Ian McDonald.

I live in a small cottage house with my wife totaling something close to 420 square feet. Due to the issue of space, I mostly move around the house to work. Sometimes I work at my laptop housed on a skinny shelving unit I built, dubbed “books on stilts”. Sometimes I sit at the small kitchen table, and sometimes I sit at my wife’s desk from which she runs her small independent business. Other times I like to sit in our small galley kitchen on a stool that usually holds the compost bin. Perhaps music sounds best from there or maybe it’s because it’s close to the fridge. I recently read that children actually learn better by alternating where they study. Perhaps I’m learning something new while sitting in the kitchen amongst the dishes and the fruit. I think this idea of multiple aspects of learning is evident in my work process. Today I was standing in a caning shop and found there was something interesting not only in the process of caning, but also in the way the shop was organized. Hearing words like “Rush”, “Danish Cord” and “Shaker Tape” gave me new insight into my work.

The studio I work from is below the house, which is an open footprint, the same size of the house. I of course spend a good deal of time there and due to continued space concerns, find myself constantly transforming the space for studio visits and special projects that demand some form of reorganization. This is something that seems to inform my work, in that the small space demands attention and focus, and of critical importance, the interaction of objects and materials to one another. Nothing extra is allowed, no room for falling in love with a piece and forcing it into a collection, exhibition or in individual sculpture. I think Roger Waters once said he would be willing to sacrifice his favorite song if it meant the total album would benefit. My desk and workspace would agree.

I have always lived in small places, and find them to be the way I like to live. It doesn’t allow for a lot of mid-century modern open sober spaces so popular today, but it does allow for carefully considered things we want to be around including blankets and textiles, small stones, pottery, gifts from friends, books, plants and most of all, each other.”

Ian McDonald is an artist living and working in San Francisco. He has shown in both the United States and Europe, including Rena Bransten Gallery, aov Gallery, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and The New Wight Gallery at UCLA in Los Angeles. European venues include, Nieuwe Vide Gallery in Holland, Sophienholm Exhibition Hall in Copenhagen Denmark,and the Svendborg Kunstingbygning Museum in Svendborg Denmark.In 2007 he was awarded the “Premio Faenza” from the Museo Internazionale della Ceramiche in Faenza, Italy. He has completed residencies in Holland at the European Ceramic Workcenter, the Museum of International Ceramics in Denmark and the Museum of Fine Arts at the De Young Art Center in San Francisco. In 2011 he will have solo exhibitions at Rena Bransten Gallery San Francisco, and Play Mountain Tokyo Japan. He is currently on the Faculty at The San Francisco Art Institute in the Ceramics and Sculpture Department and The Center for Contemporary Practice. He is represented by Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.

FROM YOUR DESKS: What time do you work?

IAN McDONALD: I am at my best during daylight hours, ideally between 10 and 4. Ceramics has a tendency to suffer from the “hurry up and wait” syndrome, so I often work in short increments taking care of certain parts of the process. It wouldn’t be strange to check on certain projects at 10pm or later, or early in the morning over coffee. I have gotten better at tuning out the studio when I am finished, but when I am really working diligently towards exhibitions; I find myself thinking of solutions and strategies constantly. Although work and life balance are important to me, I find it best to not fight the impulse to think about the studio after I have left. If I’m in the zone, I may as well take full advantage of it.

I have always lived in small places, and find them to be the way I like to live.

FYD: You surround yourself with significant objects, practical and useful. I’m considering your eleven sculptures in relation to the items you photographed in your space. Do you see similarities in your work and how you live? 

IM: I am certainly drawn to practical and useful objects. I am drawn to them not only because of their aesthetic value, but also for their conceptual value in function. For me this allows the object to have multiple lives, to exist not only in display, but also in reality. This then becomes part of my work as I chose to work the way I live. The project with the eleven sculptures you mentioned were all displayed on one platform as a way to allow the objects to exist without any hierarchy. This is also born from my home and studio environment, where the interaction of objects and materials create a possible third state. I am not against the idea of taking something I used for breakfast and putting it in an exhibition. Nor am I opposed to taking something from an exhibition and using it to hold water.

FYD: How did your Marbleized Stoneware Vessels 2010 for Partners and Spade, New York evolve?

IM: Those vessels I called “New Naturals” evolved from using recycled clays from previous projects. Trimmings, cut offs and other bits and pieces were stored in buckets and separated by clay body. They are then added together at random to create a pattern revealed at the potter’s wheel.  The forms are shapes I have been working with for years.

FYD: Do you have a work motto or something that reminds you, like Milton Glaser says, “Art is work.

IM: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Editing itself is a process, which is somewhat like the seven stages of grief, starting with denial and ending with hope or acceptance.

FYD: The world is full of “stuff,” how can one lighten their load?

IM: I am certainly not immune to the world of things, and in fact am in constant battle between the desire and restraint for “stuff.” However, living in such a small space as I do limits the opportunity for collecting too much. I find myself more carefully considering the objects I bring home. Editing itself is a process, which is somewhat like the seven stages of grief, starting with denial and ending with hope or acceptance. Without the stages you can become a blind consumer, and the objects you collect can lose their aura. A critical eye is the key. It really is the same for my studio work, economy of form and some critical distance from over-production. I also think it is a good practice to keep objects and things moving, trading with friends, donating projects for good causes, and simply rotating and reorganizing the things we already have. I hope my work enters this stream of exchange over time and has a life all it’s own.

Ian’s blog is here.

3 Comments For “Ian McDonald.”

  1. Erin says:

    Gorgeous raw clay… Thanks for the fab post!

  2. John says:

    Great work, great words, and a hilarious motto.

  3. Small spaces are the best and most demanding for one’s work. It requires constant editing and transformation.
    Recently saw your work in Metropolis. I’ve been exploring vitrified colored bodies for years. Recently I have given up trying not to contaminate various colors, what a release! Your works are an inspiration.

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