Mayan Ceramics at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently running an exhibition entitled “Lives of the Gods – Divinity in Mayan Art“. The exhibit examines depictions of Mayan gods on various objects: ceramics, stone, jade and shell.

Vessel with mythological scene, Attributed to the Metropolitan Painter (active 7th–8th century CE), The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1968, Accession Number: 1978.412.206

Several ceramic pieces are highlighted in detail in online audio guides to the exhibit, providing interesting context to each object. In fact almost half of the audio guides to the exhibit discuss ceramic pieces, varying from censor stands, Codex style plates and ceramic vessels of one form or another.

As with other exhibitions in the collection of the Met (or on exhibit at the Met), photographs of each object (often from multiple angles showing in effect a 3D view) is available online, along with detailed background information including a description, dimensions, provenance, etc.

Jean-Joseph Carriès – Artist Profile

Jean-Joseph Carriès was an influential French sculptor and ceramicist who thrived in the 1880s and early 1890s. In his relatively short life he created a collection of expressive stoneware sculpture and functional “Japonisme-inspired” pieces, work that was inspirational to subsequent Art Nouveau ceramicists. He is credited by some for lifting public perception of ceramics from craft to a modern art form.

Flask With Face, ca 1890, glazed stoneware; Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number: 2013.489)

There are some contradictory accounts of Carriès’ background, but here’s what I’ve been able to piece together. Born in 1855 and raised in an orphanage in Lyon, France, after the death of his parents to tuberculosis, Carriès was apprenticed to Lyon sculptor Pierre Vermare at an early age. After a 2-year apprenticeship, Carriès moved to Paris in 1874 and enrolled in the sculpture program at the École des Beaux-Arts as a probationary pupil of Augustin-Alexandre Dumont. Failing tests for full admission, Carriès set up his own studio and made his début at the Salon of 1875. While working in Paris as a sculptor, Carriès created portrait busts, mythological subjects, and grimacing masks (reflecting his strong interest in facial expression). One of his best known works is Head of a Faun, ca. 1885, sculpted in plaster (later replicated in stoneware via molds – see example below).

Head of a Faun, ca. 1885, plaster; Getty Museum (

Carriès was deeply impressed with the Oriental exhibitions during the 1879 Exposition Universelle in Paris. (Carriès was amongst numerous artists working in France in this period, notably Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, who were exposed to and inspired by the art of Japan shown in these large exhibitions, ultimately giving rise to an artistic movement in Europe referred to as Japonisme.) Carriès was particularly struck with displays of Japanese ceramics and began studying ceramic techniques, devoting more and more time to this new medium.

In 1888, Carriès left Paris for the small town of Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye in the Loire Valley, which was home to several stoneware factories producing glazed and unglazed utilitarian pottery. A year later, in 1889, Carriès exhibited his first stoneware pieces. Particularly noteworthy were organic forms and the dripping glazes that Carriès employed, influential as examples of emerging Art Nouveau ceramics.

Glazed Stoneware Vase, ca. 1891-1894; Jason Jacques Gallery
Glazed Stoneware Vase
Glazed Stoneware Pitcher in Form of a Melon

Carriès constructed a kiln on his property in 1891, sculpting a large number of forms that he would then mold and produce as stoneware pieces in the 1892 Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

Head of a Faun, Glazed Stoneware

Carriès sold multiple pieces from this Salon show to the French Ministry of Culture (some of these items are now in the Musée du Luxembourg and the Musée de Sèvres).

Bust of Loyse Labé, 1893, Glazed Stoneware; Jason Jacques Gallery

Two years after the successful 1892 Salon, Carriès died in 1894 at age 39. Carriès’ work was influential as inspiration for a number of Art Nouveau ceramic artists later known as the Ecole de Carriès, including George Hoentschel, Paul Jeanneney, Émile Grittel, Henri de Vallombreuse, and Jean Pointu.

Nicholas Lees – Artist Profile

I enjoy Nicholas Lees’ work as much as I’ve enjoyed communicating with him about his art. He is an articulate man, as will be evident in this Q&A back-and-forth below. He is also a very thoughtful man, which shouldn’t be surprising given the time it takes to create each of his sculptural pieces. First, Nicholas throws a ceramic form, then mounts that piece onto a lathe and meticulously carves evenly-spaced grooves. That lengthy creative process allows ample time for reflection. The end results are Spartan and elegant, calming and strangely energetic.

JTW: Looking at a video on your website, I see you employ a lathe to carve out the negative spaces in your sculptures. How did you develop that technique?

NL: This body of work originated in a research project at the Royal College of Art in London. The rigour of the approach to generating artwork through an iterative research based approach was extremely useful to me – the most important thing was define clear questions, and in this case the question was “how can I make ceramic be only half present?”. The question had come from the exploration of ideas around transitions between 2 and 3 dimensions, cross section and solid.

In this context I had become intrigued by shadows and silhouettes as visual phenomena, and what particularly interested me was the boundary and uncertain edge of the shadow, the penumbra, and I was trying to make a material representation of this, and of the ephemeral qualities of the interface between light and shadow, matter and space. In trying to achieve a form with a ‘semi-presence’ I thought about removing half of the clay substance of the object. This took me back to an earlier generation of my work, making thrown vessels, and the fact that I really enjoyed the turning or trimming of thrown forms and working with clay in its leather hard, semi resistant state in a reductive process.

I was also aware of the use of lathe turning in making electrical insulators (forms to which my objects have a strong visual reference) and in the production of Wedgwood and other Staffordshire manufacturers since the 18th century.

It took me a year to develop the skill to do it adequately, and I have continue to refine and develop this process, and to enjoy it despite the repetition and the hours of intense concentration needed!

JTW: In the video I quickly see you saturate the carved floating bowl with what must be a pigmented solution which appears to leach into the ceramic “fins”. Again, how did you develop this technique?

NL: This technique originated in the drawings I make, of which more below. I wanted to introduce colour into a body of work which had been largely monochromatic due to its origin in explorations of light and shadow. Aesthetically I did not want the colour or surface finish to be applied and additive to the form, and for practical reasons I didn’t want to colour the whole clay body. I remembered the use of soluble metals as colourants for ceramics (a minority decorative interest as they have several problems including their solubility and issues of toxicity), and thought they might provide a way forwards. I have developed a process that uses saturation and evaporation to infuse the forms with colour. I like the fact that the movement of the colour through the form relates to what I think as the visual porosity of the forms and perception of them as being akin to osmosis.

JTW: How has your work evolved over time? 

NL: It is now 30 years since I first graduated from a BA in Ceramics, and in that time I have made at least 3 distinct bodies of work. The first was a series of stoneware thrown and altered, broadly functional although not everyday, work. Alongside this I worked for another potter making slip-cast work, which broadened my skills and outlook.

Ceramics by Nick Lees (23rd September 2008)

After a return to education to study for a Masters some years later I then made an evolving series of abstract sculpture using a hybrid of slip-casting and hand-building process and exploring formal concerns of interaction between natural and artificial forms and surfaces and presence and absence. Alongside this series of work I spent a lot of my time working in Higher Education, something I continue to do although to a much lesser extent. The mid-career return to education and practice-based research process described above also involved me in understanding some common threads in all of my work despite their apparent visual disparity.

JTW: Will you describe your creative process a bit? Do you formulate a specific idea of the piece you want to create, perhaps via a sketch or drawing – or is your sculptural process more intuitive and spontaneous?

NL: As I guess will have become clear for the above my approach is relatively cerebral. It is also very important that I think through material and process and the act of making. I do not have an idea and then make it – the making and thinking are inseparable. There is a strong ‘felt’ emotional content to the work however, and I think that sometimes I am using a semi logical and questioning approach to find my way to some intangible aspects of what it means and feels like to be in the world and how people, spaces and objects interact. Inevitably of course my artwork is also an expression of my own experience and psychological make up, a fact it has taken me a long time to understand, but has become increasingly interesting to engage with and use.

There is a minimalist austerity and architectural quality to some of my work at the moment – here time is an important factor as some of the ‘softer’ qualities of the work become apparent with looking over time and with movement. This sense of a balance between consistency and change in perception manifested in the shifting relationships between object, light, space and body is important to me and is informed by a lifetime of looking at the same view on the west coast of Scotland and understanding that within this consistency there is an infinity of variety and that each experience of perception is unique.

JTW: Do you continually explore carving and coloring techniques? Work on your website suggests you are poking around with different materials and techniques. 

NL: I have been working with a fairly tight format in terms of process for about the last 10 years. I think the limitations of this process have in some ways been a creative spur, and I have been almost surprised at how working in this way has sustained my interest, and led me to look further into the ideas behind the work and gain a deeper understanding of it. Within the possibly repetitive nature of this endeavour, I seek to explore the potential for evolution of the outcomes. Using colour has opened up a new level of exploration and variation within continuity as well as giving a new thrill of surprise when opening the kiln.

The tilting is really about giving more complexity to the visual and spatial relationship of viewer to the object – moving away from changes in the perceivable form only happening on the x/y axes, to a subtler and more dynamic interaction of perception.

JTW: You often work in sets of three. Is there some significance to that particular combination of forms?

NL: Working with multiple objects making up one sculpture is something I’m increasingly doing. Each unit of the multi piece works is usually made from multiple thrown and turned parts and this assemblage gives me a way into making larger scale works.

I have mostly made Diptychs and Triptychs and I think these resonate as historically established formats for artworks. These sculptures also give me the opportunity to focus on the interaction between forms and the spaces between them. This play with positive/negative space takes the idea of uncertain boundary of form further and also relates to the figure/ground relationship.

JTW: There is a strong correlation between your drawings and your sculpture. Your sculpture is much more consistently geometric than your drawings, in which lines frequently blur and diffuse. What makes you gravitate toward a drawing vs a sculpture on any given day?

NL: The drawings are a parallel activity to making – a way of exploring the same ideas in a different medium. I don’t really make drawings in a way that is preparatory to making, or a stage in a design process. However the drawings do feed in to the sculpture as they can give me indications of ways forward or new ways of looking at an idea or a process.

I first started making these drawings, which are also a bit like monoprints, as a way of visualising an idea to incorporate glaze in the making – something that has still to come to full fruition many years later, but is on its way soon.

One key this about drawing is that they give a completely different timescale for the iteration of idea-action-result, and so it is possible to work through some things quite quickly and the activity is in some ways an antidote to the time commitment distance between initiation and result involved in making my sculpture.

I like to have the opportunity to show drawings and sculpture together and always want to do this more to explore the relationship between the media and between working in 2 and 3 dimensions. I think you are right to some extent about the sculpture being more overtly geometric than the drawings, but the drawings also give an indication of the subversion of the strict geometry and rigidity of the form that happens in the act of perception especially through movement. The action of water on paper and ink is akin to the effect of movement around the sculptural form. This can be understood a bit by looking at a video of movement across a piece.

As to what drives me to do things on a particular day – this is mostly down to what deadline is pressing. The drawings tend to happen when I have more time and space and when I want to move ideas forward.

You can see more of Nicholas Lees’ work on his website.

Sérusier, Bonnard & Vuillard

My earlier post about Paul Gauguin’s ceramics has received a large number of hits. Due to the interest, I’m providing some additional, if limited, information about several other French painters who knew or worked with Gauguin and also did ceramics: Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard.

Paul Sérusier

Paul Sérusier painted with Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven in northern France in the mid-1880s. Sérusier also made a limited number of ceramic pieces, including this one, entitled Bretonnes from circa 1885, which was in a Swiss private collection and auctioned by Christie’s in 2006.

Notes from the Christie’s catalogue state “Ceramics by Paul Sérusier are extremely rare. This example, Bretonnes, is made of moulded plaster as is suggested by the two vertical seams along the vase, and was painted by the artist. It is not glazed, which gives it a matt and watercolour-like surface.” Unlike Guaguin whose ceramic work is often quite sculptural, Sérusier’s piece here retains a traditional vase-like form.

After painting with Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven, in 1888 Paul Sérusier founded a group of artists called The Nabis who flourished as a group until 1900, and then disbanded. Amongst The Nabis are two painters who also created some ceramics: Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard.

Pierre Bonnard

Also auctioned by Christie’s in the same 2006 lot is this fine example of a ceramic vase by Pierre Bonnard entitled “Petit Vase: Scène de Rue.”

Again quoting from the Christie’s catalog:

Exceptional in technique, subject matter, and execution, Petit vase: scène de rue is an exquisite and rare ceramic from Bonnard’s Nabis period. Like his fellow Nabis, the artist had a universal interest in art. He worked in various techniques and on different supports, including screens, fans, furniture, stained glass, and ceramics. Today very few of his ceramics survive.

Bonnard was introduced to ceramics by his dealer, Ambroise Vollard, who commissioned and owned this vase made of unglazed painted Sèvres porcelain. Vollard himself had developed an interest in ceramics after visiting an exhibition of decorative arts, and he subsequently steered his artists towards working with professional ceramicists. The ceramicist of the present work is not known – but it was possibly André Metthey who shaped the vase before Bonnard painted it.

Édouard Vuillard

Édouard Vuillard’s ceramic output is more substantial, or at least I found more examples of his work online. In 1894 Louis Comfort Tiffany commissioned several Nubis painters, including Vuillard, to create designs for stained glass windows. These stained glass windows were exhibited in 1895, where a young Swiss art critic named Jean Schopfer immediately commissioned Vuillard to create a set of porcelain dishes for use as a dinner service for his upcoming wedding. Vuillard accepted the commission and worked directly on porcelain blanks in Sept 1895 in the studio of the ceramicist Georges Rasetti. Because Vuillard hand painted each blank, each piece in the service is unique. The exact number of pieces in the wedding service is disputed, but sources confirm that Vuillard painted at least 84 items and perhaps as many as 144 items. Vuillard employed three colors per piece: a reddish brown, a deep cobalt blue, and green. Two examples from the set are shown below.

Patricia Volk – Artist Profile

Patricia Volk is a determined, courageous woman, inclined to push forward when confronted with adversity. I like that. Patricia was passionate about art as a young person, but family circumstances limited her ability to pursue the arts for almost 20 years while she worked in a non-arts career. But her determination came through and she enrolled at art college as an older student. Once there, she was courageous enough to push her process and artistic vision despite being told “You can’t do it that way.” Turns out, you can do it that way.

I’ll let Patricia fill in some gaps in the story I’ve sketched out in our discussion below. But first, here’s a video from Patricia’s website that documents her creative process.

JTW: What prompted you to eventually make the jump and pursue your passion for art?

PV: When I was young it was financially impossible for me to go to art college. My father died when I was 9 and my mother was left supporting two children so it was out of the question. Also, the school that I went to, they were only interested in producing women to work in the factories or offices until they had children. I asked for tuition in art but was refused as they said they wouldn’t do it for one person. It was only after I had come to England and fell in with a group of people all of whom had gone to art school that the idea rekindled to try for it myself. I went to adult education classes and applied to Middlesex Poly for Foundation [i.e., a “foundation year” of university level courses]. In fact, I only applied because somebody I had met at a party, who I told of my dream to go to college, stuck the application form through my front door. Getting accepted was one of the happiest days of my life.

JTW: You originally created figurative sculpture, but at some point moved toward abstraction. Will you give me some sense of how your work has evolved over time?

PV: I was doing three dimensional design. In retrospect I should have done fine art sculpture. I liked working in clay as a medium but not in the ceramic tradition of glazes and so on.

Looking back at it I think figurative sculpture was a way of my expressing my interest in form and line in a bit of a conservative way before making the big leap to break away from representational work. I literally had a moment when I thought “I wonder if it would still be me if I stopped doing heads” and I found to my surprise and excitement they were just as much “me” if not more so – it was terribly liberating.

I did feel slightly trapped in doing heads and they had stopped speaking to me. I realised that pure form was more important and exhilarating to me and it opened my eyes to different artists that have been inspirational ever since.

JTW: I believe your earlier figurative work had references to historic Catholic and Celtic iconography as well as to some more modern artists such as Giacometti and Modigliani. Does your current work reference any earlier art traditions or inspirations?

PV: I think with the lives that we lead we are influenced by everything we see. Some of it we are not even aware of. I recently discovered a very strong affinity to the work of Eduardo Chillida. When I went to America and saw ceramics there, there wasn’t the emphasis on the traditional way of using the material in “pottery”. In the Guggenheim there were objects that were dug out from under the sea several centuries BC and they were rendered with paints. Everybody thinks classical sculptural tradition is in monochrome stone or white marble but in fact in ancient times these were highly coloured. I was knocked out by the work of Ken Price from the 1970s who used painted fired clay but was 100% a sculptor. I hate labels of any kind. Why should something be labelled craft because it is made in clay?

JTW: You’re very interested in simple magical elements — “a curve that might be so right that it takes your breath away, something that’s almost like a musical note in the air”. Is this an outgrowth of your move into abstraction? Or have you always driven toward simplifying elements in your art?

PV: Yes, I have definitely. Even with the heads and the figurative work I could almost imagine them being icons. When you look at early sculpture like the Egyptians, you can see the artist reducing the emotional impact to the essence and the minimum, and that is what I try to strive for. It’s also about having enough there but not too much so that the viewer can bring something to it.

JTW: What attracted you to ceramics as a sculpting material?

PV: The fact that I’m never really satisfied with anything I do ,and clay is so flexible, if you don’t like where it is going you can change it or recycle it. I can make what I want, drill it once it is fired, and construct. I usually have a few pieces on the go at various stages at any one time. Usually I start a piece with very little idea of how it is going to turn out and that is the enjoyment. I suppose the material suits my personality, which it to keep trying, but I never want to repeat myself. Every little journey has to be different.

JTW: I get a sense of inner determination and courage, really, in both pursuing art later in life and also evolving a style of ceramic sculpture that involves painting the fired ceramic piece rather than glaze it (a more typical approach). Can you tell me more about your internal motivators?

PV: My motivation is to do something that the viewer might think would be impossible with the material and pushing it to the limits. People in college used to say “You can’t do it that way.” And I was always like: “Why not?” So that’s my bloody mindedness which is part of the equation as well. I get fixated on working out problems of construction and losing myself in the making and engineering. I can always see what is wrong with something and move on to the next one in the hope that it will be perfect.

JTW: Do you have any new projects or interests you’ll explore on the horizon?

PV: All the time. Give me the space and I will fill it!

See more of Patricia’s work on her website.

Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

I found this interesting online exhibition entitled “Masterpieces of Chinese Ceramics from the TFAM.” (Yes, that’s Chinese ceramics at the Japanese museum.) The exhibit is broken down into four chapters with 125 photos of examples from the museum’s collection spread across the chapter headings.

The four chapters are: (1) From the Dawn of Chinese Pottery to the Appearance of Celadon; (2) Fusion of Eastern and Western Cultures and Development of Colorful Ceramics; (3) Maturity of Celadon and White Porcelain and Emergence of Colored Glaze; and (4) Flourishing Colors and Patterns of Jingdezhen Ware.

While there are links to the museum’s website right from the story (click on an image to bounce over to the museum’s “Profiles of Works” site), there wasn’t much explanatory information on individual pieces in English either on the main online exhibit or on the “Profiles of Works” photos that I sampled. (There was some Japanese text for some pieces.) Nonetheless, the exhibit does display some striking examples of Chinese porcelain through the ages.

Talavera Poblana Presentation

On November 17, 2022, at 6:00 PM (ET), multimedia artist Cecile Chong will discuss her stop-motion animation video entitled “Conversations in Blue-and-White.” Ms. Chong’s video documents the origin and production of Talavera Poblana, or tin-glazed pottery produced in and around Puebla, Mexico. Ms. Chong will discuss how some elements of this pottery style that first arose in China were disseminated through trade and commerce through the Middle East, Europe and on to Mexico. (An example of Blue-and-White Talavera Poblana pottery is shown below.)

The presentation is offered through The Hispanic Museum and Library and is part of their Virtual Seminars with Artists series. A link to the presentation is here.

Monika Patuszynska – Artist Profile

Monika Patuszynska is an absolutely fascinating Polish artist whose work involves a playfulness and exploration of both plaster moulds and porcelain clay. I was first attracted to some of her early work (2008-2009 “Nonformy” series) where she modified slipcast porcelain clay itself by injecting gas into it as it solidified within a plaster mould.

I love the way Monika brought out interesting qualities of porcelain in this series. She’s been exploring properties of porcelain since the mid-1990s.

When I reached out to Monika to ask about her work, she explained that much as she explores and modifies porcelain clay, she also explores and modifies the plaster moulds that she uses to slipcast porcelain. Monika builds, breaks apart and recombines plaster moulds before ever starting to work with porcelain. Mould-making is central to Monika’s creative output – the essential starting point of her art.

JTW: You focus on exploring clay as a material. What attracted you to clay in the first place? What qualities do you find most interesting?

MP: Ceramics itself moved into my life nearly 30 years ago and for a long time it has been consistently and irreversibly taking up more and more space in it. I have never really felt the necessity to use any other medium since. Ceramics, especially porcelain, offers everything that I need; it is both abstract and able to convey representational ideas; it has been accompanying communities for ages, but managed to maintain its independence; it serves all the purposes that suit me best- it is tactile, intimate and constantly challenging.

JTW: Can you describe your process a bit more? Does that process change with the different series that you work on?

MP: That’s rather the series that changes as an effect of change of the process.

My favourite part of the process has always been trying. It always starts as a thought of trying to find out what would happen if… The next step is doing it.

Luckily I am not in the mass-production situation so I use to the maximum all the advantages that the studio ceramics offers. I have been casting without the mould; I have created moulds without having a model made first; I have been working on solid blocks of plaster and found plaster moulds that I modify by sawing, smashing and breaking them into pieces, reassembled them and cast the void inside, sometimes adding bits and pieces cast from other moulds and manipulating the cast itself. For me, the plaster mould is not an end product; it is just the beginning of the creative process. The process of breaking up and piecing the broken pieces back together allows defining the object again, deprives it of its earlier designed character and gives it a new, different meaning.

In a way, I’m doing things the other way round now: I leave the casting marks on the casts, I am not afraid of cracks or deformations and I am not afraid of the lack of repetition. I break the plaster mould and cut it into pieces that are stapled, taped and cast as a completely new mould.

I like finding out where the lead I’m working on can take me.

JTW: How has your work evolved over time?

MP: I went through all the stages – for years I have been casting in a way that it should be done- repeating the gestures of thousands who were casting before me. However, the limits of “proper” casting always seemed too narrow for me.

There came a moment when gaining more and more control over the material was no longer enough for me. I felt tired of realising the eternal human desire to conquer Nature, which never really felt like mine.

I tend not to believe in anything that I do not experience myself- especially the superstitions concerning the use of materials. There was a time when the list of “don’ts” became my guide through ceramics- the list of “must dos”.

JTW: Have you worked with other materials besides clay? 

MP: Since I make my moulds straight in the plaster blocks or break different found mouIds, sometimes I am not really able to define which is my leading material: clay or plaster; which one is the medium I shape and which one is the the “second”, auxiliary one. Do I make the positives in plaster to cast them into porcelain negatives? Or is it the other way round?

I had a few adventures with glass being blown into my plaster moulds but, as the process always needs another person: a blower (so it needs to be translated into words), it is not as personal, intimate, and natural as casting for me.

JTW: What are your sources of inspiration?

MP: My main inspiration is my own work and the nature of the materials that I work with. By choosing casting as the primary production method I have situated myself within the ages of the porcelain industry and defining myself towards the past and the present also plays a huge role. I am inspired by the process, most of all by its errors and accidents. I constantly seek out the difficulties posed by working in porcelain. The objects themselves are not the main focus; they are a side effect of my explorations.

I do not believe that a plaster mould as it exists in a factory, smooth and fine, is a true plaster. I do not believe that true porcelain is smooth, submissive and docile, even though it is often presented as such. You can deprive your cat its claws, but will it still be a true cat? That’s why my plaster is rough and my porcelain can injure, but this is what it is like when you let the materials speak for their own and don’t try to force it into a rigid, technological framework.

I am inspired by mistakes and what is usually considered as a defect. I like to play with the nature of accidents and work with them. In our culture an accident is considered an error. However the tamed accident is not an accident any more, is it? The tamed accident becomes a technique. Direct contact with the medium is essential as it is all about balancing between maintain in an attempt to capture the true nature of the material.

JTW: Do you sell most of your work through art expos, galleries or on commission? Do you prefer one over the other?

MP: It all varies.

My process is partly unpredictable so it always causes some stress to try to achieve an effect defined before. Besides, firing the works that are exactly defined before I start working, bores me. It seems kind of senseless: firing something that I know exactly how it will look after… Doesn’t it? What is the point of making and firing if you know the final effect before you even start working?

So my absolute favourite is working on new pieces with no tension or time pressure at all.

Creating is an unstoppable must. The necessity of selling comes somehow as an inevitable side effect of making and rarely is a sole reason to create.

JTW: What would you like people to know about your work?

MP: That my pieces are much more than just decorative objects. Each of them has a story to tell, you just need to tune and quietly listen to them.

You can find more of Monika’s work on her website and Instagram.

Eglė Einikytė-Narkevičienė – Artist Profile

I put this article together while traveling in the deserts of Namibia in Southern Africa. Oddly, I found similarity between the anagama kiln fired work of Eglė, a Lithuanian artist, and the stark geology of Namibia. I have no reason to believe there is any direct connection. Eglė herself describes the origins and inspiration for her ceramic art as internally focused (“I explore the relationship between man’s inner and outer worlds”), and I clearly see such focus in the sculptural elements and intense colors in much of Eglė’s work. But there is definitely a correlation between Eglė’s anagama fired work and geologic features revealed in the deserts of this world. All of which illustrates that art may take on different dimensions based on context: where it is created and where it is viewed and appreciated.

JTW: What attracted you to ceramics? Did you explore other media and materials?

EE: Ceramics fascinate me with its versatility and wide inexhaustible technical features. I am pleased I can realise myself in this material. Ceramics taught me patience and consistency.

After graduation, I also tried to realise myself in other areas. I participated in various artistic projects that were not associated with ceramics. These were art symposia of outdoor wood sculptures and paper. Later I participated in painting residencies. And yet I went back to ceramics.

JTW: I think I see some very softened human forms in some pieces on your website. Did you study figure sculpture or work as a figurative sculptor?

EE: The fact that I am now moulding figurative sculptures was determined by a number of factors.

First, at the Academy of Fine Arts, I had an excellent lecturer – a sculptor who pushed me to choose a plastic art expression. The second factor that led to this is “historical”. I studied in a very difficult period from 1992 to 1998. Lithuania’s independence was just restored. The technical base of the Academy of Arts was quite poor. There was a lack of various materials for the production of ceramics. There was therefore no opportunity to work in the field of technology. The absence of a technical base encouraged students to work more in the ideological direction, encouraged them to think, look for concept and new forms. At that time, students of the Academy of Fine Arts created sculptures from non-traditional materials – rubbish, they sort of compensated for the lack of technical capabilities.

JTW: Can you tell me about your evolution as an artist? I think I see more figurative & geometric pieces in 2019, moving toward much more fluid, organic-type pieces in 2021.

EE: I am glad that new experiences and environments dictate new ideas and forms. It is very difficult for me to look back. In my work, I explore the relationship between man’s inner and outer worlds. I am interested in analysing people, capturing their different experiences. I wonder how the environment itself shapes a person, and what kind of experiences we gain.

In 2019, when I created a personal ‘Inside-Outside’, I thought a lot about the meaning of life. About inner distance and proximity. Interpersonal contact and alienation. About duality and separation, crucial to vices and virtues formulated by our personal character and experience. With ‘sculptures’ I sought to reveal man’s spiritual relationship, under the influence of the environment, the resulting egocentricity therefrom, the need for perpetuation, pride and the relentless desire to regain the internal structured order and peace.

For example, the inspiration for the exhibition ‘One Size’ created in 2019-2020 came from moulding small models from plasticine. I sort of compared a person to a piece of plasticine. Externally, they are only similar at the initial stage – until they lie in the box. All are smooth and neat, only the colour is different. It seemed to me that a person, like a plasticine, was very plastic, he could be easily deformed and damaged. He easily absorbs all the effects of the environment; reflects them. As Voltaire said: ‘The environment for man is all his fate.’ This raises the question: what would we be if planted in one or the other soil? Creation is a huge balance between idea, form, inner energy, environment and other things.

The work of 2020-2021 was influenced by the Pandemic situation, which dictated new forms and ideas. After the introduction of the quarantine, the world seemed to stop. That stop was a great opportunity to rethink and re-contemplate the surrounding things. This situation taught us to cherish what we have to, not to rush, to stop and to outlive every moment. New sculptures, I’d say, have taken on quite unexpected, unusual forms for my creation. In these works, we can see Baroque elements, which tell us about the crisis we experience and the instability and confusion of the situation. In these works, as much as possible in the ceramic material, I wanted to convey and capture every vibration, as if the image were deep underwater and the viewer could feel even the flowing current of water. This would be my response to the current situation: do not resist and accept the situation as it is. I have noticed myself that the shape of my sculptures changes greatly from the main aim and thought. If I start searching for a more complex form, the mind plunges into a second plan.

JTW: Much of your work has intense color, while other pieces have very subtle, pastel-like color. Can you tell me how you are exploring color in your work?

EE: My creative work is changing a bit. In the past, I may have chosen more subtle colours than I am now. It seems to me that colour has a big impact on the viewer. Sometimes I use even 100 % pigment. Not only the colour, but also the coating itself is very important to me.

In my work I avoid shiny surfaces that often destroy the shape. I cover the sculptures by spraying, so the slipware is very evenly covered and give the surface a beautiful velvet impression. Matte surfaces further highlight the silhouette and texture of the figure. I think the choice of colours is also influenced by the environment and the current mood. I think after this very colourful period I will want subtle or maybe white colours again.

JTW: There is another section of your website called “Anagama Firing?”. Can you tell me more about that process? Did you make these pieces at one point in time, or is this something that you continue to do across many years?

EE: I am very fascinated by the burning of an anagama kiln. An anagama kiln was built in Lithuania, where sculptures could be burned out. It is currently disassembled. The burning of anagama kiln is associated with holidays and rest. Perhaps because it is necessary to devote enough time to burning and not to worry, not to think about ‘colour’. Nature itself controls the surface of the sculpture; I will only need to ‘inflame it’. Very interesting and unpredictable result.

This is the exact opposite of the burning technology that I do normally. I usually burn sculptures in an electric furnace. I can do a lot of tests and expect to replicate the desired result. In anagama kiln, I can’t influence or affect the result. Burning the anagama kiln is a teamwork that requires a lot of knowledge, energy and concentration. This is a burning that I can’t control. The burnings of anagama kiln sort of educate me: they develop patience, make me obey, trust my colleagues.

JTW: Can you tell me about the creative community in Lithuania? Are there many ceramic artists there? Is there a deep tradition of ceramics?

EE: Is there a deep ceramics tradition? Lithuanian professional ceramics have been in existence for 90 years. In my opinion, Lithuania does not have deep traditions. In Lithuania, ceramic specialties can be acquired at Vilnius Academy of Arts and Kaunas. We have the Lithuanian Artists Association, which has about 90 ceramists. It organises ceramic art biennials, various thematic exhibitions. In Lithuania, international ceramic symposiums are organised at AIC Panevėžys Gallery, Kaunas ‘Bona China’ bone porcelain symposiums, contribute significantly to the promotion of ceramics. I am very happy that I have the opportunity to contribute to the organisation of the main Lithuanian exhibition ‘Vilnius Ceramic Biennial’. This year, we prepare the 7th Biennial. Together with our active classmates, we organise and tutor international exhibitions of ceramics small forms ‘Cup’. This idea was born to somehow move the community of ceramists. We chose such a simple, perhaps insignificant object. After a while, colleagues from neighbouring countries were very keen to join us. The project is completely altruistic and does not receive any funding.

JTW: What would you like people to know about you and your work?

EE: I am glad and thankful to God that I have the opportunity to create. I am very grateful that the creative beginning that was in me was always nurtured with the help of my parents and relatives. In the end, I wish the viewer, and I would also like to wish myself insight, to be able to see the surroundings, to manage not to lose the true meaning and essence.

You can see more of Eglė’s work on her website.

Museo Castromediano – Lecce, Italy

My wife and I recently wandered into the Museo Castromediano in Lecce, Italy (also known as Museo Sigismondo Castromediano after the founder, an aristocratic collector who donated a large part of the collection). The museum is outstanding – not only its collection of local ceramics dating across millennia, but also in the way the museum displays those ceramics.

The interior layout is striking. The museum’s interior galleries are built around an arresting spiraling stairway, accentuating the display theme of layers upon layers of human civilization, starting with ceramic remnants of Paleolithic peoples and moving upwards through later periods.

This area of Puglia in southern Italy has been a crossroad of human migration and trade since Paleolithic times. The museum stresses that such exchange of material items reflects not just commercial activity, but also interchange of ideas, language, culture, myth and religion. The museum displays objects found in caves that are amongst the oldest sacred places in human history, occupied by Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens, as well as objects reflecting later Neolithic and Greco and Roman civilizations.

I was impressed with a creative display of ceramic containers recovered underwater from a Roman-era shipwreck. In addition to displaying the ceramic vessels themselves, the museum recreated the underwater setting with photographs and ceramics placed in salt water aquariums.

There are a staggering number and variety of ceramic objects displayed, indicative of the large amount of ceramics produced in or shipped through southern Italy over many centuries. the museum does a good job of organizing this large quantity of objects into 5 clusters of objects linked to landscape, seascape, the living, the dead and the sacred.

This an altogether fascinating museum that will appeal to all audiences. The objects are varied, the span of history is impressive, and the display is outstanding. The museum is a perfect accompaniment to the city of Lecce, which itself is an architectural display of cultural accumulation and layering.

In Lecce you’ll find a Roman theatre and an amphitheater, ancient city walls, baroque churches and remnants of fascist-era buildings.