Developed in Japan in the 16th century, Raku ceramics are immediately identifiable by the richness of their colours; the raw, natural and, at times, uneven appearance is drawn out during a highly-controlled three-step creation process with often very unpredictable outcomes.
Having had the opportunity to attend a Raku workshop with Dutch ceramic artist Marguerite Olivier, I soon became seduced by the beauty of its alchemical magic.
I found my way to Marguerite’s country home just outside Ametlla de Mar on a bright Saturday morning. I was handed a cup of coffee in a stout, shiny Raku mug and observed Marguerite and a small group of participants prepare their ceramic ware to be transformed by fire, smoke and water, the three essential elements in the Raku process.
“Children often have excellent results,” Marguerite tells me. “You have to be in the moment; you have to use what’s given.” Marguerite has been working with ceramics since arriving in Barcelona more than 20 years ago. She is drawn to her craft because, as she says, it encompasses many art forms and because of its “functionality”.
The first step requires coating a previously fired piece of stoneware ceramic with glaze. The durability of the stoneware is essential, as the piece will be fired again in a handcrafted brick oven at extreme temperatures. After glazing, the piece can then be decorated with oxides and pigments to add further detail. Once placed in the kiln, it slowly heats to over 900 degrees. This takes about an hour. “It’s a little like a gestation,” said Lorenz as we stood by the kiln waiting. One must be patient. But once the period of fire is complete, the work is quick and intense. As Marguerite yelled “positions”, each participant prepared for burning plates and cups to go from the kiln to a metal barrel filled with twigs and dried leaves collected from the surrounding woods. “Now it’s going to be like a birth,” said Marcia as she threw sawdust into the bursts of flame that erupted from the barrel containing the burning twigs and hot ceramic. The barrel was covered, allowing the smoke to build up inside, altering the oxides and glazes. Finally, the shining hot pieces were passed from the smoke and flame into water, the last step of the process. As they are lifted from the bath, each is a surprise of nature, made unique by the unpredictability of the elements which have transformed them.
I recommend you take advantage of a rare opportunity to see Raku on the streets of Barcelona—and to create your own piece—this month at the Tallers Oberts de Poble Sec. Or treat yourself to Marguerite’s upcoming workshops in Ametlla de Mar (May 25th-26th, and June 8-9).
To learn more, check out: ceramicamar.blogspot.com.es or write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tallers Oberts de Poble Sec: May 10th to 12th.