Artist Ian McMahon is a material purist who makes monumental sculptures from raw clay and industrial plaster. The resulting works are contradictory in impression—domineering but fragile, familiar while avoiding redundancy. In his most recent exhibitions he has introduced an element of controversy for anyone who has ever engaged with the tedium of delicate materials—the work is made to be broken.
Ashley Stull Meyers: Let’s talk about the scale of your work. How long have you been making monumental sculpture? Does that impulse predate your current circumstances or was it born from it?
Ian McMahon: I’ve been making large work since I was a student. For a while, all the work I made was very specifically dictated by the amount of studio space I had. I was frustrated by that and the fact that there is already such regimented labor in making ceramics. I was getting results that were really boring, and if there’s no potency, there’s no conversation.
I started spending a lot of time rethinking all the projects I hadn’t made for various reasons—like scale or uncertainty about the materials. I chose to tackle the strange idea of how to suspend raw, unfired clay. At first I wasn’t sure how to build an armature that would support that much weight or ambiguous form. I had a real ah-ha! moment once I got the hang of the mold. The result was an outcome I couldn’t have predicted, and it resonated to me and fortified my drive to build installations. Shortly after graduation, a group of collaborators and I were offered a site-specific opportunity in Portland where I ended up with Arena.