Concreta, Ceramic Sculpture, Ceramists
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conCreta 2010
An open opportunity to compare in the making.
By Prof. Enrico Crispolti
Professor Emeritus of Università degli Studi di Siena

First of all, it is necessary to take a moment to reflect on the level of awareness at which Concreta is presented, for the quality of critical knowledge and the breadth of experience, gained through care and research in the field, a gift that Gian Lorenzo Anselmi implicitly has, in appreciating the results of the creative art works which use the method of ceramics. This means an awareness that can, at this point, clearly operate in full freedom beyond the dilemma that has afflicted for a long time, and to some extent has compromised the effective possibilities of a cognitive evaluation, in the most important art reviews specifically dedicated to ceramics. Let me explain.

In the sixties and seventies, I have been involved more than once, on the selection panels of well-known recurring exhibitions in the area of Faenza, including the celebrated Gubbio Biennial exhibition, dedicated entirely to ceramics (alternated with that in iron). In fact, I remember well the battles to have ceramics appreciated in the form of sculpture, compared to the more usual and traditional choice, sometimes certainly impressive but certainly not with an exclusive claim, in favour of the practice of using ceramics in the area of creating objects (vases and so forth) and even more so if with implications (though not always so satisfying) in the field of design. The struggle every time was to avoid, in awards to be given, a radical one-sidedness in favour of decorative ceramic goods (where of course a great tradition and international popularity cannot but be recognised) considering marginal, incidental, any other varied expressive experiences using clay, glazes and so on.

But even when there was some glimmer of appreciation for the plastic use of ceramic, as could not but reasonably occur, that is when other powerful prejudices would arise, particularly that , however, of a kind of ceramic integrity of the results of the plastic. Many doubts were put forward, many issues were lazily asked and trivial criticisms made on a pretext, wondering if the use of the method of ceramics would not in any case, result as materially of exclusive necessity (thus eliminating any expressive compromise in various materials). In this way, as regards a similar contradictory consideration of the possibilities with ceramics, it certainly resulted in a serious break-up when it was possible to present within the Biennial of Ceramics in Gubbio in 1974, an important multigenerational exhibition of ceramic sculpture in Italy in the late twentieth century (Emanuele Astengo and I curated this together.)

Not that I intended to deny, nor do I now, the importance of ceramic objects in contrast to that of plastic ceramics. Where my opinion was in contrast, and still is, was the ambiguity of attitudes incapable of an appreciation that was decidedly separate and specific, in the dignity of autonomy (in some cases, certainly only relative) of ceramic sculpture compared to ceramic objects; therefore, vice versa, of complete creative dignity, even in plastic terms, of ceramic objects. Distinct skills and as such, distinguishable even when implemented by the same artist (as it was in the extreme case of Fontana, but also the impressive case of a plastic object by Melotti).

At this point, it is in fact obvious to state it: total dignity in ceramic sculpture as well as respect for other plastic media; also total dignity for all ceramic goods in their heritage of inventive possibilities, of forms as much as coloured materials. This must be both in the aspect of unicum and in that of design on a small scale. All skills from which we can always expect a masterpiece of expressivity, but always and only in relation to one’s own specific characteristic, of intention as much as method of workmanship, to be as completely free as one can be in terms of research. I am reminiscing about this to say that the liberty of selective observation but also the certainty of predominantly plastic circles selected by Anselmi, have given delight in the success of opinion for some time now. This has been possible also by understanding the great tradition of terracotta and ceramic sculpture that in Italy in the twentieth century has passed through a transfer of original creative options, from Martini to Fontana, from Fancello to Leoncillo, from Melotti to the first Fabbri, to the first Garelli, from Valentini to Mainolfi at least. Therefore, Concreta, in the brief period up to this time, has been able to create its own specific operational space (perhaps not so much in the discriminatory sense as in an implicit measure of creative liberty).
Here is what Concreta 2010 proposes: six eminent plastic ceramic artists instead of those who create ceramic objects, but plastic – in a couple of cases – to the extent of a clear undertaking of iconic expressivity. Six people whose operative mentality appropriately result very different from each other in Anselmi’s choices, in his implicit awareness of a sort of virtual boundlessness of the expressive customs of ceramic art (and therefore also of his total involvement as release of a means of expression).

Chinellato is fascinated by the theme of “the fragility of life”, that in the case here described, interprets suggesting revealing windows inside which appear life-like images of stuffed animals visible in the Florentine Specola Natural History Museum, fascinated by their amazingly natural lost look. These images which precisely (photographically) report on ceramic panels then broken, to always suggest a precarious condition of equilibrium in the relationship between man and nature. In her own way, here she introduces into the dimension of her ceramic skill, a photo-pictorial representation. Just as, otherwise, in the two “chimneys” placed in front of the Benozzo Gozzoli Museum of Castelfiorentino, through the ceramic acquisition of writing, she develops – she explains – an “attention to the relationship that there is between the individual (however, present behind the windows) and his environment of urban life”.

Confortini is imaginatively engaged on issues of memory and behaviour. She works on plastic analogies, stylized forms of beetles, also as shoots, considering the plastic role of the skeleton structure, but analogically also as possible coats of arms. She uses colour to decontextualise a dimension that would otherwise be at risk of descriptiveness. It is in the parish church of Santa Maria in Chianni, the twentieth station of the Via Francigena, that she has created an extremely significant installation, full of memorial suggestions, resuming her work of previous years on grass, but adapting it to an evocative interpretation of the local attendance on the part of the pilgrims on the Via Francigena : “a bed of grass, in the form of a cross, on which lay the remains of an old iron bed, to symbolize the perseverance against all odds, be they moral, ethical and temporal of Christian piety”.

Mengucci, in the structural, plastic, material, pictorial and cursively graphic consistency of her surfaces, hoisted up on mysterious objects, she creates an intrinsic expressive chromatic-matter bond in a kind of original personalised sculpture-painting with graphic-matter notes. This is made from stoneware using, to assemble her composite surfaces, earth, metals, different types of paper and plaster. All of this is with the allusive intention, almost to a zoomorphic embodiment of the surfaces themselves, moving expressively with the plastic structures supporting it, otherwise only primarily compact, vaguely geometric and then they finally appear as object-forms vitalized by the conversational reality of their surfaces. This is a plastic solution to a pictorial-material proposal, thus almost a skin to her structures, hereby creating a dialogue of expressivity between the structures themselves, even if the surfaces that are supported and displayed are of a considerable size, they are semantically conditioned. In short, if a plastic geometry is not dialogically motivated in the sense of signs and matter, it is only valid in the face of contextual expressivity all based on a free graphic matter availability.

Poyatos Mora, is a ceramic artist with an experience in strong plastic structures, evident even in their weight, but instead, the work he proposes in Concreta is all in transparency, using amazingly mysterious options of visual virtuality of porcelain, in fact,  transparent, diaphanous, working on the consistency of the shadows: in short, on transparencies and shadows within the matter. From this, extremely mysterious images are formed, charming and enthralling, of an explicit epiphanic representation that in fact propose a disorientation like a mysterious vision, almost magical, certainly not descriptive but psychologically demanding. Ceramics that have a dominant pictorial value but through the strength, not of the colour but of the intrinsic virtuality of a diaphanous presence in the figure. The results are exciting, charming, emotionally and inspirationally intriguing, also capable, implicitly, of demonstrating how we expect from ceramics, more now than before, an instrumental, unparalleled flexibility.

Scianella is certainly the most explicit ceramic sculptor, in fact, simply in terracotta (but with the addition of other materials such as coal, sometimes iron), in this edition of Concreta 2010. With an instinctive vocation to give an earthy texture, remotely elementary and primary, to every one of his plastic concepts, he places them dialogically to make strong imaginative suggestions of a return to important memoirs of an anthropological control, both primeval and mythical. His sculpture, in terracotta, is powerfully material, physical, tactile, rich in remote anthropological memories where he recreates in a kind of archaeology of the memory of an ancient land, that of his own Abruzzo. He works using a primeval plasticity with an almost cosmogonic exuberance that tends to develop and expand in space, in true sculpture-installations. It seems that he is taking the act of ceramic creation not only to its creative plastic origins, but also to the dimensions of the earth; clay from which everything seems to be originated and perhaps may even be able to originate again.

Thurin, with her bright imagination for plastic objects, works contrary to the construction of the situations, even in environmental dimensions, through which she intends explicitly to express her own opinion, or should it be said, “morale” pertaining to the awkward dimension of relationships in modern society. Her position is critical but considering the question positively. The query that she is wondering about at the moment is about power not however in a negative way, as conditioning or coercion, rather as “the capacity of being able to change” (referring to the book by Heinrich Popitz Phenomena of Power). Her imagination builds a little at a time, kinds of plastic “fables”, and the expressive statement of which the “morale” puts pressure on Thurin as a reason for her personal ceramic work, in fact, prominently in the size of the articulation to be installed. For this reason, a little at a time, the formal structure of her plastic objects changes according to their chances of success of and imaginative explanation of that “morale”. Therefore the results of her work are characterized differently each time, in a fascinating new adventure. In this way, she recognises that what she has engineered in plastic “are forms of being, ways of growing and changing”. In this sense she believes that “Power incorporates the variety of life”.

Therefore, Concreta in its 2010 edition is a good opportunity for debate, in the willingness and possibility of a fruitful comparison of diversity. It is perhaps the courage of the comparison that is mainly missing nowadays more or less everywhere, in the climate of weakened (and weakening) globalized (managed) conformism in which we are quite lethally immersed.

Enrico Crispolti

conCreta         edition 2007
conCreta         edition 2008
conCreta         edition 2009
conCreta         edition 2010


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