recently also been using dark and light toned colours to do the same. My recent exhibition explored some of the connections I see between visual pattern and rhythmical patterns in music, which can also “shift” according to subjectively felt emphasis.
JW: Have you always burnished your pots? What attracts you to that particular technique?
IG: Yes. Burnishing gives pots a very alluring visual and tactile appeal. The inter-connected techniques of coil-building, burnishing and pit-firing were the very first ceramic technologies created and used by all cultures around the world. I love the sense of being connected to such an ancient and universal tradition.
JW: You were interested in archaeology as a boy, particularly in pot sherds that you found near your home in the Eastern Cape region. How have those experiences – and perhaps even the objects you uncovered – influenced your ceramic work?
IG: My curiosity to learn how those ancient pots were made was the start of my ceramic journey and has continued to be an inspiration throughout my career. I find the longevity of ceramics fascinating, that one can pick up a sherd that was last held in a human hand hundreds or even thousand of years ago, and feel intimately connected to the person who made/used it. From thousands of years of being part of human culture, I think pots communicate things to us on a very deep level, ideas about food and drink as resources to be treasured and shared and concepts around nurture and the home. I also marvel at how “modern” so much ancient art appears to be, and how our desire to communicate visually in many was seems to come full circle. I find it thrilling that just down the coast from where I live is Blombos cave, where the earliest evidence of modern human behavior has been found in the form of a pattern engraved onto a piece of ochre!
You can see more of Ian’s work on his Facebook page.