Reconciling DifferencesThe Stone Carving and Scultpure of Ian Collings
The tree moves and weaves as it needs to find the sun. The rock gets worn in different ways if it’s on the seashore or up in a mountain. Everything is a response to the way it’s environment is challenging it.
For US sculptor and designer Ian Collings, art can suit both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes. Chiselled stones, scalloped rocks that append chunks of cool marble, onyx limestone, or red travertine fashioned into familiar horizontal surfaces – his sculptures and functional objects, with simple titles such as Stone Table, Stone Seat and Stone Object, reconcile the natural with the intentional, the useful with the conceptual. “As much as people need new objects, they need new ideas,” he remarks.
Like many of the philosophers he admires, Collings’s work tempers rationalism with creativity. His own process is deeply informed by intellectual and classical traditions: you can see the ethnobotanical influence of Wade Davis in his preference for natural colours and materials; the timeworn facades of many of his rocks speak to Bergsonian notions of evolutionary action and movement. There are even Euclidean hints in the architectural geometry of his wall-hangings. But Collings is also eager to probe these traditions and inject his own ideas about the relative imperfections of natural objects. He believes that the structure of things depends on their relationship to their circumstances. “The tree moves and weaves as it needs to find the sun,” he observes. “The rock gets worn in different ways if it’s on the seashore or up in a mountain. Everything is a response to the way it’s environment is challenging it.”
Collings’s artistic grounding was both formal and informal, his own active response to his environment. As a teenager, he learnt to weld and make large-scale steel sculptures from craftspeople around his neighbourhood, later moving to New York to attain a Bachelor of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute. Collings adopts a stripped-down way of working: “I think reduction contributes a lot to a process of refinement, and helps to acknowledge the act of putting things together,” he says. His practice is a balance of seemingly disparate and even clashing ideas: as an artist, he finds himself just as drawn to the wild mythologies of Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney as he is to the elegant formalism of Brancusi and Noguchi. His work negotiates these spaces, resulting in muted, dignified artefacts splashed with delightful surprises – like an unexpected ridge where everything else suggests smoothness, or a smudge of coral pink in a sea of green. “I’m using form to articulate an idea in a very intentional way,” he says.
The flair Collings demonstrates for utility is perhaps bound up with his inherent respect for self-sufficiency. In 2018, he left Fort Standard, the furniture design company he founded in 2011, for a three-year hiatus in the rainforests of Central America. He explains that the experience taught him resourcefulness as a means of working more nimbly and fluidly: “If you want to make something, you harvest the wood. If you need to pour concrete, you gather the sand. You find more local ways of doing things. I like to situate myself in places where I feel more comfortable and less reliant on conventional structures. I have a deep appreciation for the natural world. But I owe just as much to industrial places, and the ideas that have come out of them over human history.”
Paring things down, modifying rather than drastically changing, and taking things as they come –this is how Ian Collings moves through the world. “I love what I do, and I haven’t always been able to do it, so finding myself in a position where I can carve stone and sculpt all day has brought me an incredible amount of joy. I think that joy, by far, is totally underrated.” He smiles. “I feel, finally, that I’ve arrived, even though there’s no security and no telling whether I’ll be able to do this for the rest of my life. For the first time, I don’t feel like my life is ahead of me; I feel like I’m actually in it.”