Even though it is a chilly winter morning, the sun is shining and the studio of Geelong-based artist Darren McGinn is cosy, warmed by a glowing wood fire. A cat is lounging on the most comfortable chair in the room, firmly ensconced on a sheepskin rug while McGinn’s dog Fubuki, lies contentedly on the floor in front of the combustion heater. The atmosphere is relaxed, homely even, and the earthy aroma of freshly worked clay permeates the air. Natural light floods through the southeast windows and scattered around the studio are random curiosities that McGinn has collected – a basket of thongs, a bin of old signage, and a booty of marine paraphernalia gathered from around the Bellarine Peninsula. At one end of the room, a few well-used pottery wheels are waiting for action and around the corner in an adjoining room, a couple of imposing kilns are loaded with pottery ready to be fired.
McGinn has plans to expand the studio to include a bronze casting foundry and hopes to have it operational within the next 12 months. As a recipient of the coveted ArtStart Grant of $10,000 awarded by the Australia Council for the Arts, McGinn is one step closer to realising his dream. At 52, McGinn doesn’t exactly fit the emerging artist stereotype; however, he points out that as a recent visual art graduate he was eligible for the funding – he completed his PhD thesis Identity and Community Versus Non-place in 2011 through the University of Tasmania.
“Finishing my PhD was a major milestone even though it just about killed me. Another pinnacle was cracking the Australia Council ArtStart funding. I am tickled pink. This is a well equipped studio but with the ArtStart Grant, it is about to become even better,” McGinn says.
A keen fisherman and surfer, McGinn spends a lot of time around Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff “my spirit of place” and loves to collect found objects to use in his sculptural assemblages to explore maritime themes with a strong visual narrative. A vintage name plate, ‘Dawn’, from an old couta boat stands on the window sill. McGinn says this will be included, along with a large wooden rudder, in a new sculpture he is developing. He plans to articulate the sculpture so that it will move in the wind like a weathervane. The work references the couta fishing fleets that once worked the along the Surfcoast and will incorporate aspects of old marine navigation systems.
Dotted here and there around the studio, an extraordinary collection of some of his quirky and often humorous ceramic pieces – vintage caravans, glazed chooks, cartoon ducks, winged gumboots – all intermingle happily with neatly stored tools and equipment. Although the studio is packed with an eclectic assortment of ‘stuff’, everything has its rightful place and everywhere rich textures and inviting patinas delight the eye.
McGinn has worked in this studio for over 15 years, not only fashioning sculptural pieces but also creating functional ceramic ware inspired by the aesthetics of quality Noritake porcelain. His pieces are made from Southern Ice porcelain, a translucent white clay which he describes as “sexy stuff” that “needs a lot of manipulation and caressing to harness its best”. It is internationally recognised as one the world’s best porcelain bodies. Ceramics is a medium McGinn returns to time and again, even though he usually works with timber, light and found objects.
“It is one of those love affairs that I go back to. I think it is the science of ceramics that I find fascinating,” McGinn says. “The trials and tribulations of the whole firing cycle and system really gets you in. If you are a bit of a pyromaniac, it is fantastic. It is great to make something that is so impermanent, permanent. Once it’s fired, it’s vitrified and it’s there forever.”
Earlier this year, McGinn opened his studio to the public and under the enterprise StudioMade, started ceramic and sculpture classes which are tailored to meet the student’s individual interests. With a focus on processes and techniques to help students to realise their concepts, McGinn says it is important to keep class sizes small (only four students) so he can give each student his full attention.
“We say on our website ‘Be your own curriculum’,” he says. “Whatever people want to do, this studio can do it.”
Formerly a lecturer at The Gordon and Deakin University, McGinn originally studied at Melbourne Teacher’s College and has been teaching ceramics for nearly thirty years. He is now enjoying the freedom of running his own courses, liberated from the constraints of the tertiary education system.
“I was fed up with bureaucracy and institutions,” he says. “I wanted to deinstitutionalise myself and to teach without all the encumbrances of bureaucracy that goes on behind the scenes. It is great to get back to the coalface.”
After the rigours of academia, McGinn or ‘Dr Daz’ as his mates now call him, is pouring all his energy into StudioMade. Three hour classes are offered five days a week from Tuesday to Saturday, with a shorter children’s class held on Thursdays. Classes are available for beginners to advanced students and bookings are now open for term three.
McGinn is a master of his craft and StudioMade gives students the opportunity to learn from a leading Australian contemporary ceramicist. With the recent closure of several art courses in Geelong, McGinn’s StudioMade will make a valuable contribution to art education in the region.
43 Gurr St, East Geelong
Term 3 classes start 18 July
Ph: 0425 401 479