By Ruby Love
Originally from San Francisco, Ian Hazard-Bill is an artist working in ceramics, creating beautifully unique functional pottery. I spoke with Hazard-Bill about his process, inspirations, and the challenges of balancing aesthetics and function. Hazard-Bill has been working with clay on and off for the past eight years, starting in high school where he “fell in love” with clay and the processes of shaping, glazing, and firing.
“When I first started working on the wheel, it has this mesmerizing quality to it that I sort of got addicted to, and so through working with the material is what kept me interested. The more I’ve learned about it as a material and as a discipline, the more I’ve gotten interested in all of the little firing techniques and types of glazes and other things… but it started with the clay.”
After spending three months in Spain post high school for an art internship, Hazard-Bill returned to his hometown and founded a ceramics studio with a friend. “We got hooked up with two wheels for free, and we could use our friend’s dad’s kiln for free, so we were just trying our hands.” The two “took on too much too quickly” and decided to quit the studio to go to college, and Ian moved to Olympia to attend Evergreen.
I asked him about the process of balancing aesthetics and functionality when making pieces like mugs and bowls, which are meant to serve a purpose-to be handled and used.
“It’s been an exploration. I think there are really rigid guidelines for functionality, and some of them are inherent to, say, a mug. Some of them are more personal or cultural. A lot of people have different things like ‘I won’t use this kind of mug.’ There are personal ones and there are cultural ones too, that might have to do with [the assumption that] bowls should stack, or things like that. So it’s a balance of maintaining within those [guidelines] to an extent while also just trying to work within forms that are inspiring to me.”
Hazard-Bill stressed that although the functionality of pieces is important, it’s also important to consider the relationship that is developed between a person and a ceramic piece with “personality.” Creating sets presents another challenge, as he strives to create pieces that each have their unique personality, but also fit together stylistically. “I want them to go together, instead of all being the same. They can be like a tribe or a family.”
The processes of ceramic art also create inconsistencies in appearance; Hazard-Bill states that it’s important to be “intentional about what those are going to be and how they relate.” Recently diving into experimentation with new types of glazes, Ian is working to balance the emotion he wants to express in a piece with the sometimes-uncontrollable effects of glazes. “I have a vision of what I want it to look like – having that vision be a feeling and a palette almost – and then setting up, with the glazes and materials I use, the conditions for that.” Hazard-Bill has experimented with wood ashes in glazes, and is doing tests using clay from Evergreen’s beach. No matter how much planning one does, he says, you can still get unexpected results.
“A lot of ceramics people talk about kiln gods, because you can have the best laid plan, and it comes out completely different. So you’ve got to put it in there with all your planning and hopes and goals and ideas, and at the same time be ready for something different. It’s fun, it’s the part that I really love about it. It can be heartbreaking too, for sure. I’ve had times when a whole kiln is ruined and it’s no ones fault but my own in a way, and I don’t really know what happened either, so it’s kind of shocking feeling. But it makes the ones that turn out that much better.”
Hazard-Bill is looking forward to bringing his art into new spaces-forming connections with artists working in other media. He’s interested in partnering with cafes and restaurants to create custom dishes that foster more personal dining experiences. “We have a buddy that opened a restaurant, and he uses our bowls. He loves the really unique ones, and has customers who come in and they always get their bowl. I think that’s a cool relationship.”
Hazard-Bill is a founding member of Evergreen’s Clay Club, which meets Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30, with open studio hours on Sundays from noon 6 pm. You can contact Ian Hazard-Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find more of his work on his Facebook page, Spiral Works Pottery.