ARTIST ROOM

JOHN NEWDIGATE

b.1968

A SHARED LIFE AND STUDIO WITH IAN GARRETT

John Newdigate
Ian Garrett & John Newdigate at work in their shared Swellendam studio, photographed by Charl Dettmer, 2022

A TESTIMONY TO TIME & DEVELOPING PRACTICES

Words 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.

‘Varying degrees of access between the studios are testimonies to time, to each of their developing practices, and perhaps to the relationship itself’

John Newdigate
John Newdigate, Detail of Creatures of Habit, 2022, Hand Painted and Glazed Ceramic

Newdigate’s studio is a frenzy of colour: dozens of pots of tinted glazes, a wooden table 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. 

Ian Garrett at work in his Swellendam studio, Photographed by Charl Dettmer, 2022

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.

‘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.’

Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett, Cadence, 2019, Various clays tinted with earth and mineral pigments, burnished and low fired.

‘..all the matte textures are a really sympathetic type of surface for a form, they absorb light and reveal the curves and shadows.’  – Ian Garrett

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. 

‘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’

John Newdigate
A porcelain form masterfully coiled by Garrett for Newdigate's richly painted surfaces, Still from the upcoming Clay Formes short film.

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. 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. 

John Newdigate’s images are built up through several washes of colour, Photograph by Charl Dettmer

Newdigate visualises his whimsical narratives by ordering planes of colour, layering images one on top of another — perhaps reminiscent of his early experience with screen printing. 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. 

‘Each piece is a world in itself. Strange worlds containing bewitched animals, unkempt vegetation, and industrial futurism.’

John Newdigate
John Newdigate in studio, Photograph by Charl Dettmer, 2022
John Newdigate
John Newdigate, Mantis Couple Courting in a Flower, 2019-2020, Hand Painted Glazed Porcelain

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

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

”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.”

JOHN NEWDIGATE

BIOGRAPHY

b.1968

John Newdigate describes himself as “an artist who chooses to paint on ceramics.” Newdigate has been exploring clay, painting and figments of the mind for over thirty years. Having begun his career as a colourist in the screen printing industry, Newdigate constructs his imagery with a methodical overlapping of colours. Painting from his garden studio in Swellendam — which he shares with partner and fellow ceramic artist Ian Garrett — the lush foliage seems to have crept in through the windows onto the painted surfaces of Newdigate’s artworks. The artist explains that “working on a three-dimensional surface, of which half is obscured at any one time, allows for the narrative to be revealed as the viewer circles the work. This introduces time as a fourth dimension, in which imagery unfolds as static animation.”

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