YHBHS interview with Ian McDonald

"I also think this is where the sculptural arrangements are born, in that the difference between the support (pedestal, furniture) and the object (sculpture, accessory) is so small that I just collapse it all together. I don’t really start out thinking functional or non-functional, it’s all happening at once."

details of current works from "Wearing"

Ian McDonald's latest exhibition "Wearing" is at Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco until April 23, 2011. I'm psyched to post this conversation with Ian about his latest show, as well as his practice as an artist. Also, for those that do not know his fantastic blog called THE ARM. I suggest bookmarking it now. It's been a daily read for me, and was a huge influence early on for YHBHS.

"Wearing, refers to the displays of non-functional ceramic objects hung, assembled, or arranged to evoke clothing or containers re-configured for puzzling purposes." Can you talk about the ideas behind your current exhibition at Rena Bransten. Where you were in your mind when you were working on these pieces? Are there any direct sources that you worked from in conceptualizing these works? How is this body of work different from your "Decline and Fall" show?

The idea behind “wearing” was really born from the word “wareing”, a sort of complication of language and display. I sometimes think my sculpture is really just a fancy set up to show pottery or wares. Most of the titles for the current exhibition start with “house wearing” or “house wareing”, referring to house clothing or accessories, but in the case of my show, everything exists in one place, an all in one environment. The idea of the all on one environment is something I have been working with for a while now which is related to the still life, but more akin to rearranging the furniture and deciding what one can live with and live without. In addition, all or most of the work is hanging on coat or hat hooks, a further reference to clothing, use and storage. As far as direct sources I was mostly looking at artists and designers that are heavily committed to a type of handmade detail. There are so many sources from Amish quilts to Arte Povera, Marguerite Wildenhain and the California Bauhaus, to my early apprentice days.

Artists that work in ceramics as a medium often make work that is functional and non-functional. Do you work in both realms? Do you separate when you begin with a body of work, whether it will be functional or non-functional?

I work in both realms for a few reasons, but mostly because I don’t see any difference. In most cases the separation is sort of an academic exercise, but it doesn’t change the way I think or work, so I leave it alone. Sometimes I am heavily involved at looking at pottery, thinking about its use, the detail in the rim or a small subtle component. This in many ways then becomes no different when thinking about sculptural arrangements, thinking of subtle components, and it’s possible use. For me, the idea of the functional or use value is a conceptual approach in that parts of my work eschew the purely referential and exist in the world in the form of the real thing. It looks like a bench and acts like a bench because it is a bench. I really like all of this complication, and prefer to stay open to multiple avenues of thinking. I also think this is where the sculptural arrangements are born, in that the difference between the support (pedestal, furniture) and the object (sculpture, accessory) is so small that I just collapse it all together. I don’t really start out thinking functional or non-functional, it’s all happening at once.

Your sculpture references ideas of multiplicity, and the idea of factory made work. Is this a comment on the potter's life perhaps? Why are you attracted towards repeating certain forms in your shows?

I would shy away from the notion of the factory, as I prefer the individual hand to factory reproduction, but you are right about a sort of “potters life” in that the process in which ceramics goes through is pretty epic. In that case, some work doesn’t make it through the process for one reason or another, and in order to be efficient, almost all of the ceramic components are made at the same time. This probably explains why forms are often repeated, in that I am trying to work something out visually and to make sure I get some of them through the process. Either that, or I am not capable of making anything different. Let’s go with the process response.

Los Angeles in the last few years has been having an awareness around ceramics. Monique Van Genderen and Roger Herman curated some beautiful ceramics shows at the PDC and ACME "Los Angeles Museum of Ceramic Art" this past year that included Ruby Neri, Matthias Merkel-Hess, Kelly Breslin, David Korty, Anna Sew Hoy, Adam Silverman. Is this happening in San Francisco?

The short answer is no, this type of re-energized ceramic is not really happening in San Francisco. The longer answer I think has more to do with the fact that San Francisco and the Bay Area has had a long history with artists dedicated to ceramics over a long period of time, Richard Shaw, Ron Nagle, Annabeth Rosen, Voulkos (after leaving LA), Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, even the original Heath factory is located here. The shows you mentioned feature artists that work in multiple disciplines, and that freshness is evidenced in the ceramic projects. I would be interested however to see what the work would look like over a period of time, investigating ceramics through duration rather than naiveté. Some of the artists you mentioned have been working with ceramics for sometime, and I actually find their work to be more rigorous and interesting. The key is to not fall too much in love with the material in order to keep some edge, while also not just showing work you made one day in ceramics. Those shows have been interesting in that they are embracing ceramics from pure potters to sculpture which hopefully breaks down any hierarchy of thought and process.

House Wearing (flaxen) 2011

Ian McDonald graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2000 with an MFA and currently teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute. McDonald was part of the exhibition “Bay Area Now 5” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2008 and his work is included in the collections of The Museo Internazionale della Ceramiche in Faenza, Italy, and the International Ceramic Center, Denmark....

go to Rena Bransten here....
77 Geary Street (between Kearny and Grant Streets)
San Francisco, CA 94108