Steve Irvine | Episode 649
Steve Irvine decided on his 16th birthday to spend his life as a potter. After 3 years as a ceramic major at Sheridan College Steve started his full-time pottery business at age 21 in an old church on the Bruce Peninsula in S. Ontario in 1974. Functional and one of a kind pieces sold through galleries and shops. This past year Steve has changed directions in his work from cone 10 reduction to cone 6 oxidation.
Number 1 brand in America for a reason. Skutt.com
For all your ceramic needs go to Georgies.com
You have been doing clay for over fifty years. Why has clay not lost its appeal to you?
Oh, there’s just so much to learn. There’s so much to do and so many different aspects to it, I mean, I love glaze technology for instance. You could spend a whole lifetime even in just one small area, cone ten reduction, you could spend a whole lifetime, or cone 6 oxidation, finding out what those materials will do and creating perhaps new combinations that have never existed before in the universe, I mean, it’s just amazing that you can do that. But also, I enjoy writing. I have written maybe 100 magazine articles about clay and that sort of thing. Traveling-that’s an important part of it too visiting different countries and talking to artist about their work and creative process. Design forming and how that evolves within you and your own personal aesthetics, what’s important to you and where you want to go with it. Glazing techniques and application and then there’s craft organization and Provincial and local organizations you can join and have that kind of community too. There’s just so much to it. Every single day is something new and exciting really.
Did you have a hard time making the final decision to go to an electric kiln?
I don’t think so. Not that I have learned everything about cone 10 reduction not by a long shot, but it presented an interesting new challenge for me. I started out at cone 8 oxidation when I was a teenager so in a way it is sort of coming back to a similar sort of aesthetic and thought. So I wanted to explore that and the technology now with pre-programming kilns and ramping up and cooling down at certain rates, it’s a completely different thing for me so that’s been an exciting new challenge.
What’s the biggest challenge you are seeing with going from the reduction to oxidation?
Reduction helps you a lot, that’s easy to say, in some ways it can be very frustrating too when the flame doesn’t do what you want. Some glazes just sing in reduction, copper reds and so on, the way they break over edges. You have to work a little bit harder I think with oxidation to get those kinds of exciting surface effects. But that is fine, I don’t mind working a little bit harder to get that. That’s probably the biggest challenge is to get the glazes to be singing and exciting on the surface. They fit the pots well, that they are integrated into the forms nicely so that’s the biggest challenge, I think.
Do you see a response change in you work from what you used to make compared to what you are making now?
That’s hard to say because it has only been, I did the last firing, reduction firing in March, so I am just sort of getting rolling with the oxidation firing. I have sent some things off to galleries and the reception has been very good. That’s important of course, but for me I am excited and satisfied by the way things are growing and developing with them.
When you are coming to the end of an era and starting a new era is it important to have something to transition to in order to keep the heartbreak of the old thing passing away or going away?
Yes, absolutely. I think it is really important to change to something, not just walk away from something but to take on an exiting new challenge for sure. I mean this has been so much a part of my life, making pottery. Since I was a boy, it is so much a part of who I am, my own self identity and my identity within my community and so on. Just to walk away from it, I just couldn’t. It is sort of like breathing or something. It is such a natural part of every day life, thinking about these things. So I had to move on to something new and exciting.
When you were first starting out did it take long for your world or your community to recognize you as the guy to go to for handmade?
(laughter) Well, when I was in my last year at Sheridan I spent a long time making contacts with galleries and getting my studio together, using the different workshops to prepare materials and so on. But also contacting galleries so I tried to hit the ground sort of running, as much as I could. Actually what I have done you see, is I have never really had a retail outlet here in the house, mostly, those first twenty-five years that I was talking about, when I was working on the three week cycle, that was all wholesale. I was dealing mostly to shops and galleries around Southern Ontario and that was a really deliberate choice because I had a young family and I just didn’t want to work seven days a week. Making things and selling things on the weekends, Joan had her own things, she didn’t want to run a shop for me, and I wanted to spend time with the kids. We live in an old church out in the country, a hippy going back to the land and making pots in the basement was a classic thing but working nine to five with weekends off was what really made it possible for me to be a potter, I think.
Galleries seem to be on the decline and yet you built your entire career partnering with galleries. What are your thoughts about the declining of the gallery? What is being lost there?
I think one of the important things with the gallery that I deal most closely with, this is in London, Ontario, is that the owners work very closely with their clients. It isn’t just a matter of making sales, it is also about helping their clients build collections to have deeper insights into the artists and their work. To see that collecting pottery is just as valid or interesting as collecting abstract paintings or anything else. And to foster that kind of environment for people to sell things as well. To help people to see the great beauty and interest in this kind of material. To build the client base, that is something that is really important with galleries. And the really good galleries owners know their clients and they know when a particular piece or kind of work comes in they will call them up and discuss it with them and help them build their own collections. Or even if someone walks in off the street, to be able to help give that person deeper insight into the materials and the creative process involved in the technical side of things. I think that’s the really important part of the roll that galleries play.