Irene Grishin Selzer and Peter Selzer are the husband and wife team behind Melbourne ceramics studio Iggy & Lou Lou. Together, the pair have created unique, sought after handcrafted ceramic jewellery and homewares for well over a decade (Iggy & Lou Lou was first launched in 2003!).
We recently included Iggy & Lou Lou’s seriously incredible Driptopia vases in our Mother’s Day Gift Guide… our entire team promptly fell in love with this distinctive range of vessels, and we were reminded just how immensely talented this pair are. It’s only taken us 8 years, but today we’re finally running a story on them!
Irene and Peter are a little bit ‘old school’ in their approach to both their craft and their business, and I mean that in the best possible way. The pair shy away from talking too much about themselves, they’re not big fans of explaining their ideas or their influences, instead preferring for the work to speak for itself. And indeed it does. Iggy & Lou Lou’s unique aesthetic has seen them participate in a number of high profile collaborations over the years, including projects with Karen Walker, the Australian Ballet and T2 to name a few. Still, they work from a home studio in Aspendale, and create every piece by hand, together, with their young sons Rueben and Gene closeby.
Irene and Peter’s handcrafted ceramics can be purchased at Mr Kitly, Outre Gallery, Craft Victoria, Third Drawer Down, Fenton & Fenton and in the Iggy & Lou Lou online store.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what are your backgrounds in and what path led you to what you’re doing today?
Peter: I was lucky to grow up on a beautiful farm in North East Victoria where working with my family on the farm was part of daily life. Moving to Melbourne working as a mechanic, I switched through a few jobs before hooking up with Irene. We were pretty much inseparable from the start, and started concocting ideas of how we could work together. After Irene completed her MA and started Iggy & Lou Lou, the business grew very quickly and I took on the bookkeeping and glazing alongside my day job. I now have a great job in the wine industry, but when our little ones were born it was important to me to share time with them, so I now work part-time, and we balance my work with Iggy & Lou Lou and looking after our boys.
Irene: I always liked making things when I was little and I remember in primary school getting quite intense about making a clay bear for the boy I liked, while everyone around me was throwing clay at the ceiling! Around this time I remember my parents taking me to an exhibition of ceramic figurines that had been discovered after being buried underground for many years. I really got into it and thought about it a lot. I always did art subjects at school and ended up doing art full-time at Uni with a major in ceramics and a minor in metal/jewellery. After finishing honours I got a scholarship to complete my Masters while I was working part-time. I’d always sold things I’d made along the way, and it wasn’t long after Pete and I got together that I started Iggy & Lou Lou.
Iggy and Lou Lou has been in the business of making ceramics for over a decade now. In the beginning what motivated you to start the business, and how has the Iggy and Lou Lou brand developed over the years?
When I was doing my Masters I did some reading about ceramic pendants being worn as talismans and amulets to ensure protection and courage. Having withstood the intense heat from the ‘fiery furnace’ they were symbolic of the romantic survival against all odds. I thought this was great and I wanted to combine this idea of romance and history with an element of tongue cheek humour to keep it fun and relevant.
I started playing around with different themes that weren’t being used on jewellery and vases at the time. I didn’t really think of Iggy & Lou Lou as a brand. I was too shy to use my real name so I made up a name that made me feel free to make whatever I wanted.
Demand for the work grew quickly and Pete and I were working very long hours to keep up with orders. We hired admin assistants, jewellers, and packaging assistants and even briefly tried outsourcing some of the ceramic making within Australia, but our ideals of the handmade were compromised so we decided to employ help to do everything except the making. This ensured we retained the finish we desired and full creative control. We’ve always got a real sense of satisfaction from getting our hands dirty and making everything ourselves. It was a conscious decision to also limit our number of stockists so we could focus on making a limited number of really beautiful pieces for shops and our website.
We renovated a studio next to our house which is like another small home next door. Home is our favourite creative space and being in the studio is an extension of it. Now we have two little boys to share our time and creative energy with, and we both share the responsibilities, challenges and the fun. It’s not always the easiest way to do things but it’s what we really want to do while our boys are little.
How did you originally become involved with ceramics and porcelain? What drew you to this craft initially?
Irene: Maybe I never got over that exhibition I saw when I was little. I feel like I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for ceramics. All ceramics have the preciousness of being fragile but can also survive and be handed on for generations – I love that duality. I’m also big on texture, I like to explore many surface treatments and clay is the perfect medium to withstand multiple layering techniques.
Whether working in 2 or 3 dimensions, the textural opportunities that clay offers makes it really interesting in varying degrees of depth, colour and form. There are always new things you can do – the exploration is never ending.
Peter: Initially I started out just helping Irene because of the sheer volume of work she had on, and then I really got into the process. I wanted to understand how she made these beautiful and magical things. It was a fair learning curve and I’m still in awe of how she makes the magic happen. I always get a kick out of making pieces together from start to finish. Opening the kiln at the end is the best bit. You never quite know what will be the outcome of the final firing which makes it a really addictive process.
You’ve collaborated with some big names including Karen Walker, the Australian Ballet and T2 to name a few. What have been one or two of your favourite projects in recent years and why?
Couldn’t really choose a favourite as each was quite a different experience. The thing we like most about collaborating is that it pushes us to try new approaches we may not have considered. The best part is that you get to just focus on the creative side of making – leaving the other party to take it to the world. It’s sometimes surprising/weird where it can end up like our jewels being modelled at NY fashion week or written about in international magazines in different languages.
How would you describe your work and what influences your style?
It’s funny we’re not big on articulating these sorts of things. Maybe it goes back to writing thesis days, where too much time was taken contextualising everything. I guess some of the fun and mystery is always taken away when you need to label or describe things in too much detail? Maybe that’s just a cop out for doing things we don’t really want to do, or maybe it’s a way of retaining a sense of freedom!
Regardless I guess we would say an attraction to the history of ceramics is a big deal to us – the evolution of clay and its contrasts. Our pieces are numbered so they can be traced back and made to last a lifetime to be hopefully passed on to the next generation. Clay itself is a constant source of influence it’s a material you can never get bored with. It can mirror mud, rubble, drips, gravity and other natural phenomenon, while co-existing with classical forms and methods of historical decoration. Even at its most basic it’s just fun to play with.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
Peter: We talk a lot about what we like and don’t like and we’re often driven by a desire to just really make things we want to have around us. We experiment with a lot of ideas and techniques before we are happy with the end result. I’m more about the technicalities, and Irene makes all the magic happen.
Irene: Pete is a genius with all the technical work and has a great eye for form and function. He really gets the way different pieces work will together while I get most into surfaces- colours, textures etc. There are many processes to work through in ceramics and it’s hard to say why we decide to follow the paths that we do.
Sometimes people refer to it as following the things that give you butterflies in your stomach but to us it’s always felt like something stronger, like the things you love and can’t live without – less like butterflies and more like a punch in the gut.
We are loving your most recent Driptopia range of vases and vessels. How did this range come about and how long has it been in development?
Irene: We’ve always been a big fan of the drip. It’s one of our favourite forms of mark making. It not only looks and feels good but there’s something primal in the way that it acts as an expression of gravity – that force that attracts objects toward each other. My sculptures for exhibition work were heavy on ‘the drip’ and our first Iggy & Lou Lou vases we made in 2003 were about drips, but both were made using flat ceramic paint or lustre, and mainly with gloss finishes.
I started experimenting with building up layers of drips mixing porcelain and colour to give a more matte or satin finish for my sculptures. This initiated the techniques and idea behind Driptopia in 2013 – a world that celebrates the concept of gravity.
Peter: Driptopia is really fun to make and there are really nice contrasts between mixing dripping ceramic surfaces, painting and classic forms. We’ve been working on perfecting the technique for some time. We decided to add another layer by gloss glazing the inside of vessels for contrast and durably. We like them to be feature pieces but totally functional and really strong – even dishwasher safe.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Our days vary depending what we have on and every day is different, but generally for a making day we plan our day the night before, as once children wake there’s no time in the morning for planning. We wake up between 5.00am – 6.00am (thank you children!) and then it’s breakfast for all, and getting Rueben ready for kinder. Gene comes into the studio with us, where he and Rueben have their own little studio section set up.
We’ve started some clay forms the night before, so they are strong enough to work on in the morning. We like all our work to dry naturally, so during Winter our Driptopia forms take about two weeks to finish. Drips need to be layered within a certain time when the form isn’t too dry as they won’t adhere and not when too wet otherwise the form will collapse. Glazing and additional painting is done after the first firing.
We put on a bisque or a glaze kiln, depending on which pieces are ready, which generally takes us to lunchtime and the three of us have lunch inside the house. Gene has a sleep while we complete the most pressing emails, orders, website changes and photography needs. Pete looks after Gene, picks up Rueben and sorts out dinner. Irene stays in the studio working on clay until the dinner call out. Boy’s bedtime follows with books in between. Then we often have a wine, a bit of a relax and chat amidst checking the kiln and then finish off any emails and computer things. Then we finish clay or kiln things in the studio before we go to bed around 11pm
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
There are so many but we’ll limit it to those working with clay:
1. Brendan Huntley – for mixing the fun and seriousness of art so effortlessly and beautifully.
2. Louise Kyriakou – we’ve always admired her paintings but the clay faces she’s currently making are really something else.
3. Sophie Moran – the way Sophie mixes different clays and techniques makes collecting her pieces very addictive
4. Our boys Rueben and Gene – sorry! Don’t want to sound like those annoying over proud parents – it’s something that most children do. It’s even how they go about the process. They just go for it and love it and do it so freely and the things they make truly kill us in the best possible way!
Can you list for your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
As the boys get bigger seeing things ‘in real life’ in friends studios or exhibitions is most fun for all of us, but when we need a quick bolt we’re really getting back into books for inspiration. We used to use the computer a lot before we had our children, but taking a book or mag from the bookshelf seems more fun at the moment because it feels less like work and we can still be engaged with life and little ones. Currently we are finding inspiration from:
1. A series of old Art & Asia mags found at the op shop recently
2. Indoor plant books from the 1980’s. The colours and forms that come out of that 80s self-conscious sense of luxury is really interesting to me. There is often the leftovers of the 70s craft aesthetic going on as well which makes it even better.
3. My Cy Twombly book by Richard Leeman I’ve probably looked at least once a week for 10 years because those paintings are perfection.
1. Apartmento mag – I like to see real lived in creative spaces that have evolved over time with things that people love.
2. I bought ‘Contemporary British Studio Ceramics’ by Annie Carlano for Irene but I’ve ended up swiping it. I’m really into ceramic collections and feel lucky that we’ve been able to grow our own collection with swaps from other artists.
3. Irene found that great book ‘Graphic Design In Swiss Industry’ by Hans Neuburg at the op shop recently which I’ve really got into as I’ve always had a thing for industrial graphic design.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
It’s not one achievement or one special thing that happened, it’s more whenever someone tells us about how much they love their Iggy and Lou Lou piece they have had for many years. It’s really nice to know the things we make remain really special to people and that they feel a real connection to it.
What are you looking forward to?
Going overseas with our boys – probably going back to Japan first. We used to travel a lot when it was just the two of us but we are yet to brave the 9+ hour plane ride with little ones.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
It’s probably not even strictly a Melbourne neighbourhood, and it’s probably very unfashionable to admit it, but to us it’s Aspendale, where we live. Back in the ’50s – ’60s Aspendale was a holiday destination for many artists who lived in the city. I think the Reeds and Moras had their holiday houses here? There’s a special feel here, it’s a beachside suburb that’s still far enough to have a holiday feel but not too far from the city. You can smell the sea, kids can play in the street and you know your neighbours.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
One of our friends makes the best pizza from scratch and we’d eat it every day if we could. (That’s a hint Rohan)
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
In bed drinking coffee for as long as our boys are happy to play together.