Conversations with an Artist: Ian Hazard Bill
We love Ian Hazard Bill's philosophy of ceramics as a way to build connections to life around you and how he has mastered the art of wood-firing. His culinary functional and home goods decorative vessels are modern rustic at their best.
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I grew up around art and making art. I have a copy of an Andy Goldsworthy book given to me by a dear family friend long before I can remember. Some of my most vivid early memories are of the afternoons my parents and I spent with a big piece of paper, pens, pencils, and crayons filling the page together. I think I always knew it fed my soul. I can remember a few moments when I realized my soul was here to bring art into the world:
My sophomore year in college a professor gave a lecture on “Art as Social Practice” and the contemporary art movements that seek to engage with societal issues in a creative way. One project that stood out to me was “Shovels for Guns”–the artist collected 1,527 guns from civilians in the violent city of Culiacán, Mexico. The guns were traded in for vouchers to help buy household appliances, the artist melted them down and used the steel to make shovels that have been used to plant trees around the world in memory of people who have been lost to gun violence. I left that lecture in a daze and while standing in line for lunch I turned to a classmate and said,”I think I need to be an artist… It’s almost terrifying to admit, like I don’t have a choice in the matter.”
In my senior year of college I was having lunch with a faculty member and ceramics technician. He was asking what I was thinking I might do in my life and my answer was a run-on sentence covering just about everything I’d ever been interested in. He said,”It might be really smart to do anything but make pottery, however you seem to have a real feeling for clay that I don’t see in people your age and not everyone has the opportunity to master something.”
What themes do you pursue in your art?
The central theme in my work is the role of reciprocity in sustaining this interconnected world. Pottery is about generosity and the give and take required to sustain life. A pot gives the opportunity for nourishment, but not just physical nourishment; a large bowl gives the opportunity to gather and share with others, a teapot offers a moment of quietude, a bottle can preserve and transport something precious. I want my work to honor the incredible importance of sharing food and drink with each other, and the influence even those seemingly mundane actions have on the entire world.
Tell us about what influences the direction for your craft.
It’s important for me to enjoy the process of making, and to feel inspired by the craft itself. This is a big reason why I’m attracted to wood firing. Over the years I’ve realized that the craft builds on itself; what if I tried that instead of this? What if I used this clay? It’s a process based approach that feels very natural to me, as I get more familiar with techniques more possibilities present themselves to my curious hands.
How has your work developed over time?
I started making pottery that was pulled directly from the Leach/Hamada tradition of Folk Pottery. Simple forms, loosely thrown, and decorated with only a few glazes. In college a professor challenged me to make pots with my own voice. This led to wild experimentation, seeking a dynamic quality that took me a long time to find. Since those earlier experimentations my development has been a process of refinement. Pairing down alterations and marks to allow them to carry more weight and impact. Leaving space for the kiln to contribute its own dynamic quality unimpinged.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My hands. My potter’s wheel. My “Pinky” bouncy ball from the dollar store.
Do you collect anything?
I collect pottery, art, seashells or rocks when I’m at the beach, all the standard stuff. I think the thing I collect the most is projects. I love little side projects and seem to constantly be adding more and more of them to my collection. It’s not about doing the projects, my brain likes to problem solve and work through things, it keeps me connected to the possibilities to change things.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I watched the Hobbit movies recently, they are awful compared to the books, but still something struck me. As I’ve been thinking about it more I found my ideals of craft represented by Hobbits. The overlooked power of simple, small, joyous works in service to community and healthy earth that Bilbo Baggins represents reminds me of the role pottery plays in our lives; a devotion to the simple beauty of rich domestic life.
The most important piece of writing to my work at this point is Italo Calvino’s Six Memo’s for the Next Millenium which describes 5 qualities that literature must provide for society at the beginning of the 21st century. These essays have continued to be guiding principles for my art. The qualities are Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity, and in exploring each quality he affirms the importance of their opposites.
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t limit your work. The only ideas that are too small are the half-hearted ones. You are the vehicle so stay healthy, open, curious, and sensitive, these are your best tools.
What role has music played for you during COVID or while you work?
Music has always been important to me. As a kid I needed background music to help me focus on my homework. As an artist music helps set the tone of energy in my studio. It also can be a source of inspiration for qualities or moods I wish to explore in my work. During the pandemic my relationship to music hasn’t changed drastically but I have noticed I spend more time working in silence. As I think about it it’s like I wanted to work with the energies and feelings already brought up by the upheaval caused by COVID. It wasn’t a conscious choice but looking back now I think that’s what I needed.
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey