Ceramists make miniature menageries
Agalis Manessi, 69, a London ceramicist born in Corfu, Greece, creates her animals – lying dogs, alert hares – from pieces of terracotta clay that she squeezes and manipulates “until a silhouette appears “. Her technique is centuries-old majolica, in which she bakes her creatures and then dips them in a tin oxide glaze solution that gives an opaque white finish. She then paints the figures with a mixture of metallic oxides – cobalt, manganese, copper – which gives soft but sometimes unpredictable hues after a second firing. The whole process, from sculpting and drying to frosting and baking, can take over a month for a single piece. “It is,” she said, “an extremely ruthless process.”
But for some animal-obsessed ceramicists, anthropomorphization as a sculptural approach is a wacky (and swift) joy. Katie Kimmel, 30, who has a studio in the Mojave Desert two and a half hours northeast of Los Angeles, is endlessly inspired by the burlesque interaction between her Saint Bernard and two Chihuahuas. She makes handcrafted vases, some of which have clumsy dog heads, and figurines of baby animals hanging on the wall: poodles, ducklings, pugs. She emphasizes their raw, youthful recklessness by using commercial clays and glazes found at the mall’s pottery paint stores – they only take an hour or two to sculpt.
Likewise, 48-year-old Japanese potter Kouichi Maekawa believes that working quickly creates a more spontaneous figure that captures the fast-twitching verve of an animal. From his workshop in Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture (he recently took over the management of the family earthenware business, but spends much of his time on his own pieces), he is able to work almost as fast as he can. a balloon artist at a children’s party. Using the soil of a nearby mountain, still loaded with pieces of hay and gravel, he shapes figurines inspired by local fauna: wild boars, owls, monkeys, foxes. He ices them with natural mineral pigments, resulting in a muted palette that contrasts with the voluminous whimsy of the creatures, a characteristic that is perhaps the unifying force of this new coterie of figurine sculptors: they strive to do something something raw and natural that illuminates the interior life of animals and humans. “I’m trying to capture the moment when something is born,” Maekawa says. “Not literally, but when they broke into the world and made their mark.”
Digital technology: Maiko Ando. Photo assistant: Karl Leitz. Assistant stylist: James Kerr