The Ordinary Extraordinary by Peter Starkey
If the role of the artist is to make the ordinary extraordinary, then Ian Gregory's work exemplifies this ideal. His chosen subject matter has usually been the everyday aspects of home and family, including furniture, pets, toys, people and garden. His keen observation and fondness for the domestic, has resulted in a unique body of work spanning nearly forty years.
His continual experimentation with materials and processes has enabled him to produce work of great vitality.
His figurative sculpture, both human and canine, have a linear, craggy quality reminiscent of Giacometti. Whilst often quirky and humorous his birds and animals are imbued with more atavistic qualities, recalling times when the underlying symbolism of the apparently prosaic held a deeper significance. Through his writing and teaching, Ian has enabled countless readers to follow their aspirations with greater understanding and confidence. His contribution to ceramics has been profound. Long may it continue.
Immediacy and Action by David Jones
Ian Gregory makes kilns and figures. This simple statement obscures the work of a lifetime and also reveals his deep involvement with structure and form. Both are completed with an honesty and bravado that, possibly, stems from his first career as an actor. He is certainly at home performing in front of the crowd, tantalizing us with the immediacy of his actions. I have acted as MC for two demonstrations - one where he fired the 'Rocket Kiln', and the other building a dog in forty-five minutes. The Rocket Kiln is a roll of ceramic fibre with a hole for a burner, and a tall chimney on top. Most of the demo involved chatting to the crowd as the kiln reached stoneware temperature in 15 minutes. After half an hour we could go home with a finished, glazed pot. It is all about the demystification of an ancient process and showing that every rule (length of firing, down-drought, etc.) is only there to be broken. The speed of the hand building exhibits another facet of the value of spontaneity. Every gestured mark captures the character and personality of the dog, and the artist. (Sometimes a roughness of treatment is a sign of extreme care).
There is an energy captured in the work that stems from the long familiarity with animals, people, materials and processes; the knowledge of just how much risk can be taken before the piece collapses on its thin legs. There is an analyst's understanding of animals and people. There is a sense of the theatrical in the figures - humans, able to be objective and to understand the roles that they play, the clothes (or not) that they wear; this contrasts with the honest directness of animals. Unlike humans they do not stand outside themselves and observe - they just are - lazily by the fire or menacing, oblivious to the world or on a constant and indistractable guard.
Expression and Intent by Phil Rogers
Ian Gregory is one of those rare individuals to whom artistic endeavour isn't limited to one avenue of exploration.
Ian's multifarious talent as an artist is the ability, on the one hand, to create works of charm and humour and then, when required, he can just as easily disarm the viewer with disturbing, thought provoking, sometimes dark imagery which leaves one wondering about the tangled subconscious from whence it came.
Ian's work is the mirror to his soul - when Ian is emotionally lifted, there spills from him a torrent of light hearted, spiritually buoyant objects that make one smile and sometimes reflect nostalgically. When he is low the devil comes down to Dorset and the dogs of war are unleashed in all their vicious, brutal and sometimes sexually unbridled guises.
Ian is as observant as any cartoonist or caricaturist. He is also a supreme modeller. As he fashions on of his menagerie his hands move so fast it's hard for the eye to follow his fingers manipulating the clay. The animal appears in minutes as if by magic. The anatomy is correct - it has to be. Ian's works are indeed three-dimensional caricatures and for a caricature to be successful there has to be an underlying and underpinning truth.
There lies the essence of Ian's success - truth. We look at his pieces and we see a skeleton draped with muscle and skin. We see an animal posed as if in life - there is expression and there is intent. We see everything we need to be totally convinced because Ian has omitted nothing of importance. He has pared it down to the essence - structure, anatomy, expression and pose. Therein lies his talent.
Vitality and Essence by Ashley Howard
The work of Ian Gregory has commanded attention for more than 30 years and it's vitality is undiminished. Surfaces have come and gone, but the underlying themes that govern his thinking remain reassuringly consistent.
Gregory's love of the entire ceramic process has been evident throughout his career. A powerful driving force is his desire to be fully engaged with his work as it undergoes the various stages of production. He is not a man to tap a program into a kiln and abandon his work to technology; his nature obliges him to involve himself with the flame and the firing. Like the wizards of legend, Gregory conjures continually with the elements of process.
The highly reflective surfaces of his latest work are indicative of Gregory's experimental approach. At first glance the gloss finish seems to indicate an earthenware glaze, but this is not the case: closer inspection reveals an unusual, rich and lustrous depth.
Forever the alchemist, Gregory has begun to explore the possibilities of fuming low-temperature stoneware glazes. This new work poses a question: does the glassiness interfere with the forms underneath? The answer lies in Gregory's clear intention to acknowledge his cultural heritage, which of course, includes eighteenth-century Staffordshire pottery. Although he was introduced to pottery through Eastern aesthetics, Gregory does not pretend to replicate such ideas: he has taken certain aspects but located them firmly in his own cultural context.
Despite myriad forms of presentation, the subject matter of Gregory's work has remained consistent over the years. His primary concern for the form, both human and animal, but most notably canine.
Gregory is not a maker of models; the intention, context and symbolism that underline his representations are far-reaching. Interaction, communication and location all play their part in steering his thoughts.
Society is led to believe that scientific advancement is the answer to everything, but Gregory is more concerned with reaching back to a time when mankind's relationship with the world was less controlling and greater respect for it's occupants was necessary for survival. This is only part of a wider picture; in primitive societies animal imagery and representation also holds religious and magical significance.
In The Story of Art, E H Gombrich wrote: 'We cannot hope to understand these strange beginnings of art unless we try to enter into the mind of the primitive peoples and find out what kind of experience it is which makes them think of pictures, not as something nice to look at, but as something powerful to use. I do not think it is really so difficult to recapture this feeling. All that is needed is the will to be absolutely honest with ourselves and see whether we too, do not remain something of the primitive in us'.
Gregory's dogs perfectly epitomize his ability to remind us of spiritual essence. They stand, like Cerberus, as guardians of a gateway to another world; a world of mystery, of gods and of the timeless myths that surround them. Gregory himself sees more majesty in these beasts than in 'the effigy of some dead king lying on top of his tomb in a cathedral'.
Gregory's work receives its widest audience at craft galleries, fairs and similar events up and down the country. This tends to under play a crucial aspect: that of architectural context.
Despite their fluid and organic nature, Gregory deliberately places his forms on plinths that are influenced by grander classical themes. Another question is posed: in presenting his work on plinths, is Gregory attempting to force status on it?
In Art as Experience, John Dewey wrote: 'When an art product once attains classical status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life-experience'.
Returning to the intention and influence behind Gregory's work, it seems clear that the elevation of status chimes with it's spiritual and more importantly, ritualistic elements. It also forces consideration of the notions of location, space and our relationship with them. Gregory is fascinated with our interaction with the spaces around us, especially in our homes. He alludes to the narrative of the mantlepiece, intrigued by the notion that this feature can be seen almost as a personal altar.
Though his work undoubtedly sports with the notion of grandeur, the fluidity and sheer humour of his forms ensures that they remain accessible while provoking continual examination of the human condition. In this, he has achieved a perfect fusion of Eastern values and Western architecture.
Gregory's work is built on a solid foundation of technical knowledge and intellectual rigor. It has carved out a unique standing and continues to challenge the status and perception of ceramic sculpture and it's relationship to fine art.
Me and Ian by Mo Jupp
We always have tremendous laughs when we talk together and I seem to learn from Ian each time. His work is always innovative and his sources indicate he has a wide and varied database. Finally, Ian has an almost childlike enthusiasm for kiln building, crucial to anybody in this industry. He is always a joy to be with.