Out the back of a gallery in Melbourne’s Hawthorn East, on most days and at odd hours, a tall creative blur can be found tinkering away on a plethora of projects.
This perpetually glaze-strewn, hands-on maker – still somehow immaculately coiffed – is the behind-the-scenes alter ego of Ryan Foote, a polished professional artist whose works have been exhibited and commissioned in Australia and abroad.
His shared workshop is a trove of tools, moulds, and assorted ceramic wonders, with an enormous kiln big enough to fire a human-sized sculpture. His work incorporates themes as wide-ranging as politics and cultural identity, articulated through creative processes inspired by geology, gastronomy, fashion, architecture and biomimicry.
With fine arts training and experience in sculpture and installation, Ryan began to apply his unique flair to pop-up bars and highly conceptual experiences.
For an event at Gertrude Contemporary in 2009, Ryan produced a thirty metre long gold-mirrored dining table. Dancers serving as wait-staff were clothed in matching outfits, also created by Ryan. But the most striking element was the cuisine. One hundred guests enjoyed ten courses of uncompromising monochrome: white food on black plates.
“The idea was to strip away all of the visual signifiers,” says Ryan. “When you get a completely white dish on a black plate, it’s unexpected – you’re so used to seeing colours that tell you what foods are”.
To date arguably the most detailed of his events is the Diamond Lab. Every aspect – flatware, chairs, the faceted table sprayed with black diamond dust, and the food upon it – was crafted by Ryan. Following a tour of Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong, the Diamond Lab is now in storage.
These days, Ryan is occupied by his ceramic studio, creating new lines of beautifully realised flatware and designing dishes from the plate up. One temperamental glaze he is playing with grows organic fractal shapes when fired, akin to iridescent bacteria in a petri dish.
Ryan purchased his urban warehouse apartment 10 years ago, intent on renovating the “horrible” nineties interior. After moving to Paris and gaining an appreciation for home cooking, Ryan designed his new Melbourne home around three key features: a generous dining table, a functional kitchen, and a vertical garden. “The dining table is so important. I wanted my guests to face each other and the food.”
On the balcony, Ryan’s vertical garden creates a green threshold to the street below. “I love being able to get my hands dirty, even though I live in the city – a different type of dirt to what I’m used to in the workshop.” His handmade pots, in the shape of clustered root vegetables, are maintained and replanted with seasonal crops, in tune with natural cycles.
As his culinary skills developed, learning from his collaborations with chefs and travels across Asia and Europe, Ryan explored food through the lens of art. This led to experiments with 3D printed food, making edible structures out of chocolate. Now designing his own chocolate range with Vero Chocolates (avocado and yuzu flavor, anyone?), Ryan is also working with catering firms locally and in Hong Kong to design menus and concepts.
With so much on the go for a solo artist, has it ever crossed his mind to use that giant kiln to cook up a couple of helpful clones? “I don’t know – if there were three Ryans, we could cover more ground – but one of us would still get lumped with budgets and risk assessment!”
Ryan L Foote
Words by Sandra Tan
Photography by Christine Francis
This story was originally published in Habitus #36, the Nourish issue.