iterations of the earth
fig. ian garrett, dipole (2020)
Creating a new body of work is a lengthy creative process for master ceramicist Ian Garrett, who hand-builds to near perfection. Born in the Eastern Cape, Garrett has been building vessels in clay since his early childhood. His first studio was a self-built hut in the garden. Garrett studied Sculpture at Rhodes University, graduating in 1992 before specialising in Ceramics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (1994-1997). His works can be found in institutions around the world, including the South African National Gallery (Cape Town), the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery (Gqeberha), the Pretoria Art Museum, the Private Collection of HRH Duke Franz of Bavaria, Die Neue Sammlung Design Museum (Munich) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (Washington D.C.). Garrett’s deep reverence for ancient sculptural forms is apparent, as is his fascination with South African ceramic traditions, yet his work is undeniably contemporary and experimental, exploring polyrhythmic compositions, both historical and modern, mirroring one another and infusing the works with a certain timelessness.
b. 1971 (a farm near molteno, eastern cape)
iterations of the earth
Widely acknowledged as one of South Africa’s master ceramic artists, Ian Garrett nurtures an obsession for neat lines and perfect curves. He meticulously coils forms from clay, often into magnitude, that stand almost numinous in their near-perfection. “Very often, the lines that I am putting onto the surface will echo the shape,” says the artist, “the profile of the piece echoes throughout the piece itself.” The line is intrinsic to Garrett’s practice: regardless of its variation in curve, each line exists in relation to another. The compositions are reminiscent of flattened landscapes, as seen from above: the agricultural tones of border lines, natural contours and cartographic planes. Again, we see Garrett’s devotion to precision: the perfect borders of the burnished sections, drawn as if with a sharp-tipped tool rather than a smooth agate pebble. Garrett builds monumental forms from mud and draws sharp contours with stone.
The soft-spoken and often burnished echoes in Garrett’s work recall ceramic traditions from extinct cultures and forgotten kingdoms in history. Since childhood, the artist has been drawn to excavated artefacts and to ancient mark-making, impressions left on the surface of the clay by earlier peoples like the ancient impressions of shells that exist only in fossilised rock. The thin lines on Garrett’s vessels whisper back to the cord-motifs of neolithic British pottery, namely ‘Beaker Culture’ wares in Northwest Europe from the third millennium BC. In his work, we glimpse the archaic profiles and semi-spherical motifs of the old Cucuteni–Trypillian culture, sprawling across much of Eastern Europe almost seven thousand years ago. Garrett reveals: “I wanted to make my own versions of ancient things. I have always loved the beautifully burnished Bronze Age pottery of ancient Cyprus, and I have a soft spot for the hand-built, peat-fired ‘craggans’ from the Hebridean island of Lewis that were made right up until WWI.”
“Polishing the surface, Ian Garrett transforms the earth into the moon. Garrett’s artworks are a meeting of elements, the crescent hand that reaches out towards the soil.”
fig. ian garrett, lunate (2020)
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contemporary clay from south africa
CLAY FORMES is the first of its kind: a survey of contemporary clay from South Africa. This volume, through exquisite photography and literary essays, showcases multiple generations of living South African artists, each innovating the potentialities of clay and ceramics. This publication offers enthusiasts and collectors a glimpse into the studios of thirty important South African artists and opens a window into the complexity of each body of work, revealing the richness of both contemporary clay and ceramic tradition within South African art.
This publication has sought to reflect its subject: to be as fluid as water and as weighty as earth. All this is done in the hopes of leaving behind a fresh approach to this manifold medium, and of presenting to the world the previously unexplored richness of sculptural clay in South Africa.