Ian McMahon

MFA, 2010

Ian McMahon received his MFA in Sculpture and Extended Media from Virginia Commonwealth University and his BFA in Ceramics from the New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University. From 2009 to 2013 he was a recipient of a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and received a NYFA Artist Fellowship in 2014. McMahon’s work has been shown both nationally and internationally at venues including: Crane Arts (Philadelphia,), Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute (Jingdezhen, China), The Pacific North West College of Art (Portland), Pierogi Boiler Room (New York), G-Fine Arts (Washington), Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts (Omaha), and Suyama Space (Seattle), among others. From mobile tractor-trailer to abandoned warehouse, McMahon’s work confronts and transforms unconventional spaces. His sculptures challenge the permanence of art and the permanence of place through performative and materially focused temporal constructions. Currently living in Hornell, NY he is the co-founder and co-director of the Belfry, an artist run exhibition venue.

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What have you been up to since graduating from VCU?

Directly after graduating I built out a studio in NYC and spent two years developing new work and exploring new techniques of making. Currently residing in western NY I have had the opportunity to co-develop an exhibition space, a studio and home in an old Methodist church. Through an array of funding opportunities and invitations I have also been developing and installing my large temporal works across the US. Time is shared between the studio and the continued development and programing of the exhibition space.


What advice would you give a current VCU Sculpture student?

Believe in the work. It’s you and the work first and foremost, that relationship has to be solid in order to navigate all that comes your way. On a more practical note, you can never have too many applications going out. For each acceptance or rejection make sure you have three more out the door, let that be the fuel to keep at it.

How did VCU prepare you for your current situation?

VCU was an environment that nurtured, pushed, and expanded the skills, techniques and ideas that I came in with as well as provided a vast platform of new avenues with which to progress my artistic development. This arena was paramount to my growth as a maker and the professional skills needed to continue my practice. With a heightened ownership of my work and strengthened pragmatic tools I was able to open an array of new doors and keep up my momentum as an artist. Fundamentally, the program taught me to continue to adapt and develop through each new challenge, learning through the success and failure of making.


How do you define success?

Success for me is putting everything I have into the work, never compromising an idea or project for external pressures. Listening to your gut and trusting that those feelings and ideas will have the power to move you forward is so fundamentally important. Following the passion I have in making has given me all the opportunities that have come my way. Is there a question we should ask you, but didn’t?

Why did you decide to study sculpture?

My undergraduate degree was in ceramics and I was imbedded in that place for quite some time. After graduating I had left traditional ceramic construction behind and was exploring new ways to sculpt and manipulate clay. The development and conversation about those sculptures was still taking place within the ceramic realm. I wanted to see where my works fit into a larger context, to be challenged and pushed in their development and my ability to navigate them. Sculpture provides a great stage to explore diverse realms that propel me out of my comfort zone.