JOHN NEWDIGATE & IAN GARRETT:

A SHARED LIFE AND STUDIO

CONTEMPORARY SOUTH AFRICAN ARTIST  |  ARTIST WRITE-UP  |  CLAY

John & Ian in studio

John Newdigate & Ian Garrett in their Swellendam Studio  |  Image by Charl Dettmer

Varying degrees of access between the studios are testimonies to time, to each of their developing practices, and perhaps to the relationship itself, which has undoubtedly fed into the full blooming of both of their respective artistic expressions. 

BY OLIVIA BARRELL

How do you write separately about two artists who have been together for over twenty years and whose studios fall under the same roof? They cut the reeds themselves from the river by their home in Swellendam to make the large ceiling that covers both studios. Over time, the studios have been separated by a brick wall, or a hole in the wall, or a thin film over the hole in the wall. Varying degrees of access between the studios are testimonies to time, to each of their developing practices, and perhaps to the relationship itself, which has undoubtedly fed into the full blooming of both of their respective artistic expressions. Ian Garrett leaning into a more experimental practice, and John Newdigate extending towards a richer painterly one.

Ian Garrett at work in the studio  |  Photography by Charl Dettmer

ian_garrett
ian_garrett

There is a science to Garrett’s practice as he collects, sieves, dries and categorises each of the many clay types archived in the studio.

john newdigate

John Newdigate at work in the studio  |  Photography  by Charl Dettmer

Newdigate’s studio is a frenzy of colour: dozens of pots of tinted glazes, a wooden table stained mottled purple with paint, and a large sketchbook with loosely drawn designs. Garrett’s studio, on the other hand, is a neat display of clay in its innumerable forms: varying spectrums of coloured clays, each marked with precision in the artist’s own code.

The shelves are stacked with jars and containers that hold hand-written labels. There is a science to Garrett’s practice as he collects, sieves, dries and categorises each of the many clay types archived in the studio. No glazes are used. 

Contrasts in colour and texture are created through the combination of different clays and their surface treatment. Earlier in his career, Garrett worked almost exclusively in black terracotta. Newdigate suggested more experimentations with colour.  As if the colour itself had spilt out from the neighbouring studio, Garrett found a way to incorporate colour into his practice: various earthy pigments harmonising with each other. 

In turn, Garrett’s lifelong obsession with building forms crept towards Newdigate’s studio, resulting in a collaboration between the two. Although Newdigate had built his own beautiful ceramic forms in porcelain for many years, it was always the spontaneous surface painting that fascinated him. Since 2008, Garrett adopted a supportive role for his partner’s painterly practice by hand coiling the porcelain — ceramic forms that stand reverent in their near perfection, for Garrett is one of South Africa’s master ceramicists — allowing Newdigate to direct his spirited creativity towards the painting of each artwork.

Ian Garrett  |  Gyroscope  |  2020  |  Various Clays Tinted with Earth & Mineral Pigments  |  Burnished & Low Fired  

The porcelain has become a glass fishbowl for Newdigate’s microcosms, which are held tenderly, and most definitely magnified, by the crystalline smoothness of Ian Garrett’s forms.

Ian Garrett  |  Cadence  | 2019  |  Various Clays Tinted with Earth & Mineral Pigments  |  Burnished & Low Fired 

John Newdigate  |  Mantis Couple Courting in a Flower  |  Hand-painted Glazed Porcelain  

Newdigate visualises his whimsical narratives by ordering planes of colour, layering images one on top of another — perhaps reminiscent of his early experience with screenprinting. Newdigate is a painter of figments. He portrays what we might see when we stare out into space or look out at a garden, lost in a daze.  Newdigate’s work transcends surface painting — each piece is a world in itself. Strange worlds containing bewitched animals, unkempt vegetation, and industrial futurism. Newdigate’s canvas is clay — and the latter renders his paintings globe-like. We look down into them, or are they perhaps extending out towards us? The porcelain has become a glass fishbowl for Newdigate’s microcosms, which are held tenderly, and most definitely magnified, by the crystalline smoothness of Ian Garrett’s forms.

John Newdigate

John Newdigate  |  Creatures of Habit  |  2022  |  Hand-painted Glazed Porcelain  

The abstracted images are splayed out over the rounded surface of each form, built up through several washes of colour separated by layers of wax — the latter burning off during firing to reveal scenes in their full depth.

All images courtesy of Charl Dettmer, Ian Garrett & John Newdigate

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