Interview with Ian F. Thomas, Ceramic Installation - October 2011

Interview with ceramic artist Ian F. Thomas - Ceramic Installation, October 2011

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Ceramics Now Magazine
: You are a very creative artist, working with large scale installations, ceramic objects, sculptures, vessels and various drawings. When do you have time to transpose all your emotions and ideas into them?

Ian F. Thomas: Thank you. I obsess about ideas. My methodology for making, for creating, has me developing many works at the same time, not just in the beginning phases, the thought process, but also during the construction phase. Mold making, throwing, painting, welding, drawing, functional, non-functional—everything that happens, it all develops simultaneously. I enjoy working right up to, and, sometimes, past my limit. I view making work on all of these different platforms, using different materials, and incorporating as many ideas as I can ideas in the same way that I see conversations. Each day I have vastly different types of conversations with many different people; from humorous to serious, political to chit chat and minutiae. When an idea surfaces, the process may demand a particular size, finish, or material. Following the concept and its needs supersedes the necessity of conforming to a particular style or material. 

As a father of two, husband and professor, it is difficult to manage time. My wife, Lori, who is not an artist, has an amazing tolerance for the creatively obsessed mind. If it were not for her support, I would never find the time to work on so many projects. Working with clay, I can take advantage of the timing/drying constraints, and toggle between works, maximizing my available studio time. I have also recently taken on an assistant, Eli Blasko, to help better manage my time so that I can focus more in the studio.

Ian F Thomas Contemporary Ceramic Installation Art

Di-analytic Variables - View Ian F. Thomas’ works
Wheel-thrown, altered, hand-built, earthenware, electric fired cone 02, steel, paint, gold leaf / 38x37x30 inches, 40 lbs

How do you see this relationship between idea/intuition and the final work itself? Is it always continuous or sometimes gap comes through?

The final work is an entity all of its own. An idea starts the work and then intuition supports that idea during the development of the piece. I keep true to a cautious respect for the moment. While I’m in the process of working, my intuition may shift the work’s original intentions, or trigger a new idea(s) that can rearrange the work while I’m still in the process of making it. My idea can fluctuate as much as the physical object I’m making. Using this method, gaps occurs naturally and when that happens, I embrace that.

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Amanda Simmons

Amanda Simmons' profile on Ceramics Now Magazine - View her works

Amanda Simmons makes kiln formed and cameo engraved glass vessels - tall, sculptural, thin walled columns - from her studio in Corsock. She is fascinated in the forms created by gravity within the kiln, the vessels becoming more complex as she perfects the slumping method. She has worked with glass for the past 9 years, studying at Central St Martin’s School of Art & Design in London, before re-locating to Dumfries & Galloway in 2005.

She combines these techniques with her interest in making marks in glass with diamond point engraving and a diamond wheel lathe. Her work involves many processes of firing, coldworking (working with diamond tools to shape and smooth) and sandblasting. She recently exhibited at the Crafts Council show for contemporary applied arts, COLLECT with Craftscotland and has since become a member of Contemporary Applied Arts in London. A winner of the Gold Award for Innovation, Creativity and potential to export at Origin 2010, she has just returned from a research trip to investigate the applied arts market on the East and West coast of USA funded by the Crafts Council and Uk Trade & Investment.

A keen supporter of the contemporary craft scene, she has just been selected to become the Creative Business Advisor (for Crafts) by Dumfries & Galloway Council, to stimulate, strengthen and support the creative industries sector across the region.

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Katharine Morling

Katharine Morling's profile on Ceramics Now Magazine - View her works

Katharine Morling is a ceramic artist best known for her life-size black and white sculptures full of quirky, graphic details of domestic objects such as tables, chairs, ladders and lockers. Although she calls herself a ‘3D person’, drawing is very important to Katharine because her sculptures are sketches of furniture items which plays with the viewer’s preconceptions about material and functionality. She crates animated scenes with an unusually dynamic appearance for the medium of ceramics.

The objects can be described as 3 Dimensional drawings, but at first the true nature of the material is not clear: paper or fabric? However, it is clearly ceramic. The eye then re-adjusts within the context of the memories which the material holds. The tactile experience grounds the viewer with the materials solid, cold, hard and fragile reality.

The pieces work together in a tableau staging still lives of everyday objects: table and chairs, tools and cases. Stories start to unravel in the viewer mind: the box that is locked the keys in an open draw. Toys in a case resonate with nostalgia and fantasy. A ladder propped agents a wall suggests that these toys could spring to life and lead an independent existence. A slightly surreal experience is crates when one walks amongst this strange life-sizes tableau.

The monochrome works are mainly porcelain or crank covered in a porcelain slip, before firing a black slip is painted on outlining the works with some details such as a handle or lock painted in.

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Ian Shelly

Ian Shelly's profile on Ceramics Now Magazine - View his profile

“In my work, a tangible place exists where the fields of art making, weapons manufacturing and scientific research converge. This latest work is composed of these subjects existing in the same atmosphere, constantly crossing and colliding with one another as if part of the same charged electron cloud. This work as an endless equation of variables, values, formulae and solutions. Like the system and language of chemistry, these subjects are always around us and the characters, materials and scenarios of this equation and chain reaction are in constant motion.

In an effort to reflect on the early presence that these subjects have in our lives, this connectivity is expressed through a language specific to childhood and is punctuated with objects that reference my early education and play. The childish language in this work comments on two conclusions that stoke the fires of my work; the omnipresent nature of science in our daily lives and the similarity between objects used to discover and nurture and those used to destroy and capitalize.

I see this work as a mechanism to evaluate conflict as the direct result of two kinds of perennial human activities: misunderstanding – willful or otherwise – and the heroic yet flawed effort to understand through research and classification. The activities in my work show the nature of human relationships as seen through the lenses of our societies researchers and artists.” Ian Shelly

 

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Overthrown: Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11.    Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg,    Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff    Wells. #3

Overthrown: Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg, Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff Wells. #3

Overthrown: Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), 2010–11.   Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg,   Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff   Wells.

Overthrown: Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg, Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Overthrown: Paul Sacaridiz, An Incomplete Articulation (detail), 2011. Porcelain, powder-coated aluminum, steel, paper, cut vinyl, and wood. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Overthrown: Paul Sacaridiz, An Incomplete Articulation (detail), 2011. Porcelain, powder-coated aluminum, steel, paper, cut vinyl, and wood. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Overthrown:   Clare Twomey, Collecting the edges. 2011. Red clay dust. Site-specific   project for the Denver Art Museum supported by Jana and Fred Bartlit.   Photo by Jeff Wells. #6

Overthrown: Clare Twomey, Collecting the edges. 2011. Red clay dust. Site-specific project for the Denver Art Museum supported by Jana and Fred Bartlit. Photo by Jeff Wells. #6

Interview with Del Harrow, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition

Interview with Del Harrow, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition, Denver Art Museum, July 2011

The special feature for the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition includes images from the exhibition and interviews with some of the exhibiting artists, plus with the curator. Subscribe.

Statement, Del Harrow : The Hamilton building at the Denver Art Museum responds to the natural landscape with carefully calibrated geometric volumes. I think of my installation as a kind of tapestry – or embroidery – embellishing this architecture with a more intricate structure.

Many of the qualities of ceramics make it ideal for large scale architectural applications: it is permanent, colorful, and relatively simple to form.

But clay also presents considerable challenges. It is fragile, heavy, and requires a kiln large enough to contain and carefully heat each component part.

For a thousand years architects have developed strategies for constructing large surfaces by connecting many clay pieces (The Sydney Opera House and the Alhambra are two of my personal favorites). Innovations in complex geometry have emerged from their solutions. Peter Lu, a Physicist and Harvard Professor, discovered the use of Penrose geometry in Medieval Iranian architecture. Penrose geometry – an idea not discovered in the west for another 500 years – is a series of non-repeating tessellating polygons – in this case a functional solution for aligning ceramic tiles on a wall, and also a revelation as a component of fractal geometry; a mathematical concept for reflecting on form in nature.

While more modest in scale and complexity the components of this installation are borne out of the same impulse. The Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum is an ideal site. The building responds to the natural landscape with carefully calibrated geometric shapes. My installation is a second layer – a more intricate structure for weaving together the geometries of nature with the volumes of this architecture. The scale of the building and the significance of this exhibition have provided the catalyst for my largest and most ambitious work to date.

Del Harrow, Wedgewood Black Hive/Hole, 2011. Slip-cast black porcelain. / Links, 2011. Earthenware, glaze, and platinum luster. / Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Tell us about your works exhibited at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition. What do they represent and what message do you want to deliver?

Del Harrow :The work in this show was partly a response to the architecture of this building.  The pieces deal with pattern, repetition, geometry, and difference. The textures and patterns that come from the many stages and layers of the process of making something with clay. I don’t have a particular message that I want to deliver.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Have you ever attempted to create a new material or to replicate a texture of a material in order to make your installations more exclusive?

Del Harrow : I do think a lot about the qualities and textures of materials but I don’t think I’m trying to make the installations more “exclusive”. I think of my use of materials as pretty inclusive or democratic. My installations are compositions, there are a lot of different metaphors I use to think about their structure - music and cooking are a couple - so I’m thinking about creating an experience that comes out of a play with repetition and difference. Material qualities are one layer of the composition.

There is a chapter in Baudrillard’s book “The System of Objects” called “Natural Wood and Cutural Wood” where he discusses the cultural hierarchies of various materials.  For example vinyl siding imprinted with a wood grain is typically assigned a lower position in the hierarchy of materials that natural wood siding even though the vinyl siding probably performs it’s function better (of course Baudrillard also wrote this book in the 1960‘s before we were aware of some of the health risks of “off gassing” from too much plastic in building materials). We also have an aesthetic experience of material qualities.  Man made materials tend to have more uniformity in their pattern and texture. I don’t see one type of material - synthetic or natural - as inherently superior and I think that even the line between the two categories is pretty fuzzy. Ceramic materials have a long history of borrowing qualities and textures and even mimicking other materials. For example Terra Cotta Building cladding made to imitate stone, or pots that borrow texture from basketry or metal work. Certain ceramic materials also have very strong - and sometimes paradoxical - cultural associations. “Porcelain” still has associations with ideas of quality, purity, exclusivity, and at the same time it can feel nostalgic, kitsch, and low brow. I’m very interested in these ideas and I see my work as playing within this territory.

Del Harrow, Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.


Ceramics Now Magazine: How much have you been influenced by the Aboriginal Art and your time spent in Australia?

Del Harrow: Not consciously.

Ceramics Now Magazine: What is your reaction towards using plastic plates and cutlery in our daily life?

Del Harrow: I don’t know if I’ve ever come a across a plastic knife and fork and thought: “this is a really nice thing to use”. I wish I would. Cheap, disposable knives and forks certainly serve a function. I don’t use them very often but at picnics they are pretty handy. I wish the knives didn’t always break when you’re trying to cut your steak. They should also be biodegradable.

Ceramics Now Magazine: If you would have to recreate the nomadic Brancusi exhibition, what other object would you add that could empathize with the philosophy of the famous Romanian sculptor?

Del Harrow: When I made that piece it started out as an idea about reproduction of objects and authorship. As I was working and started doing more research I became more interested in Brancusi’s ideas about his sculptures being dependent on specific spatial relationships to each other and on the architecture of his studio space.  Along with his work making discreet forms/sculptures Brancusi had a parallel practice of photographing the work within the space/context of the studio. The composition of objects in my piece was based on a specific arrangement from one of his photographs. I chose a picture that contained several very iconic forms: bird in space, endless column… I think if I made this piece again it might be interesting to chose a photograph with less well known forms. Some of his photographs are just piles of molds and raw materials in a corner of the room. In some ways these types of photographs make more space for thinking about his objects as provisional and contingent on qualities of light, context, and arrangement.

Del Harrow, Wedgewood Black Hive/Hole, 2011. Slip-cast black porcelain. / Links, 2011. Earthenware, glaze, and platinum luster. / Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future?

Del Harrow : I have a couple of exhibitions coming up, one in November at Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia. This show will be the result of a collaboration with Chadwick Augustine. I also have a solo show opening in February at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

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"My current studio practice consists of two activities: the production/fabrication of objects from a range of materials, and then, a sustained investigation of these objects by way of successive experiments with strategies for placement, arrangement, and organization.

Individual objects emerge from a confluence of form, material and process. Many sculptures begin as digital models – employing computer software as a tool for generating abstract form. As material culture an objects’ subtle textures and marks contain and reveal information about methods of fabrication – manual or mechanized production – and by extension the scale of economy, culture, and the objects meaning within it.

Objects within an installation are built on a range of scales – of objects, furniture, architectural fragments – creating a composite scale/space, shifting between the miniature, the architectural interior, and the landscape.

Installations borrow organizational strategies from both art historical compositions and vernacular spaces: game fields, farms, domestic interiors, forests. These spaces share abstract forms: planes, mesh-works, surfaces, and hierarchies. Like a mathematical model or interior architecture, the installation is a diagrammatic construction built within the gallery.” Del Harrow

Visit Del Harrow’s website.

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→ Read more interviews with ceramic artists and search through our featured artists.

Interview by Iunia Ratiu with help from Vasi Hirdo - Editor of Ceramics Now Magazine.

Interview with Linda Sormin, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition

Interview with Linda Sormin, exhibiting artist at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition, Denver Art Museum, July 2011

The special feature for the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition includes images from the exhibition and interviews with some of the exhibiting artists, plus with the curator. Subscribe.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Tell us about your work exhibited in the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition.

Linda Sormin : This installation, Mine: i hear him unclip me, explores forms and structures of uncertainty height, and depth. I am curious about the sites and processes of mining. Two years ago in my installation “Rift” at the Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art in the UK, I invited the curator, James Beighton, to crawl through a Plexiglas tube high in the air, wearing a mining hat and safety goggles. I asked him to “mine” the tunnels of the work by breaking open my hand-built porcelain pieces with a wooden hammer and chisel. 

For this current installation in Denver, I scavenged and borrowed materials and objects from the Colorado School of Mines and Geological Museum in Golden, CO, and the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO. Boulder ReSource and thrift shops in the area were also sources of materials and forms, including a stained glass door picturing a coyote and flowers, and a large brown ear-less plastic bear head.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.

With the extraordinary technical assistance of my partner Seth Hisiger, I worked at my studio in Providence, RI for 4 months to create the ceramic components for the work.  With extruded stoneware tubes and hand-pinched grids of red earthenware clay, we created linear drawings in space with fired and glazed ceramics. Because the installation was sited on a large slanting wall in the museum (it leans 110 degrees away from the viewer), we needed to build a mock wall at this exact angle in my studio. After Seth built this wall and developed a system of steel pipe to be mounted to it, we were able to test the structure by threading sections of the ceramic grids through the pipe. I’ve been interested in “skewering” ceramics (like meat!) in this way for a few years now. Final installation at the Denver Art Museum took 12 days. For the first three days we worked closely with John Lupe’s outstanding installation team of eight, two motorized lifts and (for me at least) high levels of adrenaline. At first, I felt quite daunted by the large number of heavy, super-fragile objects we needed to mount to and balance on that wall – and I’m a little scared of heights. Maybe more than a little.  While hand-pinching raw clay into the piece at 25 feet up, my knees went weak and I had to sit down. So I worked that way in the gallery space – harnessed and clipped into a metal basket, legs dangling down.

Ceramics Now Magazine: Do you find it challenging to construct your works with objects from different places? You can also tell us what it’s like to work with recycled materials.

Linda Sormin : I am always grateful for the opportunity to work with objects from different places, with different histories of function and use in specific cultures. It’s a challenge that whets my appetite for making. I hope to tell stories with these things, to weave together abstract real-time narratives that invent or re-establish connections between objects, situations, people and places. Recycled objects are used objects with a past life. Their lack of innocence prevents them from being predictable to me, and their idiosyncrasies help to shape my installations. Their flaws resonate in the work, and in my imagination.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.


Ceramics Now Magazine: People described you as being extreme. How far do you agree with this?

Linda Sormin : In some ways, I think this could be true. On the other hand, I question if we can consider anyone working in a craft-based art profession to be extreme. In comparison to what? is what I’d ask.

I imagine that being balanced and moderate would lead to a steadier, more peaceful way of life.  I do often feel compelled to explore the edges of experiences, and feel that it is necessary to push boundaries and takes risks in order to comprehend the situations and behaviors of materials, things and people.  This is the normal task of the artist, however – so it’s not extreme, just a choice – a research methodology perhaps. If I were less “extreme” I might not get into the messes that I often find myself in.  And then where would I be?  These messes keep me alert and attentive to the work.


Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get inspiration for your works, do you have any hobbies?

Linda Sormin: I enjoy learning about objects and how they seem to behave in the world.  From tools to clothing, domestic interiors to trash, digital technology to hands-on processes, I draw ideas and narratives from how people interact with things. Recently, I’ve been interested in the powerful machinery and risky methods used by people in so-called “manly” professions such as mining and marine work.  When I visited the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO this past spring, I met miners who were studying outer space mining, as well as working with the military to develop approaches for underground operations. I’ve often used “mining” and un-grounding” as metaphors in writing and making – so it was humbling and enlightening to witness the real thing, and get to know the people actually working in these fields.


Ceramics Now Magazine: You tend to take adventurous tasks and use all kinds of materials. Do you think that one day you will be able to interfere with fashion to create pret-a-porter clothing from recycled materials?

Linda Sormin: There seems to be a growing number of people practicing apparel design in this way. I absolutely love clothes and am always excited by garments that offer material or social meaning from unexpected places. I would be thrilled to collaborate with a fashion designer or textile artist someday. Do you know anyone who’d be interested in working with someone like me who can’t sew a straight line?


Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future?

Linda Sormin : From August 4 - September 17 of this year, I will be in Norway making new work in the studios of the National Fine Art Academy in Bergen. My partner Seth Hisiger and I will be installing the work in the context of the China Collection at the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts. From October 7-10 I’ll be giving a workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft on Deer Isle, Maine. From October 27-29, I’ll be back in Bergen to speak at the Thing Tang Trash: Upcycling in Contemporary Ceramic Art Symposium.

Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg, Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff Wells.

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The site looms above and veers past, willing me to compromise, to give ground. I roll and pinch the thing into place, I collect and lay offerings at its feet. This architecture melts and leans, hoarding objects in its folds. It lurches and dares you to approach, it tears cloth and flesh, it collapses with the brush of a hand.

Nothing is thrown away. This immigrant lives in fear of waste. Old yogurt is used to jumpstart the new batch. What is worth risking for things to get juicy, rare, ripe? What might be discovered on the verge of things going bad?

Linda Sormin is a Canadian sculptor based in Providence, Rhode Island. Through objects and site-specific installations, Sormin’s work explores issues of fragility and aggression, mobility and survival. Born in Bangkok, Sormin has a BA in English Literature and worked in community development for four years in Thailand and Lao PDR. She studied ceramics at Andrews University, Sheridan School of Crafts & Design (Grad 2001) and Alfred University (MFA 2003).

Sormin’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at the Denver Art Museum (Denver, USA), gl Holtegaard (Denmark), Vallauris (France), Middlesbrough (UK), Providence, Philadelphia and New Orleans. From 2003-06, Sormin taught ceramics at Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, BC. For 5 years, she taught at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI, first as Assistant Professor (2006-09) then as Associate Professor (2009-11) and Head of Ceramics (2010-11).

Visit Linda Sormin’s website.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and like our Facebook page if you want to stay in touch with us.
→ Read more interviews with ceramic artists and search through our featured artists.

Interview by Iunia Ratiu with help from Vasi Hirdo - Editor of Ceramics Now Magazine.