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Monthly Archives: January 2013

An Introduction

Sudek's Studio by Josef Sudek, 1938

Sudek’s Studio by Josef Sudek, 1938

If Booth Ceramics can in fact be, at full capacity, an impossible combination of photograph, still life, and museum as I proposed in my statement about its purpose, then I hope this journal can be a window to the world surrounding and beyond the art and objects it features—a window to the arcane—to repressed history, undervalued traditions, and underrepresented or yet to be discovered artists. I also hope that this journal will reveal new understandings of and relationships between the work of artists and artistic movements that have perhaps been overexposed and as a result are too narrowly defined today or quickly dismissed as uninteresting.

The articles presented in this journal, which in the next issue will also be by other academics, experts, and artists—not only myself, will never be overly critical or didactic but will, however, always be in one way or another politically engaged. My message is that much of the world has not yet been explored and that what we think we know may still surprise us. The ultimate aim of this journal is strengthened belief in the worthiness of the artistic life or pursuit of life which has not only shaped sacred landscapes and built inspiring cities but enhanced the experience of the everyday and the meditative aspects of base survival. This impossible goal I approach in this first issue by presenting four short articles on: a rural village in Turkey made of rock, the brief disappearance and reappearance of a photographer who took pictures out his window (see his studio above), the recent history of painting on plates and bowls, and one principle defining the work of an architect whose oeuvre barely extends beyond the city in which he was born.

It is only recently that I have taken more than a subtle interest in the applied arts, and it should be no secret that I learn as I write. I did study art history at the Sorbonne, architecture at Yale and the American Academy of Rome, and I worked at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in New York—I am fairly knowledgeable of painting and architecture, but I have not thrown a pot since I was a teenager, and even then, I am not sure that anything made it off the wheel. I am far from an expert in ceramics, but I have a feeling this medium to which we are literally attached in its raw form will take me all over the world as my curiosity seems only to propagate the more I learn. I am looking forward to traveling and learning from experts and artists from Kyoto to London to L.A. about this venerable, versatile material.

Photography is slightly easier for me to write on, as I lived and breathed the work of major photographers while organizing several gallery and museum exhibitions in the past few years, but it still fascinates me as it would a child or someone in contact with the first camera ever made, each day, every day. I am constantly humbled by my ignorance in contrast to the innate comprehension of the talented photographers I have worked with and whom I call friends. Their eyes seem to see with more clarity light and dark, space and emptiness, and the possibilities of transforming the range of these dichotomies through lenses, in the darkroom, and digitally. Again, I have tried and will always try to write and present these articles, without pretense, in hope to inspire more research, the illumination of history and the obscure, and the reinvention of the known.

—Ashley Booth Klein

Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects

Josef Sudek, 1964

Josef Sudek, 1964

At nineteen years old, Josef Sudek was drafted by the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War and served in the Italian Front between 1915 and 1916, until he was badly wounded by shrapnel in his right arm. The event was traumatic, not only for his severe injury, but for what he witnessed. In his words, “I lost my arm during the eleventh offensive. We were ordered forward and as we charged our own artillery started shelling us… I felt as if a rock hit me in the right shoulder. I started looking around but all the guys who had been standing were now dead.” Sudek’s wound became infected with gangrene and finally, after a long battle, his arm was amputated at the shoulder. After his surgery he was left to recover for three years at a variety of veterans hospitals in Czechoslovakia. Yet it was during this time, in disability, that Sudek began photographing intently.

Born in 1896 in the town of Kolin in the countryside of Prague—what was then called Bohemia, Sudek, the son of a house painter who died when he was a young child, was raised by his single mother and her relatives, an old childless couple who owned a bakery. When he was fifteen, he left for Prague to train as a bookbinder and there another apprentice introduced him to photography. Sudek began to photograph in the years before his drafting and took pictures during the war, however,  it wasn’t until he was hospitalized that he began to develop his talent, photographing fellow patients and invalids.

There are conflicting accounts of the years between 1920 and 1926, following Sudek’s recovery. Some weigh his friendship with another young photographer Jaromir Funke, whom he met in 1918, and his social life revolving around classical music—he was able to cultivate a large classical music collection despite the recesses of the war and hosted weekly soirees at his home—as an indication of his overall happiness and well-being, while others account for his exclusion from Prague’s Amateur Photography movement along with Funke and their establishment of the avant-garde Czech Photographic Society as a sign that he was unsettled and contentious. Certainly this period was difficult for Sudek, as he was disabled and displaced, unable to take up his trade of bookbinding and disinterested in other trades. Notably in 1921, Sudek deregistered himself from the Roman Catholic Church and in the same year received First Prize in the landscape category for work in an exhibition at the Czech Amateur Photographic Association. From 1922 to 1924, he managed to pursue photography as a student at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague, living off of a small disability pension and intermittently supplementing his income with commissions from commercial photography jobs. In the following years, Sudek continued to photograph recovering and invalided soldiers at veterans hospitals and began photographing the cathedral of St. Vitus as it was being constructed. “That’s where it began,” Sudek said. “That’s where I experienced an epiphany.” In 1924, together with Funke and Adolf Schneeberger—also expelled from the Amateur Photography movement, the three founded the Czech Photographic Society.

Svaty Vit, 1928

Svaty Vitus, 1928

In the Fields
The incident of 1926 that could be considered a reverberation of his war trauma mirrored a shift in his work, relationships, and his investigation of his inner world. After 1926,  he would make brief trips to the countryside of Prague, but he refused to leave the city’s environs, and he never traveled again. He moved into a wooden cabin in the backyard of a tenement building, where he would continue to live and predominantly work for the next thirty years. There he produced his two famous cycles “The Window of My Atelier” and “Labyrinths,” series of photographs of the scenes on his windowsill and on his window glass—vases of wildflowers, ethereal rows of hanging laundry, twisting apple trees—and the interior of his studio cluttered with sculptural stacks of papers, other photographic relics, and artwork. The change in his work from 1920 until the year of his crisis is most visibly different in his series of the veteran’s hospital and Bohemia, in which his subjects are depicted either as ghostly silhouettes shrouded in clouds of light or shadowy figures conjoined in clusters.

From Sudek’s lucid but exiguous account of the incident of 1926, it is clear the artist suffered deeply and was perhaps attempting to reconcile his loss by reconnecting with his original trauma. When traveling through northern Italy upon the invitation of friends to attend concerts by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on tour, the photographer disappeared halfway through a concert near Milan, in a dissociative state, to return to the fields where he was wounded and search for his arm. Sudek explained the profound realizations he had in the midst his search and its permanent effect as follows:

“When the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic told me: ‘Josef come with us, we are going to Italy to play music,’ I told myself, ‘fool that you are, you were there and you did not enjoy that beautiful country when you served as a soldier for the Emperor’s Army.’ And so went with them on this unusual excursion. In Milan, we had a lot of applause and acclaim and we travelled down the Italian boot untill we came to that place—I had to disappear in the middle of the concert; in the dark I got lost, but I had to search. Far outside the city toward dawn, in the fields bathed by the morning dew, finally I found the place. But my arm wasn’t there—only the poor peasant farmhouse was still standing in its place. They had bought me into it that day when I was shot in the right arm. They could never put it together again, and for years I was going from hospital to hospital, and had to give up my bookbinding trade. The Philharmonic people apparently even made the police look for me but I somehow could not get myself to return from this country. I turned up in Prague some two months later. They didn’t reproach me, but from that time on, I never went anywhere, anymore and I never will. What would I be looking for when I didn’t find what I wanted to find?”

The Life of Objects
Back in Prague, perhaps not healed, perhaps more introverted but still more audacious, Sudek began to more fully express himself personally and distinctively through his work. He completed his emblematic series of St. Vitus in 1928, which proved his power to control and portray light apart from his subject matter, almost as if it were a substance in of itself. This he achieved by inventive techniques, for example, waiting patiently, sometimes hours, for the light in the cathedral to reach the angle he wanted, then rushing about waving a cloth to raise dust to give weight to the light. Similarly, he referred to photography as meteorology to describe the significance of the atmosphere, and how a photographer must predict the right conditions for photographing and enlarging prints. His work became sharper with richer tones, and his compositions became more illusive. The foregrounds and backgrounds of his photographs, particularly in his “Window” series began to oscillate. These achievements were perhaps made more attainable by his focus on inanimate objects over which he had more control than living things. Most of his cityscapes became deserted, as he directed his camera at statues or replaced what would have been a living subject with such emulative sculptures.

Shell and Eyeball Arrangement, 1956

Shell and Eyeball Arrangement, 1956

In effect, Sudek’s substitution of the inanimate for the animate brought the objects he photographed to life in his mind. He called the enormous decaying trees in the woods of Bohemia “sleeping giants” and would take portraits of masks and statuary heads, transforming them into frozen, worn grotesqueries. His personification of objects is even more vivid in his studio photography, particularly after 1939, the oncoming of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Prague. As the city was oppressed by German troops, the artist retreated into his studio and insulated himself sentimentally with still lifes. To an interviewer, he explained, “I love the life of objects. When the children go to bed, the objects come to life. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects.” He devoted endless hours to arranging and photographing the everyday—apples, eggs, bread, and shells—and special objects given to him by friends, such as feathers, spectacles, and watches, which he called “remembrances” of that person. A photograph from his series “Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician,” for example, portrays objects respectfully placed in a row on a desk, as if artifacts from an archeological site, from which the history of a life or character of a man could be divined.

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” Sudek said, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.” This statement is perhaps telling of Sudek’s relationship to death and life, as a result of the loss of his arm and the manner in which he suffered the loss. In the 1963 film, “Zit Svuj Zivot” (Living Your Life), a documentary portrait of Sudek by Evald Strom, we see a sensitive man describing his efforts to photograph the reality of the objects around him, not as if he were bringing the objects to life, but as if it was his purpose to represent the lives of objects as they truly are. Of the image of a vase of wildflowers, he says “This is a photograph of wildflowers, my attempt to photograph wildflowers,” and of an old lamp, “This is a celebrated lamp; it holds a lot of memories.” He also points out the absence of objects from the yard belonging to the residents of the surrounding tenement buildings that had been moved.

Glass Labyrinths, 1969

Glass Labyrinths, 1969

It has been said that photography was a means of redemption for Sudek, and his series of St. Vitus has often been used as the metaphor for his transformation, from ill-reconciled to reconciled over the loss of his arm: as the cathedral was resurrected so was Sudek. However, evidence of Sudek’s mystical relationship to life and death runs deeply through his work, throughout his entire career post his 1926 disappearance. Parallel to his futile search in the fields of northern Italy for his missing arm, much of Sudek’s efforts to photograph his perceived reality of objects meant bringing the past to the present, such as in his atelier series, and revealing absences, such as in his 1950s and 60s still lifes and night-scapes. In Sudek’s night photographs, light emanating from street lamps and in and out of windows appears as hovering orbs. In his panoramas of Prague, the city is a jewel of endless passageways mingling with the River Vltava, and in the forests, the sky hangs between trees like torn pieces of light. The lightest tones of his photographs are blank or empty relative to the subtle gradations of the very low; however this light, engulfed in dark, also has form, like an apparition.

So much has been said about Sudek’s personification of objects, but so little about what the photographer, known as the “Poet of Prague”, chose to omit. Whether consciously or not, Sudek presented the symbiosis of life and death in his photographs, as mysteriously and illusively as it is found in nature and found in man.

—Ashley Booth Klein

 

  All quotations from Sudek by Sonja Bullaty, published by Clarkson Potter, New York, 1980.

A Recent History of Painting in Ceramic Art

Expectation Mirage by Ron Nagle, 2012; Photo: Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud

Expectation Mirage by Ron Nagle, 2012

In the 1950s, ceramic artist Ron Nagle was a member of what was considered the Abstract Expressionist movement circulating around Peter Voulkos, his then teacher at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Voulkos, whose work is earthy, thick, and often life-size, was known for his hands-on demonstrations and classes—it’s easy to find photos of him shirtless and in old blue jeans, covered in streaks of wet clay, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he instructs his students laboring over enormous sculptures. He loved an audience and so turned his aggressive construction and decorative processes, in which he gouged, tore, glazed, and painted masses of clay, into sort of athletic and primitive performances. Meanwhile, Picasso was in the south of France, in the sleepy town of Vallauris, painting visages of bulls, goats, owls, and maidens on thousands of smooth white platters, bowls, and pitchers produced by the experts of the Madoura Pottery Workshop.

In the United States in the 1950s, art was thriving. There was the New York School, harboring poets and writers like John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Bourroughs, musicians like John Cage and Christian Wolff, and painters like Arshile Gorky, William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Philip Guston. The movement is well-known and well documented—one hardly has to use the artists’ first names, as the world, since even the beginning of the decade, has been flooded with opportunities to read, listen to, and look at either the original creations of these artists in museums, galleries, concert halls, and books, or reproductions and versions thereof, as imagery printed on t-shirts and other products intended for mass consumption. What stands out about this abbreviated list of artists strongly associated with the New York School is the diversity of the work produced, even when considered within each genre. For example, the paintings of Mark Rothko and Philip Guston are difficult to connect in terms of aesthetics and content on the gut level; it was Rothko who understandably argued that his paintings were not abstract, but what else could Guston’s cartoonish figures and everyday objects be called? The primary definition of the word could be illustrated by his work. Picasso’s work, coincidentally, at this time, is fairly unclassified.

Now, to place painting in ceramic art within this context and attempt to survey its diverse history since then. Like the all-encompassing New York School is to painting, Abstract Expressionism is an inadequate term used to describe a complex era of ceramic art. It is more of a means to locate an artist’s work within a decade, than to procure an understanding of its aesthetics or content. One needs only to consider the work of a handful of artists all located in or at least passing through the same place—California—but producing a wide range of content. Ceramic art in Britain was expanding, as well, with the inertia of the Arts and Crafts movement and Bauhaus, but studio potters like but Lucie Rie and Hans Coper were glazing, not painting like Voulkos and his colleagues and students.

The work of Nagle is an excellent contrast to Voulkos’. Nagle has almost always worked small, exceptionally small—most of his sculptures are no larger than cups (a typology he explored over many years after his having seen an exhibition of paintings by Giorgio Morandi), and his painting process is more akin to the application of enamel to a car than a performative dance around a fire or wood-burning kiln, as in the case of Voulkos. He wears goggles and overalls and sits at a desk in a brightly lit studio, painstakingly airbrushing his surfaces with layers of carefully chosen shades of soft and vibrant colors. Other ceramic artists considered major forces within the movement, likewise, produced very different art than Voulkos, via very different, invented techniques. John Mason, for example, joined slabs of clay into hollow, geometric volumes resembling the metal works of Tony Smith, which he painted in solid color or patterns elicited from angles of the form. Ken Price, another colleague of Voulkos, and a more obvious influence on Nagle, carved and smoothed clay into rounded, sack-like forms suggesting gelatinous stones, melting together or animatedly defying gravity in upwards motion. Both the amorphous shapes and vivid coloring of these sculptures are referenced in Nagle’s work.

Photo: David Douglas Duncan

Photo: David Douglas Duncan

Picasso, already deified and perhaps unaware of the canon which these American ceramicists were trying to change, never burdened himself with the craft versus art issue and automatically went to work as a painter. Introduced to clay as a medium in 1946, Picasso, then 65, tried to learn to throw a pot and the science of glazing under the guidance of Suzanne Ramie, owner of the Madoura Pottery Workshop, but eventually let her manage the production of the over 3,000 vessels that he would come to treat essentially like canvases. Picasso was given unfired ready-mades which he would lightly and quickly etch and fill with paint in graphic compositions. His painting then, subtly exploiting depth and texture of surface, most closely compares with traditional craft of the Aegean region. This means that painting in ceramic art was being treated in two different ways in the 1950s: ceramic artists, including Voulkos, Mason, and Price, were treating painting as the end of multi-step individualized processes—to push of craft into the territory of fine art, while painters like Picasso and Joan Miro were learning craft in order to exploit ceramics as, simply, another medium employed in a broader art practice. All of these artists would continue in the 1960s to pursue and refine their different methodologies and define ceramic art as something exceeding craft to the end of the century.

Photo: Jun Kaneko Studio

Photo: Jun Kaneko Studio

Other artists working across genres, such as Louise Bourgeois and Lucio Fontana, who employed clay in their sculptural work began receiving wider recognition in the 60s and 70s, but it cannot be said that painting was a defining element of their ceramic work. In these two decades, the key artist to emerge, to work extensively with paint, was Jun Kaneko, who studied under Voulkos at the University of California in the late 1960s. Kaneko’s work is uniquely site specific. Sculptures are created for specific spaces in relation to one another and juxtaposed and unified contextually through paint, often applied to all surfaces of an installation. Like Picasso, he is a highly versatile artist with a strong vocabulary and propensity to story tell, and he has also been commissioned to stage design. (Picasso designed sets and costume for La Parade, the surrealist play by Jean Cocteau with music by Erik Satie, in 1917.) In 2006 and 2012, respectively, Kaneko designed sets and costumes for Omaha Opera’s Madame Butterfly and the San Francisco Opera’s The Magic Flute.

Today the torch of expressionist painting is perhaps being held by a few sculptors, like Lynda Benglis, Sterling Ruby, and Jessica Jackson Hutchins, but again to different ends. What relates most between the work of these artists and that of their contemporaries, including Andrew Lord, William J. O’Brien, and Cameron Jamie, is the modeling of the clay—more often impressed and shaped by hand than thrown or carved, but formal resemblances also mean little here. The only generalization that can be made about painting in ceramic art today is one relative to the evolution of painting on canvas: ceramic artists are taking on history parametrically, rarely commenting on a linear history of painting in the way that has been so central to the medium, even since it began to be merged with sculpture in the 60s.

—Ashley Booth Klein

Installation in Takagai, 1991; photo: Jun Kaneko Studio

Installation in Takagai, 1991; photo: Jun Kaneko Studio

Anatolia: From the Red River to the Blue Mosque

Avanos, Turkey; Photo: Eduardo Belinchon de la Banda

Avanos, Turkey; Photo: Eduardo Belinchon de la Banda

The Kizilirmak, or the Red River, is Turkey’s longest river, rising in the foothills of Mount Kizildag and winding its way north hundreds of miles to empty into the Black Sea. The old city of Avanos overlooks the river near its origin in the historic region known as Cappadocia, a mountainous plateau covered in sloping ridges and rounded peaks of volcanic rock formed from the ancient river’s erosion. The river clay in Avanos is a deep red color due to a high concentration of minerals, which makes for high-quality earthenware pottery, the city’s primary industry since 1700 BC, when the Hittites settled there. Today, Avanos is a mass of family run potteries producing mostly souvenirs—ornately painted ashtrays, mugs, chess sets, and traditional Hittite wine jugs, unusual vessels shaped like rings to be carried on the shoulder. In cavernous shops, potters perform demonstrations of the traditional Hittite kick-wheel techniques for tourists who afterwards can also attempt the machine and be taken through the firing and glazing process.

Neighboring Avanos is the stratified, underground city of Ozkonak and the pristine, 13th century Seljuk caravanserai, Sari Han. (Han is the Turkish name for a building type functioning as a trading post and overnight inn.) This small, porous city and fort-like building of ochre walls and a paved courtyard represent the beginning of the evolutionary line of ceramic art in Turkey, culminating in the shimmering blue and green domed mosques of the late Ottoman Empire.

Uchisar, Turkey

Uchisar, Turkey

Ozkonak, discovered by a local farmer only forty years ago, once housed 60,000 people. It is composed of two overlapping networks: one, of neatly carved galleries, connected by pedestrian tunnels spread out over ten floors (four of which are open to the public today) and two, of a micro-network of smaller tunnels used for ventilation when the city was sealed up against enemies. This sort of natural architecture or negative architecture, depending on how one sees it, required no adornment. The interior was the exterior was the landscape; it was all more of the same—rock, and all that was needed for protection of the elements were rolling doors of the same substance. Ceramics at this point were utensils, often decoratively painted with intricate geometric patterns, used for storing and serving food and drink. The colors of the vessels were warm, with a deep red-brown or mustard yellow paste as background to red, black, and white painted designs. The other cities of Cappadocia—Uchisar, Goreme, and Zelve, were sculpted similarly by the river, but most dwellings were above ground in ridges and rocks the size of houses capped with darker roof-like flat and pyramidal rocks, known as fairy chimneys.

In the 12th-century, when the Iranian Seljuk Sultans arrived from their capital of Konya, the landscape changed drastically, as art and architecture began to flourish under their rule. The short but golden era of their empire called initially for the fabrication of caravansarais where there was little else for miles to facilitate trade, and in these structures, ceramic tiling made its appearance. The Seljuks also built mosques, medreses (theological academies), tombs, and palaces, all of which were clad with protective bricks and tiles. Bricks were glazed in turquoise, cobalt blue, violet, and black, and were molded in a variety of shapes from hexagonal, to triangular, square, and rectangular to comply with a multiplicity of kaleidoscopic arrangements. Tiles were made from a paste that was harder and more yellowish than that of bricks but were likewise glazed in turquoise, cobalt blue, violet, and sometimes green, and were occasionally painted with floral motifs and Kufic or Thuluth calligraphy. Complicated tile mosaics (in which tesserae were cut to shape rather than pre-formed) were employed interiorly, especially in mihrab niches, domes, and vaults. The tiles were pressed onto wall and ceiling surfaces in panels after being arranged glazed-side down and coated with a whitish mortar. Outstanding examples of Anatolian Seljuk buildings decorated with mosaic tile are Karatay Medrese (Konya, 1251), Alaaddin Mosque (Konya, 1220), Gok Medrese and Mosque (Sivas, 1271), the Malatya Grand Mosque (1247), and Ince Minareli Medrese (Konya, 1264).

Ince Minare Medrese

Ince Minare Medrese

Seljuk Developments
Extensive Seljuk palaces received the unique treatment of two types of tiles developed in Iran and Iraq. Star and cross-shaped minai tiles, employed in the Alaeddin Kiosk in Konya, are of a larger assortment of colors than what can be found in mosques and medreses, including variations of red, brown, black, and white in addition to the regular turquoise, blue, violet, and green. Also introduced were luster tiles, which were used to cover the walls of the complex of residences composing the Kubadabad Palace (Konya, 1236). These triangular, square, rectangular, and hexagonal tiles were produced with an overglaze technique in which plant motifs and social scenes were painted with a mixture of silver and copper oxides onto a previously glazed and fired surfaces, then fired again at a lower temperature, to achieve a range of lustrous earth tones. Subsequently, new techniques were invented by the Anatolian Seljuks, such as the sgraffito technique, in which tiles were allowed to dry to leather-hardness and then carved with designs; and the slip technique, in which the design is painted onto a red-paste surface using diluted white slip for a slightly molded effect.

As advancements in ceramic art were being made, the landscape of Anatolia was populated with sprawling caravansarais, which grew reflexively ornamental. Several towns across Turkey owe their names to caravanserais built there: Alacahan, Duragan, Hekimhan, Kadinhani, Akhan, and Sultanhani, where the largest was completed in 1278. Like the Sari Han, constructed contemporarily, the Sultanhanı is a wall-structure fortifying an open courtyard, but on a much larger scale, extended from its original design to enclose in total over 40,000 sq-ft of space. In addition, the building includes a square stoned kosk mescidi, the oldest example in Turkey, at its center, and a domed mosque on its second floor supported by carved barrel-vaulted arches.

Sultanhani

Sultanhani

The replacement of column and beam supported roofs with massive singular domes and fields of domes organized in grids in Seljuk mosques at this time marks the emergence of the Bursa Period (1299–1437). The Holy Mosque in Bursa was altered to consist of 20 domes, for example. The period also evolved in Edirne, the last Ottoman capital before Istanbul, and here mosques were combined by the Ottomans with a diversity of other building types—soup kitchens, hospitals, tombs, etc. represented by the Fatih Mosque (1470), Mahmutpasa Mosque, the Topkapı Palace, which housed the dynasty for 400 years. Here, also is evidenced the merging of Seljuk and Ottoman ceramic art methods of production and decorative motifs. The sgraffito and slip techniques continued to be used in conjunction with new Ottoman techniques, such as the cuerda seca, in which a design is stamped or etched into paste and filled with a mixture of beeswax or vegetable fat and manganese oxide, then burned away during firing, to leave sharp contours and outlines for painting. Fine examples of cuerda seca tiles are to be found at the Bursa Green Mosque (1419-1420) and Tomb (1421-1422) the Mosque of Murad II (Edirne, 1436), the Tiled Kiosk (Istanbul), and the Tomb of Prince Mehmed (Istanbul, 1548).

Iznik
Ceramic production began to reach its height in the late 15th and early 16th century in the city of Iznik, where artists were sent by the Ottoman court to produce utensils and tiles for the palace. A departure from Seljuk traditions of both technique and design, the well-known “blue-and-white” style associated with Iznik quickly developed and eclipsed Seljuk tiles in popularity. By utilizing a fine, pure white paste and firing at temperatures as high as 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, artists were able to generate a hard material comparable to light porcelain–a newly desired material being imported from Ming Dynasty China. The designs, thinly contoured in slip coatings, were painted flawlessly in shades of cobalt blue, predominately, with compositions of foliage, arabesques, and Chinese clouds.

The Blue Mosque; Photo: Simon Chorley

The Blue Mosque; Photo: Simon Chorley

In the late 16th century, there was a strong surge in the demand for tiles from Iznik to supply the extensive building programs initiated by Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) and carried out by his successors. Colors then were cobalt blue, turquoise, green, black, brown, and the famous orange-hued tomato or bole red appeared for the first time in Suleyman’s great mosque, the Suleymaniye (1557). The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, known as the Blue Mosque (1616), alone contains 20,000 tiles from Iznik.

This mosque, a major tourist attraction today, represents the Iznik ceramic industry at its height and decline in the mid-16th century. Modeled after Suleymaniye, the building encloses a large forecourt, the size of the mosque itself, surrounded by a continuous vaulted arcade. The interior of the mosque, at its lower levels and at every pier, is covered with tiles in more than fifty different tulip designs, which grow more exuberant with representations of flowers, fruit and cypresses from the ground up. (These tiles were made under the supervision of the master potters Kasap Haci and Baris Efendi from Avanos.) In the course of construction, the quality of the tiles produced for the project declined sharply—today, colors are faded or have changed—red has turned to brown, and green into blue, whites have become mottled, and glazes are dull and cracked. This was due to the sultan’s imposition of fixed prices on tiles in a period of inflation; potters could not afford to continue producing high quality wares for the prices regulated by the empire. The original tiles deteriorated to the point of requiring replacement, and sections of the interior were covered in tiles recycled from the harem in the Topkapı Palace, recovered from the building when it was damaged by fire in 1574.

The Iznik ceramic industry also suffered due to the loss of patronage by the Ottoman court and increased importation of Chinese porcelain, which eventually led to its total demise. Potters found new markets outside the Ottoman Empire in Cairo, where their tiles were used in the Aksunkur Mosque (1652), and Greece in the Monastery of the Great Lavra (1678) on Mount Athos. Nevertheless, there was a decline in the volume of pottery produced, and by the 18th century, the ceramic industry in Iznik had died out completely. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, only weak revivals in other cities, like Kutahya, kept production alive across Anatolia. Today, ceramics are being produced by factories in Iznik, Istanbul, and Bursa, and small potteries in towns like Avanos, but for the most part, in attempt to revive tradition, not advanced it, which is unfortunate considering the material’s availability, versatility, and long-lasting beauty.

—Ashley Booth Klein

Art and Politics in Lluis Domenech’s Catalonia

Entrance of Parc Guell by Antoni Gaudi

Entrance of Parc Guell by Antoni Gaudi

Lluis Domenech i Montaner, born in Barcelona in 1849, was one of the forerunners of Modernisme catala, also known as Catalan Art Nouveau or Jugendstil, a movement pushing for a definitive national style of architecture and design. Domenech’s prolific work, however, including the monumental and highly-touristed Palau de la Musica Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau, never came to symbolize Catalonia, in the way of that of his contemporary, Antoni Gaudi; today, two of the most visited architectural attractions in the world, and almost synonymous with the definition of Catalan architecture of the late 19th and early 20th-century, are unsurprisingly Gaudi’s parabolic Sagrada Familia and tile-encrusted Parc Guell. This overshadowing can be attributed to the sculptural ardor of Gaudi, though also a very experimental engineer, but not to structural ardor—this is where Domenech’s achievements are more evident, as long as one knows what to look for. Gaudi’s designs are highly unique, that is, impossible to reduce to a pattern and repeat, whereas Domenech’s steel and glass structures are typological and formulaic, the proportions of which quickly became normative within the language of modern architecture and have become more or less expected of architecture today.

Modernisme was actually finely split in two as it progressed at the turn of the century, with architects, including Domenech, on one side, advocating a combination of structural rationalism, like the French, and integrated ornamentation, and on the other, a formal inventiveness and a brand of Gesamtkunstwerkthe German concept generally meaning “synthesis of the arts” or “comprehensive artwork”. While these two groups diverged, architects from both sides contracted the same artists and artisans to fulfill their designs, which contributes to the similar appearances of their buildings at first glance. Furniture by Gasper Homar, mosaics by Lluis Bru, ceramics by Josep Orriols and Modest Sunyol, stained glass by Rigalt i Granell, cement tiles by Escofet, and sculptures by Eusebi Arnau can be found throughout the cities and seaside towns of Catalonia on and in a gamut of buildings by Domenech, Gaudi, and the other major architects of the period, such as Enric Sagnier, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Josep Marie Jujol. Yet there is something noticeably different between a building by Domenech and Gaudi, for example, and that is transparency–not per se in terms of openings in facades and the openness of interiors, but in terms of construction and ornamental legibility.

Interior of the Hospital de Sant Pau

Interior of the Hospital de Sant Pau

Domenech’s belief in this sort of transparency was inspired by Viollet-le-Duc’s theory of architecture published in his two volume book Entretiens sur l’architecture (1858–72), in which he praised historic building types, such as the Greek temple, for clarity of construction and proposed methods for adapting practical engineering systems of previous movements, such as the Gothic, to new building materials, such as cast iron. To Domenech, this theory generally provided a way to merge the past and the present, without nostalgia, and, in his own practice, affirmed his design process. Domenech designed typologically as Le-Duc suggested, faithfully adhering to the following few steps throughout his career: begin with a well-thought out type (the Greek temple, for example), reduce it to a formula or pattern of structural components (rows of columns, a frieze, a pediment, etc), reinvent the pattern with modern materials (columns become steel), arrange the structural components into a frame or skeleton to the volumetric requirements of the project,  and lastly, contract the best artists and designers to further modify structural components and flesh out the remaining matter with art and craft (the frieze becomes cement tile, the tympanum stained glass, the ramp a mosaic, etc). It must be noted here that, while the Greek temple is an easy illustration of this process, it is an imperfect example. Domenech typically began with his own typological proposals, which he would adapt per project, such as those he developed for an unbuilt public school when he was a burgeoning architect. This is not to say that his building types were not derivative or at least heavily informed by Ancient Greece and other countries from that time forward. History and documentation of the present to preserve and procure an understanding of it was inseparable from Domenech’s various livelihoods, as architect, politician, and writer. As an architecture student at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, Domenech copied buildings as part of his course work, and from then on continued to study and document architecture in texts and on his travels. At the end of his career, his personal archives included a vast collection of texts describing different types of civic buildings that were considered innovations at the time (hospitals, concert halls, and hotels) and thousands of photographs he took while visiting an array of cities in Catalonia, which now belong to the visual archive of the School of Architecture.

The Task of the Collective
Domenech’s own treatise on architecture, En busca d’una arquitectura nacional (In search of a national architecture), published in the journal La Renaixenca in 1878, evoked the original concepts of Modernisme and set the movement off. Encouraging a search for a new style that would be representative of the times while incorporating symbols of its history, Domenech’s ultimate aim was for Catalonia to assert its oft-threatened identity and rise in reputation as a cultural center in the eyes of Europe. The essay was highly influential and effectively defined what would become the Modernista approach. It was the original goal of the Modernista to strive to  preserve Catalonian culture by imbuing it with modern features—to save it, in other words, from becoming obsolete, by invigorating the arts and advancing developments in the arts born out of the Industrial Revolution and Europe’s progressive cities. At the same time, Domenech began his prominent role in the Catalan autonomist movement, as a founder of the La Jove Catalunya. Eventually he would become Chair of Lliga de Catalunya and one of the organisers of the commission that approved the Bases de Manresa, a list of demands for Catalan autonomy.

Facade of the Hospital de Sant Pau

Facade of the Hospital de Sant Pau

Thus Catalan culture was conveyed and given new life, ideologically and quite literally (as artists were given work), via the implementation of ornament in facades, structural components, and interiors. Domenech’s language consisted particularly of symbols of Catalonia’s history, of its military and civic high points, its literature, its music, its myths–anything that could serve to invoke a sense of its glorious-if-idealized past. In regards to the principle of transparency, it has been said that Domenech, perhaps more skillfully than any other architect of his generation, was able to implement ornamentation at precisely the right moments, that is, his symbols emerged from structure to accentuate it. Ornament was used to punctuate structure, rather than adorn or sweep across it (as occasionally occurs in Gaudi’s work).  From the facade of the Hospital Sant Pau, in which carved reliefs of Saints and coats-of-arms alternate under arches, to the stained-glass ceiling of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, which takes its cone shape from iron frames stemming from exterior columns, the articulation of structure is clear and never muddled or concealed, no matter how complex or expressive the ornament’s design.

The use of ornamentation in Domenech’s work was in part so successful because he was able to extrapolate the technical relationship between art and industry that had been fostered by other movements in Europe. In mid 19th-century society, it was a common reaction to turn towards craft, in opposition to the Industrial Revolution’s dehumanization of production; and ornamentation, which required time and manual labor to produce, became the young generation’s form of protest. Art was merged with industry nonetheless as an interest in the methodology of industrialization persisted. In Britain, during the Arts and Crafts movement, design and construction were understood as processes which could be systematized to provide for artists’ work and, ultimately, eradicate the division of labor required for mass-production. It was no different in Catalonia: the movement was politicized and received support from the Catalan provincial government, which commissioned Domenech’s first realized project, the cafe-restaurant Castell dels Tres Dragons, built for the 1888 World’s Fair. The same year, the architect became President of the Lliga Regionalista, and he would go on to become a prominent member of parliament in 1901. It could be said that craft came back to life in the era of Modernisme only by way of Domenech’s radical approach to changing labor via architecture via politics or that his architectural agenda was political and vice versa.

Fonda Espana

Fonda Espana

Domenech’s use of ornament was also so successful because it simultaneously expressed and overcame the romantic and idealistic philosophies of the era. The important space Domenech reserved for art and craft redeemed the romantic idea of the craftsman as solitary artist, and gave voice to the sentiments and ideals of Catalan’s artists, musicians, writers, and philosophers which resonated throughout the entire culture. Only does his work truly come to life by the hand of Homar, Bru, and Arnau: the Palau de la Musica Catalana would not burnish like a treasure, the Hospital de Sant Pau would not breath like a garden, and the Fonda Espana would not tell its oceanic stories without these artists’ contributions. Of course, they were agreeing to perform in concerto, to transcend the romantic ideal of art as an entirely independent endeavor in favor of Domenech’s concept of Modernisme, in which the creation of art to reform society was a collective task. Craftsman, given space within a frame in which to work were part of the same system as the architects and engineers organizing it; all belonged to the same industry and were working towards the same goal: cultural expression.

—Ashley Booth Klein