"Living Between Fine Art and Function" – Ana Corrigan

Sitting down with LA-based artist Ana Corrigan to discuss New York, ceramics, and ridiculously-sized handles

I first came to know Ana Corrigan's work through her more domestic ceramics; with a distinctive, almost organic style – and over 63 thousand Instagram followers – her work is hard to miss. However, after a little digging, I began to understand that Ana's work extends far beyond mugs and bowls, and that the crux of her artistic practice lies, as she herself notes, in the intersection between fine art in function. Now on the back of a solo show at Tase Gallery in LA, Ana is poised to make a name in one of the biggest art cities in the world.

Jacob: I'd love to get a background on your arts practice: where you are and what you do, between Los Angeles and New York. I understand that you're back and forth still?

Ana Corrigan: Yes – a little bit of background! I went to Parsons for communication design. I was really set on the graphic design path; working at an agency and so forth. I just felt like it was the safe decision; I really wanted to go for fine arts or oil painting, and I actually did that for a semester, but it was very technical, and I was doing these nine hour painting classes, and I started to hate it. So I went and did graphic design, which was great, because I felt like the classes that I was taking were so focused on the history of design and its bearing on society. It was all a little more in-depth than had I studied Fine Arts, I think. And that was really great!

But my senior year of college, I was interning at an advertisement agency – losing my mind – because I was sitting behind a screen all day. I'm a very hands-on individual; I just had so many ideas, things that I wanted to do, and I felt like I couldn't do them.

JB: I know what you mean; I used to do office work in the film industry, and that breaks your soul, because you're just staring at PDF after PDF. You want to be out there, you want to be doing it.

AC: Also, at least where I was, you're entry-level, and you're just executing these tasks that are...it's just grunt work.

JB: I think I've gotten enough dry cleaning to last my lifetime!

AC: I was running all the errands, and the whole time, I was just like “Screw this!” But at the same time, I was also like, "I need a job like this," because New York is expensive. And in a job like that, the idea of saving money, to me, did not even exist. I was just trying to have money to pay rent, and then do a little something else.

But one day, I bought a bag of clay and was like, "I'm just gonna start making things when I get home, just to decompress, and work with my hands a little bit." And I got on YouTube, which is just this black hole of amazing (but sometimes disturbing) videos. Pottery videos on YouTube can get really weird really quickly. Next thing you know, you're just watching 10 videos straight of this old woman in her garage with cats walking around, and she's at this tiny microphone, and it's just really weird. But I really wanted to learn more about pottery, and about clay, and about ceramics – but the classes are so expensive. So I just resorted to YouTube, and I immediately fell in love with it. It was the first time I'd been able to use this material and make something that's functional, but also bring myself creatively to it. In graphic design, I was leaning more towards book design, which felt like the functional design that I was looking for. But this was just different. I was able to eat out of the pieces I was making; I was actually able to use them and bring them into my life in these really special ways, and bring them into other people's lives.

So that's when I started to take it more seriously. I took a throwing class, which I liked, but it's very formulaic because it's a spinning wheel, and it's going to create a vessel no matter what. Whereas when you're hand building, it's a little bit more personal, and there's more room to express yourself. After I took a class and decided to take it a bit more seriously, and take myself a little bit more seriously, making things other than just making pinch pots, it moved really quickly. With that said, I was still freelancing in graphic design on the side, because I wasn't making any money off of my ceramic work – It was more just that I was faking it.

Courtesy of Ana Corrigan and Tase Gallery

JB: But I feel like everyone is always faking it!

AC: I just decided to fake it till I made it, and to create a presence that said, “This is what I'm doing and I am very serious about it." But at the same time I was selling hardly anything.

JB: I think there's this really weird conception that we have in our brains that our passions aren’t real unless they’re producing capital. I think it makes total sense that you were putting your energy into ceramics, even if it wasn’t making money. That was what you wanted to do, and even though that may not have been the primary producer of rent money, that was still what you were doing. There is always this sense of imposter syndrome until you're actually paying your rent; I don't think that's actually reflective of the way that we've considered our own work.

AC: It's so true. I just was so confused, too. Like, how are people making money this way? As with most mediums, but ceramics in particular, it's such a slow process, because you have to allocate time for the pieces to dry, and then they need to be fired, and then they need to be glazed and then fired again, and even then, you only hope it comes out without cracks. It's just such a labor-intensive and patient craft.

I definitely had a lot of moments where I was pretty hopeless and figured I would just go to graphic design, which by the way, wasn't cool graphic design. It was for a luxury apartment complex service. It was horrible. I was making press kits.

It wasn't until a year ago that I was able to do it full-time. So there was about a two-year period before that, where it was just my side thing that I was doing. It was really hard because I was so tired after work, but I really wanted to get those pieces out, and I really wanted to show everyone what I was doing, and to execute all my ideas properly. I was just a crazy person! But COVID really forced me to take a step back, because I wasn't living in New York anymore. My boyfriend and I came back out to California, where we’re both from, because I couldn’t afford New York and I just had more space.

JB: You're not alone: the number of people I know who have gone back [to California] is pretty high.

AC: Yeah, I really wanted to stick with New York too, because I'd been there for almost six years and I was loving it – I wasn't ready to leave New York and I still would like to go back there. But it's so hard to live there.

JB: Yeah; I feel like it hurts sometimes in a way that other places don’t. So you're doing your ceramic work, COVID hits, you move out to LA, and that gives you the opportunity to work in a studio that's less expensive, and you’re doing ceramics full time. But you started with homeware work, and have now transitioned into fine art – how was that initial jump? Do you understand fine arts as a different direction, or are they one and the same?

AC: Even in the beginning, when I first started ceramics, I was dying to make lamps. I'd seen some ceramic lighting done before, and I felt like I was going to explode. I just had so many ideas and thousands of drawings that I had made, but the studio I was working at was really small, and they only fired things at a certain height; it felt like it was impossible. So I was resorting to making some homeware pieces, like mugs and ashtrays, and I stopped myself there because I really didn't want to be a shop. And whenever I would talk to people, and they'd give me advice, like, "Oh, you need to have these newsletters every week, and you need to have these holiday sales and stuff." And in response, I was like, "No, no, but I don't want to. I'm not a homewares shop." I want to create pieces that are living somewhere between fine art and functional life.

JB: I don't know if you're familiar with the ceramicist working under the title Summer School. I feel like she works with the the same kind of idea of having fun with functionality.

AC: Yeah, we actually just chatted recently! I love her work, and I think that the way that she puts this twist on traditional homeware was something that I was trying to do myself. So for my mugs, for example, I was really trying to exaggerate the handle, not necessarily to make it a more functional mug – I just thought there was something humorous about being at a studio, watching everyone try to make this perfectly sized handle (for which there’s all this technique) and I decided to just make a ridiculously sized handle to look incredibly awkward. But at the same time, people gravitate towards that, because it's not conventional, and I felt like I was giving parts of myself and parts of my personality into something like a mug.

But ultimately, I wanted to make larger pieces. I think that that's something that a lot of artists can probably share. You just start having these ideas of scale; you just want to make things bigger and bigger and bigger. So I was just very dead-set on making ceramic lamps. So the homewares had started catching on, and it was selling pretty steadily, so that became my job, and I was able to then do more work on the lamps. Because it's not just making the lamp, it's the wiring. And you're working with other materials now, not just ceramic; you're working with brass or whatever hardware you choose to use, and you're working with linen or whatever sheet you choose to use. I think ultimately with the lamps, what I was more interested in was being able to work towards influencing a space. A mug in a space is not creating the same presence that a lamp is. I wanted to be able to create functional pieces, that were also going to lend to a space and influence it with whatever mood or feelings that I was trying to evoke.

Courtesy of Ana Corrigan and Tase Gallery

JB: By no means do I want to take artistry out of things like the mugs or imply that functionality disqualifies it from being a work of art, but with regard to that usability, it does encapsulate a different sphere. Also there's a long history of light work, and you certainly can fit into a larger canon. That intersection of functionality and structure isn't really as pointed in a lot of our minds as that of a bowl or an ashtray or something that we understand primarily for its use factor.

AC: Exactly. And it's not that I wanted to personally take up more space, or anything like that. I just had bigger ideas for what I wanted to give to a space, and whenever I'm creating my work, I'm very concerned with the question of where the piece is going to live. And that even applies to when I was working in graphic design. I think right now, so many things only live on the internet and we're only experiencing things through screens, and creating something like a lamp also crosses over in that functionality. Space gives more of an opportunity to live in someone's home. I think creating something without function, to me, felt a bit incomplete. I love creating sculptures as well but the lamps just feel more complete in my mind, because they just have a different purpose.

JB: Do you still enjoy the smaller things, like homewares? They’re the bread and butter of the business, as it were.

AC: I do, I'm just very selective with the homewares I make because, again, I really I don't want to be a shop, and I'm also not as passionate towards dinnerware. I like eating out of pretty bowls, I suppose, but I just don't really mind too much. That being said, I love ceramic pieces, and I love ceramic dinnerware, and I think there's such an amazing history that comes with pottery, and I think that pottery is more of what you're talking about when you mention bowls and vases and those types of vessels.

But no, I still very much enjoy making the mugs, particularly because I know that there's going to be a personal experience held there with an individual, even more so than the lamps because they're actually holding this piece, and it's intimate. It's a labor of love, and it's quite boring sometimes, but I do enjoy giving the mugs to friends and family, and just knowing that they are drinking out of something I made.

Jacob Barnes

is a writer and editor born in New York, raised in Dublin, Ireland, and currently living in London. After working in the film industry, he decided to start Soft Punk with Charlie in the summer of 2019. Since then, Jacob has worked as a writer, editor, publisher, and curator for numerous publications and organizations spanning the United States and Europe.

All contributions from Jacob Barnes

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